Discernment

Discernment

[dih-surn-muhnt, -zurn-]
Discernment is a term used in Christian tradition to describe the process of discerning God's will for one's life. In large part, it describes the interior search for an answer to the question of one's vocation, namely, determining whether or not God is calling one to the married life, single life, religious life; ordained ministry or priesthood (Roman Catholic or Anglican/Episcopal) or any other ministerial calling by virtue of Baptism. The concept is not limited to ordination or vowed life.

All moral conduct may be summed up in the rule: avoid evil and do good. In the language of Christian asceticism, spirits, in the broad sense, is the term applied to certain complex influences, capable of impelling the will, the ones toward good, the others toward evil.

However, in the restricted sense, spirits indicate the various spiritual agents which, by their suggestions and movements, may influence the moral value of our acts. Concupiscence, disturbances of the imagination and errors of sensibility, thwart or pervert the operations of the intellect and will, by deterring the one from the true and the other from the good (Genesis 8:21; James 1:14). In opposition to our vitiated nature, or so to speak, to the flesh which drags us into sin, the Holy Spirit acts within us by grace, a supernatural help given to our intellect and will to lead us back to good and to the observance of the moral law (Epistle to the Romans 7:22-25). Besides these two spirits, the human and the Divine, in the actual order of Providence, two others must be observed. The Creator willed that there should be communication between angels and men, and as the angels are of two kinds, good and bad, the latter try to win us over to their rebellion and the former endeavour to make us their companions in obedience. Hence four spirits lay siege to our liberty: the angelic and the Divine seeking its good, and the human (in the sense heretofore mentioned) and the diabolical its misery.

Scriptural basis

The scriptural basis for the discernment of spirits can be found in Galatians 5:16-24. Following the will of the spirit leads to holiness and following the will of the flesh leads to sin. This also opens the door to Satan. The will of the flesh is easy to be fooled and leads to rationalizations of conduct and makes idols of the things of this world.

"Discernment of spirits" is the term given to the judgment whereby to determine from what spirit the impulses of the soul emanate, and it is easy to understand the importance of this judgment both for self-direction and the direction of others. Now this judgment may be formed in two ways. In the first case the discernment is made by means of an intuitive light which infallibly discovers the quality of the movement; it is then a gift of God, a grace gratis data, vouchsafed mainly for the benefit of our neighbour (1 Corinthians 12:10). This charisma or gift was granted in the early Church and in the course of the lives of the saints as, for example, St. Philip Neri. Second, discernment of spirits may be obtained through study and reflection.

It is then an acquired human knowledge, more or less perfect, but very useful in the direction of souls. It is procured, always, of course, with the assistance of grace, by the reading of the Holy Bible, of works on theology and asceticism, of autobiographies, and the correspondence of the most distinguished ascetics. The necessity of self-direction and of directing others, when one had charge of souls, produced documents, preserved in spiritual libraries, from the perusal of which one may see that the discernment of spirits is a science of the Church.

Ignatian view

For St. Ignatius of Loyola, the discernment of spirits is part of everyone's spiritual journey. No one who is trying to make spiritual progress should attempt to do so alone - a spiritual director is required. A director assists a Christian in examining the motives, desires, consolations, and desolations in one's life. Objectively, one can know what is right from looking at the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins in a thorough examination of conscience. But the broader picture of one's life is often not so clear. A Christian should, according to St. Ignatius, share everything with a director who can see things objectively, without being swayed by the emotions or passion. Discerning whether the good spirit (the influence of God, the Church, one's soul) or the bad spirit (the influence of Satan, the world, the flesh) is at work requires calm, rational reflection. The good spirit brings us to peaceful, joyful decisions. The bad spirit often brings us to make quick, emotional, conflicted decisions. A spiritual director can assist both by personal experience, listening with care, and giving an objective analysis.

Charismatic view

Charismatics consider it to be a charism or spiritual gift that supernaturally enables a Christian believer to distinguish between holy and unholy spirits through the power of the Holy Spirit. This gift is thought to be especially necessary in instances when individuals may need to be delivered or healed of Demonic possession. In today's world, people are led astray by complacency and temptation to live only for and in this world {see Gospel of Matthew 25:29}). Again, most do not realize the spiritual warfare going on all around and within them. Ephesians 6: For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”(NIV) The truth here seems to say we fight against spiritual evil not against each other although the evil spirits love to confuse us to war against each other.

References

External links

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