Handout for the Catholic Volunteer Network presentation at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice 2013
View full document: CVN – Workshop Handout
What is Discernment?
“Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me. “ – Saint Ignatius of Loyola
No matter where you are in the process of deciding what’s next, the tools of discernment will help you make your decisions with confidence.
It’s easy to understand that God’s will for our lives is to make choices that position us to utilize our gifts, grow emotionally and spiritually, and serve others. But what happens when we have several good options to choose from, when the choice is not a matter of deciding between right and wrong, but rather choosing between different paths that appear equally important and fulfilling? Saint Ignatius of Loyola spent a lot of time asking himself this same question, and the conclusions he came to are still helpful to us today, five hundred years later.
Discernment is simply defined as making choices in the context of faith. It is a way of sorting through all the noise, pressure, and confusion in your life to hear God’s voice. It’s never a one-time decision; it is a manner of living. Pay attention to the process, there is much you can learn about yourself and God through it.
Ignatian discernment is built on the key premise that God is not distant, but instead present in our lives and highly interested in the decisions we make. This practice is meant for those who already have an established faith and wish to grow in it. Rather than pushing our feelings aside to make decisions purely based on facts and logic, discernment encourages us to tune in to our feelings and see how they are guiding us. Saint Ignatius created a habit of looking at his options and paying attention to his feelings whenever he had an important decision to make. He soon discovered that as long as he was in a healthy place, spiritually, his gut feelings were pretty accurate. He felt peace about the right decisions (consolation) and a sense of discomfort about the wrong ones (desolation). This, he determined, was God’s spirit within him.