The Jesuit Way of Making Decisions – The Discernment of Spirits
It is impossible to have a perfect knowledge of God’s will. We know that.
The discernment process will not give us absolute, intrinsic insight into God’s will. It is not a crystal ball that allows us to see into the future, or into the soul of another. We do not get to know the mind of God with certainty.
When we think about our parish, we know that we do not have the resources to do everything we might imagine we want to do at Our Lady of Hope – all of the programs we want to run; all of the renovations and upgrades to buildings we want to do; and the help we want to provide to those in need in our midst. In fact, we know that we need to make careful decisions even among the things that we need to do because we do not have the resources even to do everything that needs to be done.
The discernment of spirits is a process for deciding among good options. The discernment of spirits is different from other decision making processes because it seeks the will of God.
In an essay entitled, “Discernment and Board Formation,” John Whitney, S.J. describes discernment as “the prayerful, reflective, reasoned search for the movement of God’s spirit within one’s own heart and within the heart of the community.” The discernment process leads us to examine our own attractions and desires to what draws us closer to God; draws us away from God. We pay attention to our experiences of consolation and desolation. We also pay careful attention to the experiences of consolation and desolation of others because the process of discernment we are engaged in at Our Lady of Hope is a communal discernment.
The discernment of spirits is a process of choosing between competing goods. Since the answer of which option serves the greatest good – or is the will of God – is not self-evident, we can expect that there will be disagreements about what is the greatest good in a particular situation. Disagreement or conflict is not a sign of poor discernment but a call for us to discern well.
This call to discern well carries with it some assumptions – including:
– A presumption of good will in those with different opinions. This presumption requires spiritual maturity and humility and is not easy to achieve.
– Members of the community will contribute the fruits of their own prayer and the movement of spirits they experience with candor and trust when invited into the process.
– Some members of our community, specifically the Pastoral and Finance Councils have committed to a more in-depth engagement with the details of budgets, needed maintenance, and other considerations. Consequently, they have committed to the discernment process in a new way.
Ultimately, this process is consultative – in other words – we are gathering data for the decision, but the decision itself will be made by either Fr. Paul Sullivan, S.J. in his role as pastor or by the bishop of the diocese.
We hope that the discernment process we have been engaged in for several years now will continue to be open and collaborative – that you will feel free to share the movement of spirits in your own life. Ultimately, recognizing that the discernment process has been about choosing between competing goods – that we accept the decisions made as a community.
Fr. Brian Conley, S.J.