While recuperating from a leg wound from the battle against the French in Pamplona, Ignatius asked for reading materials, of which he was given religious texts. Gallagher states, “While Ignatius ceases reflecting on the worldly project he finds himself ‘dry and discontented.’ Yet after he has considered the project of imitating the saints, the delight remains. He continues enduringly to be “content and happy.” Ignatius begins to become aware of the differences between bad spirits and the spirit of God. Ignatius then follows the process of becoming aware, understanding and taking action in order to discern what he must do.
Becoming aware means taking notice of what is happening in our inner spiritual thoughts. Gallagher is completely right when he says that, “the goods of the senses are more visible, more tangible, and more readily apparent to us than those of the mind and of the spiritual order… it is no easy task to untangle and identify the innumerable threads in the tapestry of our daily affective and reflective life.” Henry David Thoreau described how fast-paced we live our lives when he said in Walden, “It lives too fast.” The discernment of spirits requires us to focus on spiritual awareness, and not psychological or moral awareness. As our world becomes increasingly filled with technology and having the need to fill every moment with activity, we can easily lose quiet and reflection time required of us to discern what God is calling us to do.
Understanding is the reflection we take on the stirrings we have now noticed that allows us to see what is of God and what is not. In Ignatius’ experience, he notices the differences between the thoughts that leave him happy and those that leave him dry. He reflects upon these and eventually comes to recognize why a thought is of God and the other not. As for our own lives, Gallagher says to ponder if these thoughts affect our lives of faith, hope and love and if they allow us to follow God’s will. If so, than these are of God.
Taking action refers to accepting to live according to what we’ve noticed is of God and rejecting what is not of God. As if the first two steps of becoming aware and understanding God’s call to us aren’t difficult enough, rejecting or accepting a spiritual action requires us to make a decision in following God’s call. In Ignatius’ case, he accepts God’s project: he travels to Manresa to begin a life in imitation of the saints, and makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
There are a total of 14 rules Saint Ignatius describes in his text. Ignatius indicates that these rules are for the person who strives to overcome sin and who is simultaneously growing in the service of the Lord – a dedicated and progressing Christian.
As I continue on the journey of reading and reflecting on the discernment of spirits, I will happily share what I’m learning. Next up – a deeper dive into understanding the 14 rules!
Dana Edwards is a recent graduate of the University of Florida. She currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida where she works as a Digital Strategist, and volunteers as a lector and with communication outreach at her local parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Church.