Dear brothers and sisters, hello !
In the pursuit of our reflection on discernment – these days every Wednesday we will speak of spiritual discernment – and for this, today, the reference to a concrete testimony can therefore be useful to us.
One of the most instructive examples is offered to us by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, with a decisive episode in his life. Ignatius is recuperating at home after being wounded in combat in a leg. To dispel boredom, he asks for something to read. He liked stories of chivalry, but unfortunately, at home, there are only lives of saints. He adapts somewhat reluctantly, but as the reading progresses, he begins to discover another world, a world that conquers him and seems to rival that of the knights. He is fascinated by the figures of Saint Francis and Saint Dominic and feels the desire to imitate them. But the chivalrous world also continues to exercise its fascination over him. And so he feels in himself this alternation of thoughts, those of the knights and those of the saints who seem to equal each other.
Ignatius, however, also begins to see differences. In his Autobiography – in the third person – he writes: “Thinking about the things of the world, especially chivalrous things, gave him great pleasure, but when, out of weariness, he abandoned them, he felt empty and disappointed. On the other hand, to go to Jerusalem barefoot, to eat nothing but herbs, to practice all the austerities which he had known to be customary to the saints, were thoughts which not only consoled him while he was there, but even after ‘he had abandoned them left him satisfied and full of joy’ (n. 8). It left him with a trace of joy.
In this experience, we can note two aspects in particular. The first is time: the thoughts of the world are attractive at first, but then they lose their luster and leave empty, discontented. The thoughts of God, on the other hand, arouse resistance in the beginning. The stories of the saints are boring things, but in time, when accepted, they bring an unknown peace, a peace that lasts.
Here then is the other aspect: the point of arrival of the thoughts. At first, the situation does not seem so clear. There is a development of discernment: we understand what is good for us not in an abstract, general way, but in the course of our life. In the rules of discernment, fruit of this fundamental experience, Ignatius lays down an important premise, which helps to understand such a process: “With regard to those who go from mortal sin to mortal sin, the ordinary behavior of the enemy is to offer them apparent pleasures, occupying their imagination with pleasures and sensual voluptuousness, in order to retain them and plunge them further into their vices and their sins. The good spirit, on the contrary, acts in them in the opposite way: it prods and bites their conscience, making them feel the reproaches of reason. (1).
The story that precedes the discerner is essential because discernment is not a kind of oracle or fatalism, like drawing lots on two possibilities. The big questions arise when we have already come a long way in life, and we have to go back on this journey to understand what we are looking for. If you go a long way in life and you ask yourself this question: “But why am I walking in this direction, what am I looking for? », there you make discernment. Ignatius, when he found himself wounded in his father’s house, was not thinking at all about God or how to reform his own life. He makes his first experience of God by listening to his own heart, which shows him a curious reversal: seductive things at first sight leave him disappointed, and in others, less brilliant, he feels a peace that lasts over time. We also have this experience, so many times we start thinking about something and leave it at that and then we are disappointed. Instead, we do charity, we do a good thing and we feel happiness, a good thought comes to you, something of joy, it is our own experience. He, Ignatius, had his first experience of God, listening to his own heart, which showed him a curious reversal. That’s what we have to learn: listen to your own heart. To know what is happening, what decision to make, to pass judgment on a situation, you have to listen to your own heart. We listen to television, radio, cell phone, we are masters of listening, but I ask you: do you know how to listen to your heart? Do you stop and say, “But how is my heart? Is he satisfied, is he sad, is he looking for something? “. To make good decisions, you have to listen to your heart.
This is why Ignatius suggests reading the lives of the saints, because they show in a narrative and understandable way the style of God in the lives of people not so different from us. Their actions speak to ours and help us understand their meaning.
In this famous episode – of the two feelings that Ignatius experienced, one when he read the things of the knights and the other when he read the lives of the saints – we can recognize another important aspect of discernment, that we already mentioned last time. There is an apparent chance in the events of life: everything seems to be born of a banal misadventure: there were no books of knights, only lives of saints. A misadventure which nevertheless constitutes a possible turning point. It is only after a while that Ignatius realizes this and at this point will devote all his attention to it. Listen carefully: God works through unforeseen events that happen by chance, by chance this happened to me, by chance I met this person, by chance I saw this movie. It was not planned but God acts through unforeseen events, and also in misadventures: “I had to go for a walk and I had a problem with my feet, I can’t…”. Take a step back: what is God telling you? What is life telling you? We have also seen it in a passage from the Gospel of Matthew: a man plowing a field accidentally comes across a buried treasure. A completely unexpected situation. But what is important is that he recognizes it as the godsend of his life and decides accordingly: he sells everything and buys this field (cf. 13, 44). My advice to you, beware of the unexpected. The one who says: “I didn’t expect that”. Is life speaking to you here, is the Lord speaking to you, or is the devil speaking to you? There is something to discern here, the way I react to unexpected things. “I was so calm at home and… the mother-in-law comes”, how do you react? Is it love or something else inside of you? Discernment. “I was working well in the office and a comrade comes to tell me that he needs money”, how do you react? See what happens when we go through experiences we don’t expect and get to know our moving heart.
Discernment helps to recognize the signs by which the Lord is encountered in unforeseen, even unpleasant situations, such as the wound in the leg for Ignatius. From these can arise an encounter that changes your life forever. Be careful, the most beautiful thread is the unexpected: “how to move in the face of this? “. May the Lord help us to hear our heart and to see when it is he who is acting and when it is not, when it is something else.