April 19, 2016 Tuesday: 4th Week of Easter
"My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (John 10:22-30)
St. Ignatius of Loyola is one of Christianity's most important teachers of discernment. And yet Ignatius himself did not write a systematic, step-by-step, by-step, follow-the-recipe sort of guide to making a decision. He knew that every decision carries with it so many variables that a cookie-cutter method would be contrived and clunky. Humans are simply too complex for a one-size-fits-all discernment manual. Instead, Ignatius set out to teach people how to become a kind of person who, through a sort of learned intuition, could detect the sources of one's thoughts, emotions, and actions.
Through that discernment of the sources, which he called the discernment of spirits, a person can determine mine God's will in any given situation. In other words, once a person can recognize the motivations moving her toward one particular choice or another, then the work of coming to a decision becomes easy: she simply chooses the option that comes from God.
OK, maybe the choice still isn't always easy, but the point is that the tricky part is not in the act of choosing ing option A, B, or C but rather in creating an internal skill-an Ignatian intuition-of recognizing the motives attracting and repulsing you toward or away from any given option. Ignatian discernment, then, isn't so much about what to do but about who to be. It's about becoming a person in tune with the movements that lead toward God. The doing will flow from the being.
In John's Gospel (John 10:1-5), we learn that sheep know the voice of the shepherd to whom they belong. They recognize his voice and follow that voice. They will not follow a stranger, because they know that the stranger's voice is not the voice of their good shepherd. The great Bible commentator William Barclay gives a vivid description of this image. In first-century Palestine, each shepherd had a unique call that his own sheep recognized immediately. Sometimes at night, several flocks were herded together into a cave for protection. In the morning, how would the sheep be sorted? The shepherds would stand a distance from one another and begin calling their sheep. By hearing the various voices, the sheep could immediately detect the voice of their shepherd and follow him (William Barclay, Bible Commentary, vol. 2, p. 57).
In any given situation, whether in an ordinary day or in a day of momentous decision, there are many voices in your head and heart proposing posing to you a variety of actions, reactions, or nonactions. The Ignatian method of discernment teaches you how to fine-tune your spiritual senses so that you can more readily detect and move toward the voice of the Good Shepherd, distinguishing that voice from all the others.
-Fr. Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ