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19. Discernment Login/Join 
Picture of Phil
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We could do an entire study on the topic of "discerning God's will" and have spent our time very well. Chapter 14 of your Pathways to Serenity eBook resource has a good discussion, so we'll use that as our primary source of content for this session, however, and see where things go if there are questions and sharing.

In addition to what's covered in Pathways, I will share with you a brief reflection on a passage of Scripture that has deeply influenced my understanding of discernment in recent years. You'll find it in Phil. 2: 13, and in The Jerusalem Bible it reads as follows:

quote:
It is God, for his own loving purpose, who puts both the will and the action into you.


Sometimes I like to see what other translations say to get a sense of the true "spirit" of a passage, so here goes:

quote:
For God is at work within you, helping you want to obey him, and then helping you do what he wants. (Living Bible)

It is God who, in his good will toward you, begets in you any measure of desire or achievement. (New American Bible)

For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Revised Standard Version)

For it is God who is the cause of your desires and of your acts, for his good pleasure. (New King James Version)


They all seem to be saying the same thing, don't they: namely, that it is God who begets both the desire and action in us.

Now I can hear what you're thinking. You're wondering if this is saying that all our desires come from God, or if all our actions should be regarded as the will of God. Right? ;-) And if that's the case, then what's to discern: all we need to do is what we desire and that would be God's will.

Well, not so fast . . .

You need to read the passages that came before, especially the first part of verse 6:

quote:
In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus . . .


That would be the fruit of session 18 on Right Beliefs, as well as other practices we've covered as well.

A Simple Method

Nevertheless, Phil. 2: 13 outlines for us a simple method of discernment that is reliable and trustworthy for those who are sincerely and deeply committed to following Christ. Here, Paul tells us that if that is the case, then we can trust that the Holy Spirit influences our own desires, and we can look to these for indications of God's will. Elaborating on this, Jean Pierre de Caussade writes the following:

quote:
In the state in question the will of God is shown to us
because He dwells within us. This will ought to supplant all our usual
supports. At each moment we have to practise some virtue. To this the
obedient soul is faithful; nothing of what it has learnt by reading,
or hearing is forgotten, and the most mortified novice could not
fulfill her duties better. It is for this that these souls are
attracted sometimes to one book, sometimes to another; or else to make
some remark, some reflexion on what may seem but a trifling
circumstance. At one time God gives them the attraction to learn
something that at some future time will encourage them in the practice
of virtue. Whatever these souls do, they do because they feel an
attraction for it, without knowing why. All they can explain on the
subject can be reduced to this: "I feel myself drawn to write, to
read, to ask, to examine this; I follow this attraction, and God who
gives it to me keeps these particular things in reserve in my
faculties to become in future the nucleus of other attractions which
will become useful to myself and others." This is what makes it
necessary for these souls to be simple, gentle, yielding, and
submissive to the faintest breath of these scarcely perceptible
impressions.
- Abandonment to Divine Providence: Bk 2, Ch 2, Sect. 6


No need for "shoulds, musts, oughts." The Holy Spirit shows the way by moving our own desires. Pretty amazing!

Just to be sure we are not deluded on this point, we can be clear to ourselves that we will not give in to desires that we know to be leading to actions that are objectively sinful. And if we are not sure of the source of a desire, then doing some of the exercises recommended in Chapter 14 of Pathways to Serenity can come in handy.

Don't lose sight of the simple approach described above, however. As you can see, it has its roots in Scripture and is affirmed by a very good Christian spiritual writer (among many others, I might add).

So what do you want? Might your response to this question indicate something of God's will for your life?

Questions . . . comments . . . . sharing . . . .
 
Posts: 3516 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 27 December 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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No need for "shoulds, musts, oughts." The Holy Spirit shows the way by moving our own desires. Pretty amazing!

Phil, this is one of the most succinct, while at the same time most edifying, treatments of discernment I've ever read.

I think it is important that one draws a distinction between discernment, on one hand, and moral deliberation, otoh. Discernment involves choices between different goods while moral deliberation involves the choice between good and evil (and sometimes lesser evils, double effects, etc). Thus it is that shoulds, musts and oughts belong to the latter and not the former process.

This raises an interesting question regarding our seeking AMDG - ad majorem Dei gloriam - the greater glory of God. One might think of the distinctions we draw in Ignatius' Three Degrees of Humility, between imperfect and perfect contrition, between the stages of Bernardian Love, between CS Lewis' Four Loves and such.

Ignatius instructs us regarding our desire to avoid not just offending God grievously but to avoid offending God in the least. Beyond that, even, he suggests we consider conforming ourselves to the imitation of Jesus, entirely. In the Act of Contrition a distinction is drawn between sorrow for the consequences to us from sin (detesting our sins because of the just punsihment they'll bring) and the consequences to others (offending God and others). In Bernardian Love we distinguish between love of self for sake of self, love of God for sake of self, love of God for sake of God and love of self for sake of God. CS Lewis spoke of the distinctions between eros (what's in it for me) and agape (what's in it for others) and philia (friendship) and storge (kinship).

I mention these distinctions above because I think they highlight the distinction between discernment and moral deliberation. To some extent, one might consider that moral deliberation involves choices necessary for our cooperation with the graces of salvation, which is to say that imperfect contrition is necessary, that not offending God grievously is necessary, that love of God for sake of self is necessary, in other words, that a what's in it for me? approach (minimally eros and storge), an enlightened self-interest perspective, is necessary for our salvation. Moral deliberation is essential.

The lesson of all the lives of the saints and of the Gospel is that there can be more to it than justification. We are also called to sanctification and glorification. We are called to philia and agape. We are called to love of God for sake of God and love of self for sake of God (St. Bernard). We are called to perfect contrition. We are called to imitate Jesus in His manner of living and dying and rising (Ignatius' Third Degree). We are called beyond moral deliberation to discernment and Phil has set forth all the help available in that regard through our Helper, the Holy Spirit of Jesus, Who saved us and now would make us holy and later would glorify us.

pax,
jb
 
Posts: 100 | Registered: 30 January 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Those are all good points, JB, especially in the distinctions between discernment as choosing between two goods and moral deliberation as trying to understand whether something is good or evil. I had alluded to this briefly in saying:
Just to be sure we are not deluded on this point, we can be clear to ourselves that we will not give in to desires that we know to be leading to actions that are objectively sinful.
- and surely sometimes we need to read, reflect and dialogue to understand the morality of an act.

What's interesting in light of the above approach of following one's desires is that the Spirit will lead us even to these deliberations, so that we will actually know when we need to do this and we will have the willingness to do so. That's been the case in my own life, where I've found myself deeply moved to reflect, study and dialogue about a morally complex situation. In such situations, moral deliberation itself is a discernable good, so it turns out that discernments and deliberation are not either/or pursuits.

Hope this makes sense. Wink
 
Posts: 3516 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 27 December 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Good points, Phil.

Discernment and moral deliberation are not mutually exclusive, of course. The objects of moral deliberation are where either/or dichotomies will present.

There are a couple of practical upshots, here.

First, to the extent we know we are agonizing over a discernment matter and not rather a serious moral object, we might consider relaxing!

Also, God's mercy and compassion are evident here: He is so pleased with our imperfect contrition, with our first degree of humility, with our love of Him for sake of self, for our enlightened self-interest!

Of course, all the better that we might go on past essential moral deliberation to discerning AMDG in our lives, but our faltering baby-steps in cooperating with His grace are not only necessary but SUFFICIENT! Easy yoke and light burden! At least this has been a lesson for me for those times in my life where I was trying to discern different directions and I needed to lighten up and let go more than I was. Big Grin Conversely, I recognize some times when I should have agonized a tad more than I did during my "rationalization" processes pertaining to rather serious moral issues Frowner

Figuring out what is necessary and/or sufficient (or not) is often an important distinction, especially re: a matter as serious as salvation itself. Here, God is so good and merciful.

pax,
jb
 
Posts: 100 | Registered: 30 January 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by JB:

First, to the extent we know we are agonizing over a discernment matter and not rather a serious moral object, we might consider relaxing!


That's a great suggestion, and would be a good indicator of a degree of trust in God's providence.

And I think your reminder of God's love and mercy even with regard to decisions that should have been thought through more carefully is good to hear in this context. That's the antidote to a paralizying scrupulosity. God can use anything -- even our sins and mistakes! -- to draw us to greater growth in holiness.
 
Posts: 3516 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 27 December 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by Phil St. Romain:
God can use anything -- even our sins and mistakes! -- to draw us to greater growth in holiness.


So glad you added that!
 
Posts: 100 | Registered: 30 January 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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