Our fundamental options and how the spirits work

September 27, 2009

Before St. Ignatius explains more about consolation and desolation, and how we can discern the movement of the various spirits acting in our lives, he speaks about some very basic rule. I find this more useful for spiritual directors though, but maybe we can learn something about it.

St. Ignatius speaks about two basic states. Two fundamental options of one’s life, and how the spirit generally work for this people. The first is that of a soul who goes from one mortal sin to another. This is simply means someone whose fundamental option is against God. The second is the other way around, that is of a soul who go on earnestly striving to cleanse their souls from sin and who seek to rise in the service of God our Lord to greater perfection.

For these two souls, the work of the good spirit and the bad spirits are in contrast. To the first soul, which is against God, the enemy or the bad spirits find the soul like a home. The bad spirit gives apparent pleasures, and consolation, and try to make the person to continue in their states of sins. On the other hand, the action of the good spirit will do the opposite. The good spirit will use the light of reason, he will rouse the sting of conscience and fill them with remorse (which looks like an apparent desolation). The reason is that God tries to bring the person back to himself. He will make the person feel uncomfortable with their sin, feel that something is wrong, something is not right. God will disturb the soil from keep on sinning.

For the second soul, which lives for God, the characteristic of the evil spirit is to harass with anxiety, to afflict with with sadness, to raise obstacles backed by wrong reasonings that disturb the soul. The evil spirits will try to discourage these people from praying, by telling them that they keep on falling, they are so distracted, they don’t feel anything during prayer, God has left them. For many of us who strives for holiness, the evil spirit will speak the common sentence, “you keep on falling to sin, why confess? why struggle so hard? maybe it is not wrong at all, maybe it is human to sin like this.” I don’t know whether you have heard these voices or not? But I can assure you that more than one people have shared about these voices in their lives. On the other hand, the characteristic of the good spirit is to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations, and peace. The good spirit does this by making all easy, removing all obstacles so that the soul goes forward in doing good.

Looking back at your life, have you recalled such experiences? Have you heard these voices acting in your soul? For many of us who try to live for God, which is most probably otherwise you won’t be reading all these articles anyway, the evil spirit will try to discourage us from getting closer to God, from being holy, from growing in our prayer lives, from being faithful in our service to God. The evil spirit will speak a lot of reasoning telling us to back off, we are not good, we do not have any gifts, we are such a proud person, etc, etc. But the Good spirit will always help us. The good spirit gives us strength, consolation, help us to persevere when we feel dryness in prayer, when our ministry is difficult, when we don’t see success. The Good spirit help us to see beyond what the world see. The Good spirit teach us about humility when we fall, but it also helps to lift us up and to rise again.

St. Ignatius gives an analogy. He said that the action of the various spirits is like water falling on a sponge and on a stone.

When the disposition of the soul is contrary to that of the spirits, they enter with noise and commotion that are easily percieved, like water falling on a rock. But when the disposition is similar to that of the spirits, they enter silently, as one coming into his own house when the doors are open, or like water penetrating a sponge.

I found this rule is very true and really helps me. As I recall my life I experience moments when my soul is so disturbed, even for doing something that looks like a good thing. I got so excited, can’t think of anything else, wanted to change what I was doing then immediately. But in all those I felt anxiety and not peace. And I realized now, that those were not the voice of my Good Lord. My Good Lord speaks in peace. His voice is gentle to me. Yes he inspired me, but he didn’t force me (sometimes I felt like … arghh, I have to do it now now now 🙂 I now realized it is not from the Lord).

I felt like the voice of the Lord is very soft, very gentle. And when he speaks I felt peace and not anxiety. I also realized that God is patience. He does not force us, he prompts and urges, and yet he gives us the freedom. And throughout as we try to listen or simply as we try to obey, we would experience peace and not anxiety.

In ministry or even in daily life, sometimes we felt a lot of thing is from God, whereas actually it comes from ourselves or from the evil spirit. I believe one of the most significant sign is the sense of peace. Many of us felt the urge to do this and that, but then we become anxious, easily irritated, got angry or upset when it didn’t happen. Well, maybe even from the beginning it is not from the Lord. When it comes from the Lord, he gives us peace and assurance, even when it fails according to our earthly eyes, we have a full trust that the Lord wants it to happen that way, and all this are within his hands. The fact that we are upset, maybe because it is simply what we want and not the Lord.

Have you experience these? I am sure you have 🙂 well, I do.

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The Prelude in Making an Election

September 26, 2009

Besides the presupposition and the qualities of a discerner, St. Ignatius also speaks about some other important point, before he jumped into the “how” of discernment. In his “prelude” for making an election, he says that

In every good election, as far as depends on us, the eye of our intention ought to be simple, only looking at what we are created for, namely, the praise of God our Lord and the salvation of our soul. And so I ought to choose whatever I do, that it may help me for the end for which I am created, not ordering or bringing the end to the means, but the means to the end.

Ah, it’s so simple, but we tend to forget. Before making an election, St. Ignatius speaks about simplicity. And this simplicity is in our intention. He says that in order to make a proper election, our intention must be simple, and that is to look at God and to love Him, to please Him, to serve Him more. How often we forget?

In many of our discernment, even when we consider the pros and the cons, we skip this simplicity of intention. Our intention is so complex, sometimes it mixes between pleasing God and good life, serving the Lord and being rich, ministry and success. St. Ignatius said it cannot be like that. If we want to make a proper election of the choice matters, we need to reach to the point that our intention is simply to love God, to please him. Only in this way we will be able to use our intellect and will to find God’s will for us.

A little example would be suffice. If in making a decision whether someone should leave a certain job and find a more suitable one for spending time with his family, the person’s intention is mixed with desire to be rich or to find what is more challenging to his intellect, etc, etc, that person would find difficulty to judge objectively. Even when he or she create the table of pros and cons, the pros and cons will be based on which will give more riches, and the many desire for himself. And so if the person truly desire to know God’s will, his intention must be simple, and that is to serve God more. Which job which enable me to serve God better, especially in my vocation as married person and a responsible father? The eye of our intention must be simple.

After this simplicity in our intention, St. Ignatius also speaks about two nature of decisions: unchangable and changeable. The unchangeable decision is simply decision cannot be changed (so obvious). This includes when someone has decided to be a priest or married person. He does not need to discern whether he should divorce his wife or not. Or whether as a priest, he should stop and get married. Of course in reality things are not this simple. But the idea is that there are some decision that cannot be changed, and we need not discern about it. What St. Ignatius suggested is that we should grow in perfection in the decision that we have made.

For changeable decision, this is where St. Ignatius speaks more and elaborate on how to make the decision. In this changeable decision, he reminded us that the “options” itself must either be good or indifferent. This is because God cannot ask us to do evil. So both options must be good in themselves. We do not need to discern whether we should abort a child in our womb or not. We do not need to discern whether we should steal or not. We need not discern whether we should be an honest person in the office or not. We should know what to do!

Now with all these, St. Ignatius then elaborated the three occasions when he sees it is good to make decisions. The first one is when God moves our will so strong, that we simply cannot doubt it is God and it is His will that is moving us. This experience is so strong that it changes the life of the person. And that person simply cannot have doubt it is God who desires it. St. Ignatius gave an example when St. Paul encountered the risen Lord in the road to Damascus. St. Paul’s life was changed, the voice that he heard on that day was resounding throughout his whole life. He felt so certain it was Jesus who was calling him. Fr. Thomas Green SJ, however, said that this occasion for revelation is rather rare. But the point is that we do not eliminate this possibilities. God can act in this way. And yet this is not a discernment in its proper sense, simply because the person has no doubt about who speaks to him. There is nothing to judge in this matter.

The second occasion is when we are enlightened through what St. Ignatius said consolation and desolation. I will speak more about this, but for the moment, let me skip to the third occasions.  The third occasions is when we are in the state of quiet. Our hearts and soul is not moved by any spirits. In other words, we are not inclined to any of the options, and are not directed by other the spirit of God or the evil spirit or our own human spirit. In this state, we often do not feel anything. We felt as if God leaves us to our own natural power to decide. When this happens, St. Ignatius suggested that we should use our “intellect” and try find what is the best decision based on that “simplicity” of intention to love God and serve Him. We are urged to make table of the pros and cons for each options. But once we arrive at the decision based on our intellect, we should offer this decision to God and ask Him to confirm it. So how does God confirm it? Fr. Thomas Green SJ speaks that God will give the confirmation through what St. Ignatius called “consolation” and “desolation”, which is the second occasion we skip just now.

Now I felt it is important to realize that when we use our intellect to weigh the matters by listing its pros and cons, is not discernment yet. It is simply gathering data and trying to see based on our natural power which is the best to achieve that “simple” intention, which is to love and serve God. It is what secular people called “decision making”. And so real discernment has not taken place. It is also important to realize that this technique of using our intellect is best used when we are not moved by any spirits. In other words we do not “feel” anything to either options. However, when we are moved by certain feelings such as fear, joy, so much hope and trust, or maybe simply discouragement. This technique of using our intellect simply breaks down. The reason is that our feelings can be so strong that it clouds our intellect, and so we are not able to see the matters objectively.

These feelings of joy, sadness, hope, trust, peace (or lack of peace), or even fear and discouragement, are the “raw” material for discernment.  St. Ignatius divides them into two categories and he called them consolation and desolation. When we experience these “feelings” we truly experience our heart is being moved by different kind of “spirits” (in St. Ignatius terms). And discernment is simply to judge which spirit is moving me? Is it the spirit of the Lord or the spirit of the evil one (or human spirit, which we do not differentiate since it is simply not the spirit of God).

This is what St. Ignatius said about consolation and desolation, we will speak more about this, but for the moment, let us simply state what he said:

The third: Of Spiritual Consolation. I call it consolation when some interior movement in the soul is caused, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord; and when it can in consequence love no created thing on the face of the earth in itself, but in the Creator of them all.

Likewise, when it sheds tears that move to love of its Lord, whether out of sorrow for one’s sins, or for the Passion of Christ our Lord, or because of other things directly connected with His service and praise.

Finally, I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord.

The fourth: Of Spiritual Desolation. I call desolation all the contrary of the third rule, such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to things low and earthly, the unquiet of different agitations and temptations, moving to want of confidence, without hope, without love, when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, sad, and as if separated from his Creator and Lord. Because, as consolation is contrary to desolation, in the same way the thoughts which come from consolation are contrary to the thoughts which come from desolation.

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Discernment and Our Image of God

September 19, 2009

Continuing our discussion about discernment, in some of our last post we recognize that discernment is to seek the will of God. And yet, sometimes we discern not because we are interested to follow Him more closely or be drawn more closer to Him. Sometimes we discern because we are afraid we make a wrong decision that will ruin our lives. We are afraid we are not happy if we make a wrong decision.

It is important in discernment that we have a correct image of God. Fr. Thomas Green SJ speaks about these images of God in relation to discernment and our lives. There are three basic images of God that most of us have: 1) A watchmaker 2) A puppetter 3) A Father of an adult child. What do they mean?

Some of us have this idea that God is like a watchmaker who created his creation (a watch) in care and perfection, but then after he finishes his work, he is no longer involved in that creation. The watch can work by itself and the watchmaker is no longer in the picture. Some of us tend to have this image. In the sense that we thought that God is no longer involves His creation. He does not bother with our lives. When we have this image of God, it is simply impossible to discern.  The reason is that if we see God is no longer interested in us, or He has a will in our lives, how would we ever seek His will?

The second image is that of a puppetter. We are like the puppet, and God is the puppetter. We think that everything has been preordained, and we actually do not have any freedom. In fact sometimes this image implies that we do not have will in itself since we simply follow the God who directs us.

But there is a third image of God, and that is of a Father. It is more appropriate to say a Father who has an adult child.  This image says that we are that adult child. We have our freedom, and yet we love our Father. We wish to make Him happy. We wish to seek His will and desire. We love him that much. And our Father loves us as well. And that freedom is one of the sign of His love to us. And yet He wants us to be happy, He communicates to us, and yet He does not force us. He shows the better way but allow us to choose. He opens His heart to us and allow us to know Him more. He called us into a relationship with Him. This is, basically, a healthy image of God.

In this image, God allows mistake to happen. But along with mistake, we grow in our knowledge of God and His will. This I believe is one of the most difficult thing for many us. We don’t want mistake to happen. But for the Lord, he can use everything to create a better end. And if we put our trust in His love, we will not be afraid in this life. We will not be afraid to discern. We will not be afraid to choose the path of love.

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What is discernment?

September 19, 2009

I used to think that discernment is trying hard to listen to the voice of God which is rather difficult to hear. But as I grow in my relationship with the Lord, I realized that it is not discernment in its proper meaning. Why is that so? It is simply because we have been listening to the voice of God. But what makes discernment is essential in every Christian lives is that, we not only hear the voice of God, but also our own voices, or even worse, the voice of evil spirits. Yes, evil spirits do exist, even though many of us thought they don’t. I guess they are pretty successful in their effort.

Anyway, discernment is about “judging”. What do we judge? It is the voices that we hear. We are like a person in a market place with so many voices telling us to buy this and that. But discernment help us to listen to the voice of the one we love. It is an effort to recognize the voice of the beloved.

And so when we do discernment, it is not enough simply to try hard to “listen”. But it is more about judging whether the voice that we listen is from God or not. This is what matters. We want to know whether the thoughts, the inspiration, the desire that we experience are from the Good Lord or simply from ourselves or the evil one. In short, discernment is judging that whether this “voices” are from the Lord or not.

But before we judge, we need to first to recognize that we do hear God’s voice. Many of us today no longer believe that. If we don’t believe that we hear God’s voice, it is simply impossible for us to know whether this “voices” are from God or not.

The second thing is that, not only we need to believe God is still speaking to us, but more important, we hear Him speaking. This means recognizing that the certain thoughts could be from the Lord, or certain desire, certain joy, hope, and inspiration, can truly be from the Lord, and this is how God communicates to us (besides through the scriptures and the Church).

But this alone is not enough. We also need to recognize, that not every “voices” we hear comes from the Lord. Not every thoughts are from the Lord. Not every desire are from the Lord. Not every dream are from the Lord. As we mentioned before, we are like someone who is in the market place.  And we hear many voices.

The voice from the Lord draws us closer to Him and to our end which is union with Him. The other voices only draw us to our selfish desires and far away from the Lord.

Now not everything must be discerned. We discern or judge only that which are good. This means we don’t need to discern between good and bad, we simply need to choose the good. So, when we know that the other option is not good, we don’t need to discern. God does not do evil.

Let me give an example. We don’t discern whether we should forgive someone who hurt us or not. We know what is good! We know we are called to forgive. There is no need for discernment in this case.

But consider about the question of vocation. Should I become a religous or commit myself to marriage life? These two options are good in themselves. And hence, it is a proper matter for discernment.

We have to be clear of this since the Lord only draws us to something good and He is the ultimate Good. He cannot do evil and cannot draw us to evil.

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Presuppositions of discernment

September 14, 2009

Continuing from the last post, Fr. Thomas Green SJ said that the “how” of discernment is not difficult. What makes thing difficult for people to find God’s will in their lives is that most people do not have the presuppositions of discernment. Let’s list them down:

  1. A desire to do God’s will. Most of us do have a desire to do God’s will, but sometimes it is for the wrong reasons. We want to do God’s will so that “everything is alright”. Actually we are hoping that we are not making mistakes in life, etc. What interest us more is actually ourselves. But discernment will involve mistakes. What we should desire is God’s will anyway. And this desire is a “committed” one. We need to be committed believer. Pope John Paul II said it is not enough for us to know God’s will, we have to do them!
  2. Openness to God. This is rather difficult. Especially when we have so many attachments in lives. We have so many desires which we call our “needs”. We can’t differentiate our desire and God’s desire. Most of the times we don’t really open to God, but rather we tell God what we want to do for Him. And we tried to discern to get that approval or confirmation from God.  And that’s why maybe sometimes we are afraid to discern. We are afraid that the answer is not what we want to hear.
  3. A knowledge of God. This is not just in the head. But rather a biblical sense of knowledge. It is an “encounter”, a knowledge born out of experience. In my RSV bible translation, Genesis chapter 2 speaks about “Adam knew Eve, and she conceived a son”. What an experience that gives new life! Not only that, sometimes we have a distorted image of God. And more than that, we don’t really know his voice. I recall one day I asked Fr. Jivan OFM how we should discern. He is a fransiscan, and his answer is plain simple. Get to know Him. As we get to know the Lord, we will recognize His voice.

Now there is another Three things which we should have in discernment, and this is more of a quality of the person:

  1. humble. We need to realize that we are still growing in our knowledge of the Lord. We are still learning to listen to Him. In fact St. Ignatius, one of the master of discernment, speaks that in discernment we can only know to “some extent”. St. John of the Cross said that one of the surest signs of spiritual growth is our growing awareness of our sinfulness.
  2. charitable. Since as we grow in discernment and knowledge of the Lord,  we are more aware of our own weaknesses and sinfulness. We will become slow to judge others, and be able in them our own weaknesses. Charity is the essence of God since God is love.
  3. courageous.  I guess this is the difficult part for me, since I tend to seek the “safe” way. But the Lord ask us to risk even when sometimes our reason cannot comprehend “yet”. It is a certitude of faith and not of reason. It is a practical certitude and not theoretical.  This means we must do and put into actions what we know God wants from us. Fr. Thomas Green SJ speaks that discernment is “where prayer and action meets”.

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Mat 6:19-24 Verse-by-Verse Analysis

September 13, 2009

Hope this notes helps someone:

Study notes Verse-by-vers Analysis for Matthew 6:19-24

Discerning authentic prophecy

September 12, 2009

I have been reading this book “Weeds among the Wheats” by Fr. Thomas Green SJ on Discernment, and I have to say it is a delightful book to read. I decided to share something from the book. The first one which I will share is how the Israelites discern whether a prophets is authentic or his prophecy is truly from God.

I think it is important since at today world also, we need to discern the authenticity of the messages we hear (even among the preachers). This is what you will found from page 29 onwards of the book, the first sentence will be from the book, while I added my own afterwards.

  1. Prophecies of misfortune are more likely  to be authentic than prophecies of good fortune.  This is quite reasonable, since “nice” prophecy or preaching could only be a way to gain popularity. I think this is what is happening with many of the new age preaching and gospel of prosperity.
  2. Authentic prophecy is confirmed from the prediction of the “signs” which actually come to pass.  Jesus appealed to his “signs” when John the baptist’s disciples ask him.  And if truly God who speaks, he will fulfill it.
  3. Test of fidelity to the fundamental faith of Israel.  In our context of course, this is fidelity to the orthodox teaching of Christianity as professed by the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. I will speak a bit more about this later.
  4. The Life witness of the prophet will be as important as his soundness of doctrine.
  5. Intention of the prophet (internal). Does he or she act in order to curry favor and win power, or to convert people to the living God?
  6. The prophet’s own experience of his or her prophetic call (internal). For the prophet himself this is “definitive” and decisive. It is the moment when they were captured by the living God.

Now, at the end of the chapter, Fr. Thomas asked an interesting questions

Today as much as ever, the mature Christian is called upon to “discern” the prophets of our times, and to judge which of them should be accepted as authentic spokesmen of God. Which of the six Old Testament criteria would you consider most helpful in discerning a genuine prophet today?

Now this is how he answered it. The fifth and the sixth are important to the prophet himself or herself. But this is internal or interior criteria. It is difficult for others outside to use this to discern. The first two are also not really helpful. A misfortune itself is not a solid sign of authentic prophecy. And the devil himself can work wonders to accomplish his own ends. So we are left with the third and the fourth. These two are the most helpful to discern. But Fr. Thomas also said that after he reflects his experience as discerner and co-discerner, he found the third criteria to be of more “weight”. In the sense that this fidelity to the authentic Christian Teaching is more objective than life witness of the prophets itself.  At the end we can only discern “to some extent” and cannot be 100% sure.

I myself found this interesting. Today, many of us have eaten up all the message that the world is offering. More worst, sometime we cling more to the “person” who preaches it, even when that message is not in line with the Church teaching and the tradition of the Church as reflected by the saints.

I believe there is a lot of room for us Christians today to grow in our discernment. To know the voice of the Lord among the noise that we hear.

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