In 1548, St Ignatius wrote a letter to St Francis Borgia about discernment, or finding the best way forward in life. He writes:
That level of prayer is best for each particular individual where God our Lord communicates himself more. He sees, he knows, what is best for each one and, as he knows all, he shows each the road to take. What we can do to find that way with his divine grace is to seek and test the way forward in many different fashions, so that an individual goes ahead in that way which, for him or her, is the clearest and happiest and most blessed in this life.
The letter reveals four key qualities of Ignatian discernment. First it is all about God communicating himself to the individual. So prayer is essential. Second, it is trusting that God knows us best and through the Spirit will show us the road to take. Third, that there is a road to take for progress in our spiritual lives, a way to God, and a road to avoid, the contrary direction away from God. Fourth, we need to actually move, to take active steps, to test the way forward.
The JISA Discernment Series is offering a series of discernment exercises from God’s Field Hospital. In each one, you are asked three questions to help you to name the contrary roads, given three choices to make to moving forward along the best road.
But, after the exercises, how do I become good at sifting the different spirits each day? The answer is discernment practice and awareness. The practice grows the awareness, until I am able to both feel both the good and bad spirit and discern the directions each one will take me.
How do I practice? Simple. Use a daily ten-minute Ignatian Awareness Examen. This has five steps: Gratitude for the events of the day, asking the Spirit for help now, going through my day hour by hour to see how God has been at work in it, my response to what I find, and last, a resolve to be more loving tomorrow.
Pope Francis has guided us at depth in the process of Ignatian discernment, especially to make good decisions. My reflections above are more the small daily discernment of how the spirits are moving in my life. With God’s divine grace, and the Examen, I will surely find the road that is the ‘clearest and happiest and most blessed in this life’.
With thanks to Michael Hansen SJ for this contribution to the JISA Discernment Series. Michael is a Jesuit based in Sydney, and Director of the First Spiritual Exercises Ministry in JISA. He has been working in the spirituality ministry for twenty-five years and is an author of several spirituality books.