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Tuesday, 16 December 2014

On Discernment Part One

This bit of information is taken from a book by Garrigou-Lagrange, The Priest in Union with Christ...the one I have asked for in my last post.

I want to highlight the gift of discernment, as it is misunderstood. I have written somewhat on this before, but the term is misused almost daily.

Discernment is part of the gift of knowledge given to all Catholics in the sacrament of confirmation.
But, it must be developed, as all the gifts must be and released from sin and the tendencies to sin, such as the predominant fault. One can learn to discern by asking God to enlighten one's knowledge and by purity of heart.

Here is a snippet on discerning the spirit of God from this book. I shall examine this before going on to more selections.

The spirit of God is an internal prompting or tendency of the soul to judge, love, will and act in a supernatural way. It incites the soul to avoid sin by mortifying the flesh and by practising humility, and to tend towards God by obedience, piety, faith, confidence, and charity both affective and effective. This divine spirit is, therefore, particularly evident in the promptings of the Holy Ghost which correspond to the seven gifts.

Notice that God gives one discernment to judge (yes, contrary to the pc crowd), to love, will and act all in and through grace. God's life is us brings us to accept and choose mortification and actually practice humility, not merely endure it.

Notice the list of virtues which emanate from God's life in us: obedience, piety, faith, confidence (in Providence) and love. Again, the gifts of confirmation are evident when one cooperates with purification.

Now, the great Dominican continues with the oppositions to the real life of virtues.

Opposed to the spirit of God is the spirit of human nature, which is characterized as an inclination to judge, will and act in an excessively human manner, following the lead of fallen nature which tends towards its own ease and advantage. It is a spirit of egoism, a spirit of individualism. Prudence, for example, is no longer treated as the virtue directing man's acts to moral perfection and rightly ordering all the other moral virtues, but as the virtue needed for finding means of avoiding every inconvenience. Similarly, mediocrity takes the place of the happy medium of virtue.

Again, the ego must go before one can live the life of the virtues, a theme reiterated in the first two perfection series. Notice that egoism and individualism kill the spirit of God in one. And, this movement away from the supernatural life leads to mediocrity.

How often to I hear that men and women are not called to perfection, either in comments or in conversation? Here is Garrigou-Lagrange on this point.

This spirit of mediocrity also invades the sphere of the theological virtues by continually denying further possible development to full perfection, as if they were bound by their nature to be nothing more than average virtues, as though it were possible for man to err by excess in his belief or hope in God or in his love for God, just as a man might love his country to excess by placing it before God.

The saints did not settle for second best, but pursued Christ and His love. Those who deny the road to perfection want to minimize the effort needed to become united to Christ. The criticism some hear today is that they are too zealous for God. God rewards this zeal.

The trouble with not choosing the path to perfection is that one chooses a road away from God's will. If one is not moving forward in the life of grace, one is sliding backwards. This paragraph is a short version of the chapters in other books by this great priest describing the predominant fault as well as the capital sin of sloth-see my posts below on this.

The spirit of human nature will always be found to result in tepidity and eventually in sloth, and the person who yields to its promptings commits numerous venial sins, which gradually become more and more deliberate until at last he falls into mortal sin. Sometimes it has a peculiar affectionate character revealing itself in sentimental attachments to creatures, in an emotional love for them which takes the place of that genuine love existing primarily in the will. And it is but a step from romantic sentiment to carnal prudence and stupidity, which give a man an earthbound vision of everything even of divine things so that he only regards their capacity to satisfy his senses or his pride. Cf. Summa, Ila Ilae, q. 55, q. 46.1

In discerning "spirits",  Garrigou-Lagrange is simple, and profound, as usual.

In every soul one or other of these three spirits is predominant: the spirit of the devil in the wicked, the spirit of human nature in the lukewarm, the spirit of God in those who are beginning to dedicate themselves generously to the way of perfection, even though they may yet experience the influence of the spirit of nature from time to time and also of the devil.

Note that some people have given themselves over to wickedness and mediocrity. Men and women daily make choices which lead them one way or the other.

Now comes the role of discernment in all of this. 

The priest explains that 

The discernment of spirits signifies the power of judging correctly the spirit which is ordinarily predominant in some individual. This power may be either acquired or infused. If acquired, it consists in the correct application of the principles of moral theology under the guidance of acquired and infused prudence, and it is perfected to a greater or less degree by the inspiration of the gift of counsel.

All who are baptized and confirmed may acquire discernment through the study of moral theology, prayer, and the use of prudence and counsel, also given by God to us. Infused discernment is given to some for God's use. For example, a person or priest on an exorcist team may have infused discernment in order to help with the identification of demons.

Some spiritual directors who are priests or lay exhibit this infused discernment.

Garriogue-Lagrange helps us understand how to determine the spirits within a person.

What is the fundamental principle to be observed in the discerning of spirits? It is the one laid down by Christ himself: "it is by their fruit that you will know them", because "any sound tree will bear good fruit, while any tree that is withered will bear fruit that is worthless; that worthless fruit should come from a sound tree, or good fruit from a withered tree, is impossible" (Matt, vii, 17, 18, 20).
The good fruit which should result from the spiritual life are the virtues, the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and actions corresponding to the virtues and gifts. Therefore the discernment of spirits must be based on the principal virtues which are, in ascending order of perfection: chastity and mortification; humble obedience; faith, hope, and charity. We will now apply this principle to the three kinds of spirits.

The obvious is sometimes overlooked. The fruits of grace, that is God's life in us, are the virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the resulting actions. These are bound up by sin and egoism until a person allows God to purify the soul, heart and mind.

Notice the order of fruits: 
  • chastity
  • mortification
  • humble obedience
  • faith
  • hope
  • charity
I shall continue this later be continued...

16 Apr 2014
Discernment. Posted by Supertradmum. Dante appropriately defines the concept of contrapasso in his presentation of divisive shades, the most clear-cut manifestation of a logical relationship between the offense and the ...
21 May 2013
Discernment is a gift which comes with the purification of the imagination and conscience. One must be orthodox for keen discernment. Many charismatics think that the term "discernment of spirits" has to do with figuring out ...
03 Mar 2013
An excellent lesson is that given by St. Ignatius Loyola in his "Spiritual Exercises". Here we find rules for the discernment of spirits and, being clearly and briefly formulated, these rules indicate a secure course, containing in ...
06 Jul 2012
Norms Regarding the Manner of Proceeding in the Discernment of Presumed Apparitions or Revelations. Posted by Supertradmum. NOTE: update at bottom of page and more on this tomorrow in a long post.... By the way, for ...
28 Feb 2014
9) One is a heretic in some way, perhaps not even knowing that one is not completely orthodox, If one chooses not to be orthodox, such as maintaining a position of "informed dissent", one will lose discernment quickly.