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PRAY | Cultivating a life of peace and joy in Christ

The art of spiritual discernment involves knowing where we are spiritually so we might know God’s plan and the peace that comes from Him

Fr. Mitchel Baer
Imagine a life where you clearly know God’s plan for you at every moment, in the concrete events of your life, day in and day out. What would it be like? Even the most basic stresses would be lifted. Car isn’t starting in the morning? Well, that was because otherwise you would have been in that accident outside your neighborhood. Got sick at the worst possible time? When you freely offered that suffering, God used it to strengthen a family member. Can’t stop gossiping about that annoying coworker no matter how hard you try? God permits that nagging imperfection to foster trust and humility in you.
Such a life would be marked by the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), wouldn’t it? This kind of life in faith is possible when we grow in the habit of discernment. Now "discernment” is, even for many Catholics, a somewhat nebulous word, and when it is known it is pretty well exclusively used to speak of vocational discernment. That is, asking God what His “big picture” plan is for one’s life. Priest? Religious sister? Marriage? Real discernment of a vocation, however, can only be done when we know the broader art of discernment in general. What is more, discernment is just as necessary after entering a stable vocation as it is in choosing one. So if it is so important, what is it?
St. Ignatius of Loyola can help us here. He became an expert in discernment after his life was dramatically changed by a battlefield wound. In his recovery he experienced a profound encounter with God. This opened his spiritual eyes to a new awareness of God’s presence in his life. From this he was moved to compose the “Spiritual Exercises,” a book designed to be a guide to an intense retreat practiced over the course of 30 days. However, the Exercises contains nuggets of practical wisdom for discernment that can be applied in anyone’s daily life.
Discernment, as St. Ignatius proposes, is a process of becoming aware of the spiritual plane of our lives, understanding what is going on there and choosing to receive good inspirations and reject the bad. The crucial starting point in this process is awareness. St. Ignatius would ask you, how aware are you of the spiritual world? The thoughts, feelings and desires of your life: Do you notice them as they pass through your heart and mind, or are you so caught up in a hurried life that they pass you by? Becoming more aware of these movements is the first step in cultivating a life of peace and joy in Christ. Only when we know where we really are spiritually can we know God’s plan for us, and experience the peace of His presence no matter the circumstances.
This is the first in a series of six articles exploring the art of discernment according to St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Father Mitchell Baer is associate pastor at Immaculate Conception in Dardenne Prairie

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