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Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Discernment Part Four

Again, we see that one can discern, can judge actions. Again, we see that the call to perfection is not an option. Again, we see that Garrigou-Lagrange could stand back and criticize the actions of priests who had fallen from this path, this call.

But, we are all called to be fervent in prayer, attentive in Mass, giving God time in silence, and being absolutely obedient to the teachings of the Catholic Church. 

To discern the human spirit is not difficult for most of us.  However, what is more difficult for some is the discerning of the spirit of evil, as satan pretends to be an angel of light.

First, a review of a priest caught up in his human spirit.

On the other hand, when this interior spirit is allowed to grow and develop it produces fruits of real sanctity. We become all the more clearly aware of the value and excellence of our religious vocation.
"This interior spirit is formed in us by the practice of the means of perfection suggested by ascetical theology, but it is firmly established and perfected by spiritual growth in the different stages of the mystical life, as is well explained by St. Thomas. The mystical life is the completion of the ascetical life, the peak of the soul's ascent through the various stages of Christian perfection. There have been periods when this teaching was regarded with suspicion, when practical errors in this respect stunted the growth of the spirit of genuine piety; but now we can be grateful for the return to traditional teaching, which has re-opened the way for souls a thirst for the supernatural life to come to a knowledge of mystical realities And in this life of perfection the spirit of God is most certainly present revivifying the soul."
Obvious examples of the influence of the spirit of nature are tepidity in the celebration of Holy Mass, haste in the saying of one's Office almost like a machine. curiosity and eventually sloth in the pursuit of one's studies, carelessness in observing the rule of silence and other practical rules, restrictions attached to the extent of one's obedience, cringing obedience out of love for the human superior and not for God or with a view to the obtaining of new honours and dignities.

Now, the hard bit....discernment of evil. We must all, in these difficult times of chaos and "mess" learn to discern the spirit of evil. We have the gift, the grace to do so. It is imperative that we learn to discern evil.

In contrast to the spirit of God the spirit of the devil at first lifts the soul to the heights of pride and then plunges it down into turmoil and despair, just as the devil himself sinned through pride and is now condemned to an eternity of despair and hatred of God.
In order to recognize this evil spirit we must first observe its effect on mortification, humility, and obedience, and then its effect on the theological virtues.

Prudence, temperance and obedience are signs of the spirit of God. The opposites show something else.

The spirit of the devil does not always deter a soul from mortification; in this respect it differs from the spirit of nature. On the contrary, it often urges the soul to go to extremes in the practice of exterior mortification which everyone can see, which results in spiritual pride and injury to the individual's health. Such a spirit has no time for the interior mortification of the imagination, heart, and one's own will and judgment, although it pretends to be concerned about it by making the soul scrupulous over details but careless in matters of greater importance; for example, in the principal duties of one's state of life. It prompts the soul to hypocrisy: "I fast twice in the week" (Luke xviii, 12).
Humility is never encouraged by this spirit, for it gradually distorts the soul's vision to see itself as greater than it really is, greater than anyone else. Almost unconsciously it makes the prayer of the Pharisee its own: "I thank thee, God, that I am not like the rest of men ... or like this publican here" (Luke xviii, 11). This spiritual pride goes hand in hand with a false humility, which accuses itself of some evil so as to avoid being accused by others of even greater faults and in order to make them think that we are truly humble. Sometimes the evil spirit leads us to confuse humility with faint-heartedness, which is the daughter of pride and fears to ran the risk of contempt. The evil spirit is also an enemy of obedience, prompting us either to open disobedience or to servility according to circumstances.

If I know a seminarian is practicing fasting, I know he will be a good priest. But, if a young person is caught up either in a middle class lifestyle or the excesses of asceticism, one can be sure that pride, if not ignorance, is involved.

Garrigou-Lagrange shows how each virtue of faith, hope and charity can be distorted by the evil one.

I do not have time to go into each category, but this section applies to the laity especially with regard to private revelations.

As regards the virtue of faith the spirit of the devil distracts our attention from the truths of the Gospel which are simpler and yet more profound such as those contained in the Our Father which we ought always to say with special care and devotion, or those portrayed in the mysteries of the Rosary and encourages us to focus our mind on what is extraordinary. Remember his tempting of Christ: "If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down to earth; for it is written, He has given charge to his angels concerning thee, and they will hold thee up with their hands, lest thou shouldst chance to trip on a stone. Jesus said to him, But it is further written, Thou shalt not put the Lord Thy God to the proof" (Matt, iv, 6-7).

The spirit of God, on the other hand, shows us clearly how to discern a person of faith, and helps us on our way to perfection.

The spirit of God nourishes our faith on the simpler and more profound truths of the Gospel, such as those contained in the Our Father. It keeps us faithful to tradition and strangers to novelty. This genuine supernatural faith helps us to see God in our superiors, and thus our spirit of faith is perfected since we come to judge everything in the light of this virtue.

Garrigou-Lagrange then comes to the core of how to react to extraordinary graces. This section is important to all of us. Remember, revelations must tend towards bringing the person to greater holiness and greater humility.

It would be presumptuous on our part to crave for extraordinary graces, such as revelations or interior conversations. But a soul which lives and perseveres in humility, self-denial, and almost continual recollection often receives in accordance with the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost special inspirations which result in a wonderful blending of simplicity and prudence, humility and zeal, firmness and gentleness. This harmony and blending of the virtues is a sure sign of the presence of God's spirit.
Those who do receive extraordinary graces from God must be prepared to carry the cross, to maintain complete silence and secrecy, and to speak about their favours to no one other than their spiritual director. Otherwise they stand in grave peril of spiritual pride.
There is a special danger in revelations which seem to refer to future events or to questions of doctrine, since they so easily give rise to deception. Even if the original inspiration were from God, the individual could later on superimpose his own interpretation which may be to a greater or less extent erroneous and is usually too material. In conclusion, it cannot be stressed too often that ecstasies and revelations which do not result in a more perfect way of life and do not make the subject less sure of himself cannot be attributed to the spirit of God especially if they promote discord, and interfere with the fulfilment of the duties attached to one's state of life.
Therefore the signs of God's spirit are humble obedience, brotherly love, peace, spiritual joy which radiates itself to all around.

to be continued....