Summary/Reaction (S/R) of the Egan reading

Summary/Reaction (S/R) of the Egan reading

1. Write a Summary/Reaction (S/R) of the Egan reading. Summarize the main ideas in a double spaced ½ page and write a double spaced ½ page reaction to the reading. Also, devise an interesting discussion question. Include this question at the bottom of the page and highlight it in some way for ease of reading.

of Theology for Southern Africa 13 8 (November 2010) 5 7-70
Conscience, Spirit, Discernment: The Holy Spirit, the Spiritual Exercises and the Formation of Moral Conscience
Anthony Egan
The article examines the connection between conscience, the Holy Spirit and prayer in the process of moral decision-making. Drawing upon a Catholic notion of conscience (individual and formed/informed) I argue that the type of prayer of Discernment that is found in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola offers the best method of ‘verifying’ a judgment made in conscience
One of the quirks of much Catholic moral theology is the way in which it so often seems to lack an explicitly theological foundation. Unlike other Christian traditions that emphasize Scripture or charismatic experience, Catholic moral theology has until recently been heavily influenced by (mostly Aristotelian) reasoning and by mining the Church’s historical tradition on a range of moral questions. Although this has changed considerably, particularly when Vatican II reasserted the importance of solid scriptural foundations for all forms of theology and for ministerial training, it was not uncommon for Catholic doctoral students in Christian ethics to find, as recently as the early 1960s, that they had completed two-thirds of their theses and not mentioned Jesus once!1 The reason for this was the strong emphasis on reason and in particular the natural law reasoning of theologians like Thomas Aquinas. While such an approach is often useful and indeed necessary, particularly in dialogue with secular moral reasoning, it can,
1 This was told to me by the famous United States theologian Charles E. Curran. He refers to it a number of times in his writings, including his autobiography: Loyal Dissent: Memoir of a Catholic Theologian (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 2006). Other moral theologians of his and earlier generations have confirmed this to me.
Anthony Egan, S.J. is based at the Jesuit Institute – South Africa in Johannesburg. He is a sessional lecturer in theology and applied ethics at St Augustine College of South Africa. He has written in the fields of history, moral theology and bioethics.
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and has, often lead to the compartmentalization of Catholic life – theology, prayer, worship, spirituality and morality can often appear separate.
The effect for Catholic moral theology can, I would suggest, be at times helpful, at times harmful. Negatively, it can lead to an essentially instrumental reasoning or to what might be called a ‘commandist short-circuiting’ of moral decision-making, largely through the seemingly ubiquitous collections of ‘The Church says…’, reaching its nadir in what is called the neo-manualist tradition of the late 18th to mid^O* centuries.2 Although rationality is essential to good moral decision-making, particularly given the many exegetical problems in using scripture for moral judgments, I will be suggesting in this paper that it is helpful to incorporate theological and particularly spiritual dimensions into ethics. I shall do this by reflecting on the interrelationship between conscience, the Holy Spirit and the approach to discernment found in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), 16th Century Spanish soldier-mystic who founded the religious order the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.
Conscience is a term frequently mis/used today. It is often thought of as an attempt to justify whatever one prefers, to do what one likes. This is not what is meant by meant by conscience, not how Catholics understand it, nor indeed how Luther understood it. Its Latin root, conscientia, means both consciousness in general and an inner consciousness that something is morally wrong. The great medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) interpreted it positively to mean an act of intellect or mind by which we know what is good.3 God who created us gave us the ability to discern what is good, what is right or wrong. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) understood conscience as:
Deep within their consciences men and women discover a law which they have not laid upon themselves and which they must obey. Its voice, ever calling them to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, tells them inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that. For they have in their hearts a law inscribed by God. Their dignity rests in observing this law, and by this they will be judged. Their conscience is people’s most secret core, and their sanctuary. There they are alone with God whose voice echoes in their depths. Through loyalty to conscience, Christians are joined to others in the search for truth and for the right solution to so many moral problems which arise both in the life of individuals and from social relationships. Hence, the more a correct conscience prevails, the more do persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and endeavour to
2 Cf. James F. Keenan, A History of Catholic Moral Theology in the Twentieth Century: From Confessing Sins to Liberating Conscience (New York: Continuum, 2010).
3 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (Allen, TX: Christian Classics, 1981) I, q79
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conform to the objective standards of conduct. Yet it often happens that conscience goes astray through ignorance which it is unable to avoid, without thereby losing its dignity. This cannot be said of the person who takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is gradually almost blinded through the habit of committing sin {Gaudium et Spes, 1965, ?. 16).
Conscience compels us to seek what is morally right so as to act morally and
I in line with our deepest held beliefs. It is not simply a matter of taste. This is the
act of informing our conscience: taking the time to find out what the moral issues
| are, what moral authorities like the Church teach on the matter. Then one is faced
with the challenge of discerning the appropriate course of action.
Since conscience, properly formed and informed, is understood as an expression of a person’s deepest sense of connection to God, Catholic tradition has held that one should follow one’s ‘formed and informed conscience’, come what may. Aquinas held one should do this even to the point of excommunication. Of course one’s conscience may be wrong: I may be unaware of what I’m doing, unable to overcome this ignorance on my own. This is called invincible ignorance and, as Vatican II remarks, this does not reduce the dignity of my conscience. As John Paul II, whom no one could call a liberal in matters of morality, commented in Veritatis Splendor (n.62), while what I do may be objectively wrong, does not make a wrong right, I am not however morally to blame even if I’m objectively in the wrong. When, however, I choose not to form and inform my conscience, I am choosing vincible ignorance – and the dignity of my conscience is impaired.
There is a closely-linked problem. Do I deep down believe what I have been taught? Do I believe it because I know it to be true – in short, that God, speaking to me deep within myself, wills it – or do I believe and act on it, perhaps against my deeper judgment, for some other reason: a desire to be liked, approved, rewarded or a fear of punishment? If this is the case, I may well be acting not so much out of conscience as out of superego, my ‘inner policeman’.4
Such a temptation is further complicated, I would suggest, by certain strains of thought within official Catholic moral thinking on conscience that seem to equate following conscience with obedience to church magisterial teaching. Such a view, that a ‘good’ conscience is one that accepts and conforms to the magisterium, is a view that emerges among a number of more conservative Catholic documents and writings. Veritatis Splendor (1993) is highly critical of what it terms the ‘creative’ understanding of conscience (n.54.1), to real or imagined suggestions that critics of the magisterium hold that moral maturity “is inhibited by the excessively categorical position adopted by the Church’s Magisterium in many moral questions” (n. 55.2) and that such thinkers advocate
4 See: John W. Glaser, “Conscience and Superego: A Key Distinction”, in: C. Ellis Nelson (ed.), Conscience: Theological andPsychological Perspectives (New York: Newman Press, 1973), 167-188.
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‘pastoral’ solutions to problems (n.56.1). These, suggests Veritatis Splendor, “pose a challenge to the very identity of the moral conscience in relation to human freedom and God’s law” (n. 56.2). For the Vatican, John Paul II and Veritatis Splendor, “Conscience is not an independent and exclusive capacity to decide what is good and what is evil. Rather there is profoundly imprinted upon it a principle of obedience vis-à-vis the objective norm which establishes and conditions the correspondence of its decisions with the commands and prohibitions which are at the basis of human behaviour” {Veritatis Splendor, n. 60).5 Human freedom, then, is indivisibly connected to truth – the objective truth as proclaimed by the magisterium (including at times, if we read it correctly, certain biological and scientific claims often disputed by biologists and scientists).
These strong claims have frequently been disputed by moral theologians. Apart from those who have challenged the accuracy of their positions criticized in Veritatis Splendor,6 some have argued that it represents “the suppression of conscience and a move of power toward the Magisterium.”7 While this may be a little rhetorically excessive (note my comment from Veritatis Splendor n.62 above), it does present the reality of tension within the Catholic Church over the significance of conscience. While not denying the significance of the magisterium, Linda Hogan emphasizes that, in her reading of Vatican II,
conscience and magisterium should not be seen in terms of conflicting authorities. Instead they should be regarded as mutually supportive sites of engagement with divine law. This is undoubtedly the model that [Vatican II] aspired to. Yet, in every century of the church’s history we can see that this model ruptures when there is disagreement about some moral problem.. .We did not get any direction from the Council documents about clarifying this relationship. There is no discussion of how to resolve potential conflicts between the views of the magisterium and the conscientious decisions of individuals.8
Moreover, Richard McCormick reminds us that not all church teachings are held infallibly, indeed that “Nothing is understood to be infallibly defined unless this is clearly established” (Catholic Code of Canon Law, n. 750), that much teaching is provisional (i.e. capable of modification), and that while we should presume
5 Quoting from: John Paul II, Dominum et Vivificantem (1986), n.43. This approach is broadly echoed in: Germain Grisez and Russell Shaw, Fulfillment in Christ: A Summary of Christian Moral Principles (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991).
6 Cf. Joseph A. Selling & Jan Jans (eds.), The Splendor of Accuracy: An Examination of the Assertions Made by Veritatis Splendor (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995).
7 Jayne Hoose, “Conscience in Veritatis Splendor and the Catechism”, in: Charles E. Curran (ed.), Conscience (Readings in Moral Theology 14) (New York: Paulist Press, 2004), 89-94, at 89.
8 Linda Hogan, “Conscience in the Documents of Vatican IF’, in: Curran (ed.) Conscience, 87. For her extended examination see: Linda Hogan, Confronting the Truth: Conscience in the Catholic Tradition (New York: Paulist, 2000).
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the truth of authoritative magisterial teaching assent to non-infallible teaching is conditional and that dissent may be justified for serious reasons.9
In his reflections on Veritatis Splendor, the Redemptorist Brian Johnstone, by no means a moral radical, notes that the text clearly cites Gaudium et Spes ?. 16, a point that “would seem to indicate a move back from a strongly objectivist model [of morality] to a more personalist understanding of conscience…” But
no doubt because of the fundamental concern with the contemporary rejection of or indifference to moral truth, and even the denial of the possibility of its attainment, the encyclical.. .seems to be more concerned to stress the ‘truth about moral good and evil’ {Veritatis Splendor 60) than to develop an integrated, personalist vision. Nevertheless, the elements of such a vision are present.10
If he is right, there is a possibility that both sides of the debate have missed the point. In their legitimate concern for the notion of objective moral truth (a concern all reasonable Catholic and Christian ethicists would share if they wish to continue doing serious ethics!) the Vatican has in Veritatis Splendor conflated moral objectivity with conscience. If however we see the need for serious decisions of conscience as a search for (as McCormick reminds us) non-infallible moral truths, a search that may lead us into error nonetheless, the exercise of conscience as understood through the Christian tradition is still a valid enterprise: I have a choice. I can act on my deepest conviction (conscience) – which may well be in accord with what the Church (or other moral authority) teaches. I can act against my deepest conviction, in accordance with the Church or other authority (though Aquinas would hold that in doing that I am sinning). I can act in accordance with my conscience against the demands of the authority (as Luther did when called upon to recant his ‘heresy’).
What such an enterprise needs, however, is a process that tries to seek such truth as honestly and objectively as possible. This, I would suggest for Christians, entails a process of serious discernment under the guidance of – and clearly invoking – the Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit
For the purpose of this paper I am avoiding many of the great theological controversies and debates about the Holy Spirit that arise out of East-West Trinitarian controversies. Although they may add a certain nuance to what I have to
9 Richard A. McCormick, “Hierarchical Church Teaching and Conscience”, in Curran (ed.), Conscience, 103-109.
10 Brian V. Johnstone, “Conscience and Error”, in Curran (ed.), Conscience, 171.
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say, I do not think they are important for the purpose of my central argument: that the Holy Spirit is central to the forming and informing of (Christian) conscience.
My first proposition in this section is that the Holy Spirit is the ‘activist’ presence of God in the world and human history. This should not seem an overly radical assertion since it is beautifully summed up in Yves Congar’s magisterial 3-volume study of both the Western and Eastern traditions of pneumatology,11 in historical studies that focus on ancient and modern Eastern and Western traditions12 and in the numerous works of the great German Reformed theologian Jürgen Moltmann,13 and in a recent work of one of his students, the Lutheran Geiko Müller-Fahrenholz.14 It is also central to the 1986 papal encyclical Dominum et Vìvificantem}5
How then is this Spirit encountered in the world? Moltmann speaks of an ‘immanent transcendence’ – God in all things – in the world, the presence of the Spirit who sanctifies all life, human and other.16 The Spirit not only sanctifies life but gives human beings vitalizing energies that help us to transform our world for the good, both for humans and the rest of the planet.17 The Holy Spirit works both in us and through us. Indeed,
The Spirit creates both the collective unconscious and the individual consciousness, and relates the two figurations of life to one another…. People experience themselves in the relationships of society, and society is made up of independent people. This polarity is part of life, and keeps life tense and expectant. The Spirit of life is the Spirit of love. Love unites what is separated, and separates what is united and in this rhythm gives life its movement.18
The Spirit’s presence in the world is further acknowledged and celebrated by liberation theologian José Comblin.19 For Comblin the Spirit is especially present among human beings, particularly those who are poor and oppressed
11 Cf. Yves Congar, / Believe in the Holy Spirit, 3 volumes [1979-80] (New York: Crossroad Herder, 1999).
12 See: Elizabeth Draper, Holy Power, Holy Presence: Rediscovering Medieval Metaphors for the Holy Spirit (New York: Paulist, 2007); Eugene F. Rogers Jr., After the Spirit: A Constructive Pneumatology from Resources outside the Modern West (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).
13 See: Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1983); God in Creation (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985); The Spirit of Life (London: SCM, 1992); The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of Life (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), inter alia.
14 Geiko Müller-Fahrenholz, God’s Spirit: Transforming a World in Crisis (New York: Continuum, 1995).
15 John Paul II, Dominum et Vìvificantem: On the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church and the World (Pretoria: SACBC, 1986).
16 Moltmann, Spirit of Life, 31-38; Source of Life, 43-54.
17 A point that is central too to Muller-Fahrenholz ( 1995).
18 Moltmann, Spirit of Life, 254.
19 José Comblin, The Holy Spirit and Liberation [1987] (Tunbridge Wells: Burns & Oates, 1989).
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who experience God in community, in struggles for justice, in speaking and being heard, and in freedom. The Spirit is present in those who engage in these struggles generously, and it is present in the Church in many ways, particularly as the Church becomes a source of hope to the oppressed and needy. The Spirit is a guide and strengthener of those who strive for what is right and just.
Closely tied to those claims is the traditional understanding of the gifts of Holy Spirit to human beings. Even before the recent interest among ethicists in prayer, spirituality, emotion and imagination as sources for moral theology20 the Holy Spirit was fundamental to the moral theology of Thomas Aquinas. John Mahoney,21 Daniel Maguire22 and Charles Bouchard23 have all noted the centrality of the Spirit to Thomist ethics, a centrality that has largely been perhaps intentionally overlooked with the result that Thomas’ thought has come across as sterile and legalistic, an exercise in what Maguire has termed a “narrow and nude intellectualism”.24
Contrary to this, as early as 1968, John Mahoney saw a totally different Thomas for whom the Holy Spirit’s presence and gift of wisdom is the foundation of a more fruitful ethics. For Thomas, says Mahoney, the Holy Spirit is the spirit of divine wisdom giving every individual a share of God’s own wisdom and insight into God’s plan for creation {ST, II-II, 8, 3 & ad3) and “communicates to the individual Christian the ability to discern in every situation the order and orientation of himself [sic] and creation in which God invites him to take part” (S Contra Gentes III, 94).25 This is both an external wisdom (manifested in the divine law) and the internal wisdom within persons to discern how they might apply the law for themselves. It is not, Mahoney suggests, that the external law be abandoned, but rather that
this written formulated law is intended to help the individual find the wisdom of God for him [sic] here and now. Hence the insight which the individual receives from the Spirit
20 See: Sidney Callahan, “The Role of the Emotions in Moral Decision Making”, Hastings Center Report June/July 1988, 9-16; Paul Lauritzen, “Emotions and Religious Ethics”, Journal of Religious Ethics 16/1988, 307-323; Philip Keane, Christian Ethics and Imagination (New York: Paulist Press, 1984); James Keating (ed.), Spirituality and Moral Theology: Essays from a Pastoral Perspective (New York: Paulist Press, 2000); Dennis J. Billy & James F. Keating, Conscience and Prayer (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2001).
21 John Mahoney, “The Spirit of Wisdom in St Thomas Aquinas”, in: Robert Butterworth (ed.), The Spirit in Action (Langley, Bucks.: St Paul Publications, 1968), 45-57; Mahoney, Seeking the Spirit: Essays in Moral and Pastoral Theology (Denville NJ: Dimension Books, 1981).
22 Daniel C. Maguire, “Ratio Practica and the Intellectualistic Fallacy”, Journal of Religious Ethics 10, 1982,22-39.
23 Charles E. Bouchard, “Recovering the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Moral Theology”, Theological Studies, 63, 2002, 539-558.
24 Maguire, “Ratio Practica”, 31.
25 Mahoney, “Spirit of Wisdom”, 47.
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of wisdom into the present situation is also an insight into the true wisdom which is enshrined in the written law. What this means is that the individual faced with a situation in which the written law is a factor is able to discover and discern in the confrontation of the situation with the written law not only what the law really means but also what its relevance is in the present situation.26
Bouchard highlights the fact that in Aquinas’ thought the gifts of the Holy Spirit are closely linked to the virtues that are central to Thomas’ ethics.271 am not going to go into a detailed exegesis of these virtues but merely to show how Thomas sets it up. The Gift of Wisdom, Thomas argues, is tied to the virtue of Love (Charity), the highest of all the virtues. Wisdom helps the results of reasoning trace back to and unify in love (of God, neighbour and self). It also helps us live our lives – whether contemplative or active – and unites prayer and mysticism, preaching and justice (STII-II, 23,25,28,29,45,46). The Gift of Understanding is tied to Faith, the foundation and fountain of life in God. To grow in faith one has to grow in understanding of God and to deepen one’s insight into who God is for us (ST II-II, ql-4, 8). The Gift of Counsel is expressed in the virtue of Prudence, the most important of the cardinal moral virtues. It helps Christians understand the spirit of the Law under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (ST II-II, 52). The Gift ofCourage inspires and strengthens the virtue of Fortitude/Courage, giving the Christian the gift of endurance of suffering for the sake of God’s Reign and the certainty of hope that God is present in life’s challenges (ST II-II, 17-18, 123-124,128). The Gift of Knowledge corresponds to the virtue of Faith, both as knowledge and trust in God (ST II-II, 9, 166). The gift of Piety is for Thomas akin to justice, doing what is right and in accordance with one’s duty, whether this is religious observance, filial piety or social justice (ST II-II, 83). The Gift of Reverence or Fear of the Lord is itself a virtue that both affirms reverence for God and to the virtue of Temperance/Moderation, achieving the (Aristotelian) happy medium between shortage and excess, pleasure and pain, so that one might live good lives (ST, HI, 18-19; II-II, 19,161). Thus Aquinas draws together the moral and the theological, indicating how the Spirit works in the good human life his ethics seeks to encourage.
The role of the Spirit in conscience formation has recently been reaffirmed by the Vatican. The Spirit, argues Pope John Paul II, gives to human beings “the gift of conscience, so that in this conscience the image [i.e. humanity] may faithfully reflect its model, which is both Wisdom and the Eternal Law, the source of the moral order in [humanity] and in the world.”28 Here the pope is linking the presence of the Spirit in the world to conscience, a step that, as we’ve seen, many others
26 Mahoney, “Spirit of Wisdom”, 51.
27 Bouchard, “Recovering the Gifts”, 539.
28 John Paul II, Dominum et Vìvificantem (Pretoria: SACBC, 1986), ?. 36.
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[ have also taken, most notably Thomas Aquinas, though I suspect that for many in the hierarchy the Spirit may been seen less as that which activates conscience as seeking to uphold and enforce the moral law.
With his background in bioethics and business ethics, John Mahoney is probably more conscious of the ‘grey areas’ of moral decision making than many29 and is no doubt conscious of the deep tensions that the action of the Spirit may
| have on us as we make decisions. We should not be lulled (as I think some Vatican officials fear) into a sense that the Spirit’s involvement in moral decision-making will make us complacent or seek easy options. In his great work, Yves Congar describes the action of the Holy Spirit thus:
The Holy Spirit acts within us or penetrates into us like an anointing.. .makes us conscious of the sovereign attraction of the absolute and of our own wretchedness and of the untruth and selfishness that fills our lives. We are conscious of being judged, but at the same time we are forestalled by forgiveness and grace, with the result that our false excuses, our self-justifying mechanisms and the selfish structure of our lives break down.30
To really act in conscience requires profound self-examination and self-knowledge, a willingness to confront oneself honestly. The means whereby we link a decision made in conscience under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I would suggest, is through the process of prayerful discernment.
Discernment in the Spiritual Exercises
Given that I am deeply uneasy with what I’ve called ‘commandist short-circuiting’ of moral decision-making – whether of the direct form or one that I believe seems to reduce conscience to blind obedience to a super-egoistic authority (a form of moral commandism, I would suggest), I would like in this section to outline a method for moral decision-making that (a) respects conscience, (b) consciously invokes the aid of the Holy Spirit, and (c) is rooted in freedom. I am referring here to discernment, the prudent making of life-choices, rooted here in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola.311 use this not because it is the only method of decision-making but because it offers a series of distinct advantages: (1) it is done in the context of prayer, usually a retreat, while (2) also utilizing one’s capacity for reason; it is also (3) not done alone but often in consultation with others, and
29 Mahoney, Seeking the Spirit, 51.
30 Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, Vol. 2, 123; Cf. Bouchard, “Recovering the Gifts”, 552.
31 I am not saying that there aren’t other means than the Spiritual Exercises in making prayerful moral decisions. The Christian mystical tradition – Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox – are full of them. Brevity restricts me to these exercises, as well as my sense of competence: as a Jesuit it is the form of prayer with which I am most familiar.
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(4) it fulfills the formed/informed function through the exercises exhortation to ‘think with the church’.
St Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556)32 was a Spanish soldier-nobleman who underwent a personal conversion to Christ and later founded the Catholic religious order, the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). During his conversion he spent months in seclusion in a cave near Manresa, Spain, where he prayed through the life of Christ, imagining himself in the scenes depicted in the Gospels. The notes he made during this time became the outline of a handbook for prayer, the Spiritual Exercises. This text formed the basis of a variety of retreats – 8-day, 30-day and retreats in daily life conducted over a period of six months to a year. All Jesuits made these exercises on joining the order. Women’s religious orders adopted them too, and today they are used ecumenically. It is not uncommon, today, to find on an Ignatian retreat (a retreat based on the Exercises) Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Dutch Reformed Christians, laity as well as clergy.
Part of Ignatius’ reason for what he did at Manresa was to decide what to do with his new life in Christ. In short his ‘retreat’ was one of discernment – weighing up his options, deciding how God was calling him. All Jesuits do this as a 30-day retreat when they begin their lives in the Society (the Novitiate) and again years later during a period called Tertianship33. Each year they make the 8-day retreat and each day they spend four hourly sessions in prayer using Ignatius’ method. The purpose of all this is to see where God is in their lives and where God may be leading them.
As Fitzsimons points out “spiritual discernment is not so much a matter of persuading the Lord to provide answers as asking the Holy Spirit to sharpen and unblock our inner vision so as to see more clearly where and how he’s working in our lives and, as a consequence, where he intends leading us.”34 This occurs most
32 Biographies of Ignatius are too numerous to mention. A few that offer intriguing insights are: Ignatius Loyola, The Autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola, with Related Documents (ed.) John Olin (New York: Fordham University Press, 1992) [one of many versions of a text dictated by Ignatius to a secretary near the end of his life]; Philip Caraman, Ignatius of Loyola: A Biography of the Founder of the Jesuits (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1990) [one of the standard biographies]; William W. Meissner, Ignatius of Loyola: The Psychology of a Saint (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1992) [ an excellent Freudian psycho-biography by a distinguished Jesuit priest-psychoanalyst]. For a brilliant history of St Ignatius and the early history of the Jesuits, see: John W. O’Malley, The First Jesuits (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993).
33 The novitiate is the first two-years of Jesuit life in which a candidate discerns with his companions and novice director whether he is called to be a Jesuit. Tertianship occurs a few years after ordination (or after a number of years working as a lay brother). Essentially a shortened repetition of the novitiate, it gives the Jesuit the opportunity to decide whether he wishes to remain for the rest of the life in the Society.
34 James Fitzsimons SJ, “Discernment” unpublished lecture, Centre for Ignatian Spirituality Open Day, 2004, 1.
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effectively in any of the longer or shorter forms of the Spiritual Exercises,35 where the fundamental purpose of the exercises is “deepening my loving relationship with God, and therefore seeking the way to express that relationship by whatever gift of myself I perceive he asks of me”36 and, in doing so, “being so drawn to Christ as to be inserted into his redeeming action and, by the power of his Spirit given to us, into a life lived in union and harmony with God’s saving purpose.”37
Discernment in the Spiritual Exercises can be made both individually and communally.38 Although the approach differs slightly in practice – communal discernment includes such elements as debate and even voting39 – the basic method remains essentially the same. This method has been summed up as nothing less than the prayerful application of See-Judge-Act: seeing the issue as clearly and objectively as possible; judging in the light of prayerful reflection on scripture and tradition; acting on a decision reached prayerfully and in conscience.40
Before one elaborates on the discernment process,41 it is necessary to indicate certain predispositions needed prior to commencement. First among these is what Toner, Futrell and Fitzsimons, among others, call remote preparation, a “striving in prayer for a deeper knowledge and love of Christ, and so for the prerequisites for any discernment…a freedom of spirit, freeing oneself from self-seeking, prejudices, attachments and fears, seeking God’s will with the unconditional
35 These include the full 30-day Retreat, the 19th Annotation (the 30 days done part-time over 6-9 months) or even in an 8-day form of the Spiritual Exercises. Cf. St Ignatius Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises, trans. Louis J. Puhl (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1951), nn. 18-20. Note: Here and elsewhere I am using the standard paragraph numbers of the text, since there are many translations of the text itself.
36 Fitzsimons, “Discernment”, 3.
37 Fitzsimons, “Discernment”, 7.
38 On communal discernment see: Jules J Toner, A Method for Communal Discernment of God’s Will (Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits III/4, 1971); John Carroll Futrell, Communal Discernment: Reflections on Experience (Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits IV/5,1972.
39 It is used particularly effectively in the election of the General of the Jesuits at General Congregations of the Society of Jesus.
40 Cf. Sergio Bernal Restrepo, ” A Methodology of Discernment”, Inculturation and Religious Life 79, 1989, 16-22; Elizabeth Liebert, “Discernment for Our Times”, Studies in Spirituality 18 (2008), 333-355 (especially 343-353); Frans Wijsen, Peter Henriot & Roger Mejia (eds.), The Pastoral Circle Revisited: A Critical Quest for Truth and Transformation (Nairobi: Paulines, 2005).
41 For an excellent summary of this process in relatively clear language, see: WilkieAu & Noreen Cannon Au, The Discerning Heart: Exploring the Christian Path (New York: Paulist Press, 2006), especially 60-65. See also: David Lonsdale, Dance to the Music of the Spirit: the Art o/Discernment (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1992); Jules J. Toner, Discerning God’s Will: Ignatius of Loyola’s Teaching on Christian Decision Making (St Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1991 ); Pierre Wolff, Discernment: The Art of Choosing Well (Ligouri MO: Ligouri Publications, 2003); Lisa R Berlinger & Thomas F. Tumblin, ” Sensemaking, Discernment, and Religious Leadership”, Journal of Religious Leadership, 3/1 & 2,2004,75-98; Fitzsimons, “Discernment” (2004); Toner Method for Communal Discernment (1971); Futrell, Communal Discernment (1972).
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determination to act on it…”42 This is the essence of what is called Ignatian indifference, the freedom to go one way or another in a decision depending on what God wills.43 The purpose of this is that any decision made will promote the establishment of God’s Reign, realistically conscious of the means available to the person according to one’s general state of life.44 Finally one must make a sincere effort to be fully informed of the issues surrounding any decision, of the facts that are available and options that are open.
The discernment itself entails a combination of’head work’ and ‘heart work’, careful weighing up of the possibilities, options and likely consequences of a decision – at one point Ignatius even recommends that the retreatant draws up a kind of ‘balance sheet’ of pros and cons – as well as deep prayer for guidance and the opening of one’s mind and heart to the will of the Holy Spirit. Options and choices should be carefully prayed through, while at the same time it is recommended that the person discerning should pay attention to how s/he is being led in their prayer. Attention should also be paid to how a certain direction in prayer leaves the retreatant afterwards: whether in a state of consolation or desolation. Consolation, it should be noted, is not just a ‘happy state’ but ultimately a state of peace and equilibrium – even if this equilibrium is accompanied at times by sadness. Desolation is a state of emptiness and aridity, disconnectedness to God, neighbour and self. Sometimes desolation may appear at first as a kind of ‘false consolation’ – happiness, excitement, enthusiasm, but suddenly trailing off into a state of emptiness. The complexity of Ignatian discernment is thus obvious. It is important then to note the need for a patient engagement with the process, often repetition of the praying and thinking, so that one makes a good discernment of how to act. It is also clear that any decision – and indeed the direction in which the prayer goes – needs to be carefully discussed with a trustworthy spiritual companion who may help us sift a true decision, a true discernment of God’s will, from the self-deception to which all of us, even saints, are prone. The final stage of Ignatian discernment, once a decision has been made and a course of action is decided upon, is to pray for confirmation of the choice “both external (for instance from authority or from ensuing experience) and internal, the experience of deep sustained peace of mind and heart, and in the vitality of one’s response to the challenge involved.”45
42 Fitzsimons, “Discernment”, 10.
43 St Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises, nn. 23,155,166,179.
44 It would be unrealistic and irresponsible, for example, for a mother of four young children to even entertain the possibility of abandoning her family to work among the homeless on the other side of the planet.
45 Fitzsimons, “Discernment”, 12.
Conscience, Spirit, Discernment: The Holy Spirit, Spiritual Exercises & Formation of Moral Conscience 69
Two further elements of Ignatian spirituality need to be addressed to round off this section. Firstly, although not identical with Ignatian discernment as such, nor indeed perhaps the primary focus, Ignatius insists on the need for discernment of spirits within the discernment process so that one makes the right decision.46 In a prayer of discernment it is likely that our ideas and choices may be influenced by a variety of forces: social, cultural, emotional and even economic in nature. When making decisions many factors come into play, and they may unduly influence our decision. Particularly when making moral decisions it is therefore important that we are sure they are right. Aware of this, Ignatius sees as connected to any discerned decision the need for a further discernment – of what he calls the good spirit or the evil spirit. The good spirit leads us to make a right choice and is characterized by leading us into a state of consolation. We can easily see this as the Holy Spirit guiding our decision making. The evil spirit – whether we see it mythologically as the devil or a demon, or on a psychological level as our own innate capacity towards self-deception, confusion and self-destruction – seeks to undermine our process of decision-making, either by leading us into deeper confusion, desolation or despair, or by appearing as ‘an angel of light’ offering us false consolation that will ultimately lead us into a wrong decision.
Chilean liberation theologian Segundo Galilea points out that
[discerning the good spirit from the bad (temptation) requires the disposition of inner freedom, a progressive interior liberation from sins and deliberate faults, from inordinate affections and attachments, from passions and tendencies that customarily obscure and condition discernment in each person.47
He further points out that
one must consult with competent people [once again showing the need for a good spiritual companion] and ask their advice. At the same time this helps individuals confirm for themselves the choice taken and the decisions made.. .48
The need for good spiritual direction, consultation and repetition of prayer in discernment is therefore obvious.
The last element we need to consider is Ignatius’ Rules for Thinking with the Church. Although very much a product of its time (the Reformation), and easily open to misuse by those who hold power, the Rules are nonetheless important as a final check for making a good moral decision. One element in Catholic moral theology of conscience that all ethicists share is the need to take the authoritative
46 For an excellent account of this see: Jules J. Toner, A Commentary on Saint Ignatius’ Rules for the Discernment of Spirits (St Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1981).
47 Segundo Galilea, “Temptation and Spiritual Discernment in Ignatius of Loyola and John of the Cross”, unpublished MS, n.d., 3.
48 Galilea, “Temptation and Spiritual Discernment”, 6.
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moral teaching of the Church seriously, indeed to start from a ‘presumption of truth’ of the teaching. Too swift a dismissal of magisterial teaching (whether in doctrine or morals) may be an exercise in self-deception, at best a short-circuiting of the discernment process, at worst the work of the ‘evil spirit’. Although many who make or direct Ignatian retreats sometimes leave out this element of the Spiritual Exercises, I think they do so at their peril. It would be far better to include these Rules, even if they demand a further meditation on who the Church is with whom we think!
Making the Connections
One of the key elements in many Ignatian retreats, particularly the full 30-day Spiritual Exercises, is what Ignatius calls the Election – the choice. This choice has both a common foundational element – the choice to seek and follow the will of God in one’s life – and the particular way in which one finds oneself drawn to following God according to the discernment of choices one has made. If one truly, fully and freely enters into this process one can be seen to be making this election ‘in the Spirit’. The fact that this choice also entails prudent and reasoned thought, the weighing up of options realistically, careful attention to the possibility that one mat be wrong or suffering delusions from the ‘evil spirit’, often in consultation with a wise spiritual companion, moves such a decision beyond the realm of an enthusiasm into one where it may be said that it is made in conscience. This process suggests how the themes of conscience, the Holy Spirit and moral discernment can be fruitfully united so that one chooses a course of action that is rooted in a truly formed and informed conscience.
This step is clearly important in a world where we find ourselves torn between the unhelpful poles of moral authoritarianism and relativism. Moral authoritarianism can often be seen as a form of fundamentalism, whether it is based on an ‘authorised’ reading of the Bible (usually that of those who preach) or on an over-developed distorted notion of religious authority. Such an approach, I would argue, seeks to constrain and even control the Spirit. Relativism, on the other hand, has the effect of diluting the voice of the Spirit and opens itself up to a variety of spirits, not all of them necessarily healthy or good. The proper exercise of conscientious and prayerful moral discernment opens the person to the voice of the Spirit of God deep within his or her being and leads the person to making the right choice.
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