St. Peter’s Square – Wednesday, 7 September 2022 [vedi vatican.va]
Catechesis on Discernment: 2. An example: Ignatius of Loyola
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
We continue our reflection on discernment – in this time we will speak every Wednesday about spiritual discernment – and for this it can help us to refer to a concrete testimony.
One of the most instructive examples is offered by St. Ignatius of Loyola, with a decisive episode in his life. Ignatius is recovering at home after being wounded in the leg in battle. To dispel the boredom, he asks for something to read. He loved tales of chivalry, but unfortunately there are only lives of saints in the house. A little reluctantly he adapts, but in the course of reading he begins to discover another world, a world that conquers him and seems to compete with that of the knights. He is fascinated by the figures of San Francesco and San Domenico and feels the desire to imitate them. But even the chivalrous world continues to exert its fascination on him. And so he feels within himself this alternation of thoughts, those of chivalry and those of the saints, which seem to be the same.
Ignatius, however, also begins to notice differences. In his Autobiography – in the third person – he writes as follows: «Thinking of the things of the world – and of chivalrous things, of course – he felt a lot of pleasure, but when, for exhaustion, he abandoned them he felt empty and disappointed. Instead, going to Jerusalem barefoot, eating nothing but herbs, practicing all the austerities that he had known habitual to the saints, were thoughts that not only consoled him while he lingered there, but also left him satisfied and full of joy after abandoning them. “(No. 8); they left a trace of joy on him.
In this experience we can note two aspects above all. The first is the time: that is, the thoughts of the world are attractive at first, but then they lose their polish and leave empty, discontented, they leave you like this, something empty. The thoughts of God, on the contrary, at first arouse some resistance – “But this boring thing about the saints I will not go to read”, but when you welcome them they bring an unknown peace, which lasts a long time.
Here then is the other aspect: the point of arrival thoughts. At first the situation doesn’t seem so clear. There is a development of discernment: for example we understand what is good for us not in an abstract, general way, but in the path of our life. In the rules for discernment, the fruit of this fundamental experience, Ignatius places an important premise, which helps to understand this process: “To those who pass from one mortal sin to another, the devil usually proposes apparent pleasures, reassuring them that everything all right, making them imagine sensual delights and pleasures, to better keep them and make them grow in their vices and sins. With these, the good spirit uses the opposite method, stimulating their conscience to remorse with the judgment of reason “(Spiritual Exercises, 314); But this is not good.
There is a story that precedes the discerner, a story that is indispensable to know, because discernment is not some sort of oracle or fatalism or a laboratory thing, like casting lots on two possibilities. The big questions arise when we have already traveled a stretch in life, and it is to that path that we must return to understand what we are looking for. If you go a little way in life, there: “But why am I walking in this direction, what am I looking for?”, And there we make discernment. Ignatius, when he was wounded in his father’s house, did not think at all about God or how to reform his life, no. He makes his first experience of God by listening to his own heart, which shows him a curious reversal: things at first sight attractive leave him disappointed and in others, less brilliant, he feels a peace that lasts over time. We too have this experience, many times we start thinking about something and we stay there and then we are disappointed. Instead we do a work of charity, we do a good thing and we feel something of happiness, a good thought comes to you and happiness comes to you, a thing of joy, it is our own experience. He, Ignatius, has the first experience of God, listening to his own heart which shows him a curious reversal. This is what we must learn: listen to your heart: to know what happens, what decision to take, to make a judgment on a situation, you need to listen to your heart. We listen to television, radio, mobile phones, we are masters of listening, but I ask you: can you listen to your heart? You stop to say: “But how is my heart? Are you satisfied, are you sad, are you looking for something? ” . To make good decisions, you need to listen to your heart.
For this Ignatius will suggest reading the lives of the saints, because they show in a narrative and understandable way the style of God in the life of people not very different from us because the saints were of flesh and blood like us. Their actions speak to ours and help us understand their meaning.
In that famous episode of the two feelings that Ignatius had, one when he read the things of the knights and the other when he read the lives of the saints, we can recognize another important aspect of discernment, which we already mentioned last time. There is an apparent randomness in the events of life: everything seems to arise from a trivial mishap: there were no books of knights, but only lives of saints. A setback that however contains a possible turning point. Only after some time will Ignatius notice it, and at that point he will devote all of his attention to it. Listen carefully: God works through non-programmable events that by chance, but by chance this happened to me, by chance I met this person, by chance I saw this movie, it was not planned but God works through non-programmable events, and also in setbacks : “But I had to take a walk and I had a problem with my feet, I can’t…”. Mishap: What Does God Tell You? What does life tell you there? We have also seen it in a passage from the Gospel of Matthew: a man who is plowing a field accidentally comes across a buried treasure. A completely unexpected situation. But what is important is that he recognizes it as the stroke of luck in his life and decides accordingly: he sells everything and buys that field (cf. 13:44). One piece of advice I give you, beware of unexpected things. He who says: “but this by chance I did not expect”. Is life talking to you there, is the Lord talking to you or is the devil talking to you? Someone. But there is one thing to discern, how I react to unexpected things. But I was so quiet at home and “pum, pum”, the mother-in-law is coming and how do you react with the mother-in-law? Is it love or is it something else inside? And do the discernment. I was working in the office well and a mate comes to tell me that he needs money and how did you react? See what happens when we experience things we don’t expect and there we learn about our heart how it moves.
Discernment is the help in recognizing the signals with which the Lord lets himself be encountered in unforeseen, even unpleasant situations, as the wound in the leg was for Ignatius. From them a life-changing encounter can arise, forever, as in the case of Ignatius. Something can arise that makes you improve on your journey or get worse I don’t know, but be careful and the most beautiful thread is given by unexpected things: “how do I move in the face of this?”. May the Lord help us to feel our heart and to see when it is He who carries out and when it is not He and it is something else.