On May 23 we celebrated Pentecost, the commemoration of when Jesus’ disciples “were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). Of course, the Holy Spirit didn’t stop with them. We too are filled with the Holy Spirit and sent out to proclaim the Good News as members of the Body of Christ. It’s not always easy, though, to discern where or to what the Spirit is calling us. Fortunately, we have numerous saints who dedicated their lives to this discernment and left us with their wisdom.
One such saint is Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). A few days before Pentecost this year, May 20, 2021, marked the 500th anniversary of when Ignatius, a soldier at the time, was injured in battle and began his conversion to a life of faithful devotion to Jesus Christ and attentive listening to the Spirit. At the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises, a compilation of meditations, prayers, and contemplative practices, St. Ignatius describes seven attitudes that a person must have in order to enter into an authentic discernment process.
1. Openness. You must enter the process with an open mind and open heart. If you start with a preconceived outcome based on your preferences or biases, you don’t leave room for other possibilities to surface and take root.
2. Generosity. Such openness requires you to enter the discernment process with a generous spirit and largeness of heart, putting no limits on what God might call you to.
3. Courage. Being truly open and generous takes courage, for God might be asking something difficult or challenging of you. It takes courage to let go of control and trust in God’s will over your own.
4. Interior Freedom. To authentically find and follow God’s will, an attitude of interior freedom means that your deepest desire must be to do whatever God’s will is with no conditions attached.
5. A Habit of Prayerful Reflection on Your Experience. Making a prayerful discernment requires dedicating significant time on a regular basis to quieting yourself, putting yourself in God’s presence, and listening to what God is saying in the interior of your heart.
6. Having Your Priorities Straight. If serving God is the ultimate goal of your life, then everything else must be subordinated to that goal. All your choices must be consistent with this direction in your life.
7. Not Confusing Ends with Means. The goal of serving God must be the reason for your choices, not the result. Often people strive to be rich and famous, and then afterwards use their position to serve God. But this puts God into second place, after one’s own desires.
With these seven essential attitudes, St. Ignatius lays the foundation for aligning our will with that of God through authentic discernment. May we all heed his wisdom and listen carefully to the Holy Spirit dwelling within and among us.