Our focus on using Ignatian spirituality is to have personal experiences of Jesus. A spiritual director recently shared this experience with me:
Recently, a directee shared with me her experience of awakening with tears in her eyes because her dream took her to the foot of the cross where Jesus spoke to her saying “Don’t cry for me, everything will be OK.” The dream did not frighten or cause her dismay of any sort. Instead, she was moved by him and his suffering.
She walked away with an extraordinarily personalized encounter with Jesus, one inviting her by name into his passion with him. In the context of goals of spirituality, Jesus communicates uniquely to the individual person through these types of incredible gifts, gifts which represent the closeness, the nearness, the constant company of a radically loving God who is ALWAYS there.
I am often asked where to begin in spirituality. Ignatius tells us we begin with gratitude. Just think of all the times we jump in the car complaining about the job we are going to, the meetings we do not want to attend, or the boss that is driving us nuts. Instead, spend some time being appreciative for having a job during a worldwide pandemic.
In times where our kids are driving us crazy and our spouse has lost patience, spend some time being thankful your kids do not face the trials that many children of the world are required to deal with. Recall the day your spouse committed before God to be your partner for life.
Perhaps, and just to be a little crazy here, when the Chicago Bears release an all-pro safety with no return, we can remember that football is just a game. OK, a little blasphemous on the last one…
Notice how the stress lessens in our systems when we look upon the world with gratitude. Obama was right in this instance – we did not build it. God built our world and decided to share it with us. Celebrate this gift and our perspectives will radically change.
From my perspective, this also becomes a great time for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Gratitude puts me in the mindset to recall those moments where I was not so grateful. These moments are wonderful to bring to the sacrament.
Being grateful and resolved should open a new path in our prayer life. When we offer our gratitude to God, we acknowledge it, we give thanks for it and we praise the God of creation who gifted it to us. I often pray for my family out of worry. I need to pray in thanksgiving for them as well. Of course, the ultimate “thanksgiving” is the celebration of the Eucharist at Mass. I need to bring my gratitude to the altar each Sunday. If I am not doing this, perhaps more discernment on gratitude is needed.
Taking time to reflect in prayer our personal discernment with God is our path to developing a relationship with Jesus. By doing so, we learn to be open to the working of the Holy Spirit in us and in the world as-a-whole. Yet, some caution is needed here. Ignatius reminds us that if our discernment conflicts with a traditional teaching of the Church, one should tread carefully; it may be the “wrong spirit” involved in the discerning. In his “Rule 13,” Ignatius reminds us that in case of conflict between the faith and one’s own intellect, the defined teaching of the Church must prevail: “What seems to me white, I will believe to be black if the hierarchical Church so defines.” Is this meant to create zombies who blindly follow doctrine? Not really, it is meant to give our discernment a playing field to guide us. Too often today we engage a willingness to push aside teachings of the Church we do not like. Jesus never taught “if it feels good, then do it.”
Consider a person who, while in discernment, experiences Jesus saying that He loves this person just as they are. A warm sensation we all should embrace. Accordingly, that person says that this means that their sexual lifestyle is OK with Jesus and, Church teaching on the subject must be wrong. While we celebrate the Imago Dei in everyone and yes, God loves each and every one of us, this love is not carte blanch to behave any way we want or follow any desire we have. God never stopped loving His Chosen People in the Old Testament, even when he did not condone their actions.
In discernment, there is no other agenda than listening to God.
Discernment is a moment of opening us up to vulnerability. Some put off this activity for “fear of what God will say to them.” “Fear is not of God” is a quote I embrace from Fr. Gerry. I propose our discernment should then begin on this “fear.” Where is it coming from? Do we believe that a God who loves us to a point of accepting the cross is going to lead us down a wrong path? Perhaps, such fear comes from an inner conscience that already knows we have veered in a direction that is not best for us. Imaginably, our “fear” is the defense mechanism of our desires trying to control us. This is not healthy, and deep down, we know it.
Ultimately discernment becomes a matter of “trust.” In my own experience, I had to reconcile whether I really believed that the God who created the universe does not really need my help in solving life’s problems. I needed to let “God be God.” In other words, did I really believe that I can turn over my issues to God and let go? In my head I always said that I had that trust, yet recently I noticed my hands did not agree – I never loosened my grip on my issues so that I might let go. It was a moment of truth – did I really have the faith needed to turn my troubles over to God? Could I “walk the talk?”
Let us heed the advice in discernment from my spiritual director friend:
“Trust Jesus, trust yourself; take a few deep breaths, light a candle, listen to a hymn or favorite lilt, and choose accordingly. Works every time.”