Discernment of Spirits

Ignatius of Loyola's Discernment of Spirits provided outstanding advice and insight this Lent.  You can find an online text here of Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises 313-336.  I also recommend the version I read:  Discernment of Spirits: According to the Life and Teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola by Piet Penning de Vries, translated by W. Dudok Van Heel (New York:  Exposition Press, 1973).

For anyone trying to make difficult decisions, or even easy ones, or for people who find it all too easy to waffle, this book is invaluable.  I would also recommend using this if mentoring young students. 

Here are some highlights, helpful for discerning God's will in a decision:
  1. When praying, note down the first thoughts and the final thoughts.  If thoughts are bad/distracting, weaken/disturb/disquiet the soul, take away peace/tranquillity/quiet, then these are generally from a bad spirit and are to be dismissed and fought against.  Never make decisions based on these impulses.
  2. Examine conscience carefully and go to Confession regularly.  If you are going from good to better, God's influence feels gentle, light, sweet; the bad spirit's influence feels sharp, noisy, disturbing.  If you are going from bad to worse, the bad spirit's influence feels gentle, light, sweet; God's influence feels sharp, noisy, disturbing.
  3. Given the above, when something makes us sad:  this is right and just if you are then filled with peace and motivation to do good, but a temptation if you are disheartened and chilled.  When something makes us happy, this is right and just if you are then filled with peace and motivation to do good, but a temptation if you are distracted and experience a sharp let-down and then sadness.  Weigh your experience and judge accordingly.  For example, it would not be good to base a course of action off the sadness that ends with chill or a joy that is distracting.  Test the things that do this to you.
  4. A good sign that something is God's will:  when the preference of a period of consolation = the aversion of a period of desolation.  I.E.  When I was happy, I wanted X.  Now I am miserable and want the opposite.  This is a good sign, according to Ignatius, that God would want me to go for X, even if I find it distasteful right now.  And stick to the course of action if such distaste arises in the future.
  5. Make decisions with prayer, consider your own God-given desires, weighing the pros and cons.  The revelation of God's will, His favor on a decision follows the decision:  God gives peace to a right choice.  But!  Lest we grope about for a definition of peace, Ignatius suggests that any of the following would qualify as peace, hence, as a sign, that the right decision had been made and should be carried out:  confidence, edification, some divine blessing, an experience of God, feeling of devotion, comfort, cheerfulness, contentment, tears/emotion, delight, joy, perseverence, a taste for divine things, ardor, tranquillity, vigor, generousity in difficulties, desire for perfection, sweetness, humility, repentence, resolution to do some good thing.  Any and all of these come from God.  If you are torn up inside about a decision, but you prayed, thought, asked advice, and chose, and now you feel sorrow for your sins--that's a sign from God!  And it follows the decision, not precedes it.
Other great advice abounds.  A must-read. 

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