A Note from Fr. Ben 11/15/20:

Hi everyone! For this week’s installment of
Stuff I Learned in Seminary, let’s pick up
where we left off. This is Part 4:
Ignatian Discernment of Spirits Cont’d.
To recap: St. Ignatius describes four different spirits or
“voices” that can speak to us, whether in prayer, in the
midst of reflection, or in the business of everyday life: the
Spirit of God, the spirit of the world, the spirit of one’s own
self, and the spirit of the enemy. And the ability to discern
which spirit is moving us is indeed a skill which must be
refined through practice. There is no app or tool to
determine where they come from, we must sit with them
and discern. But Ignatius says there are principles and
guidelines which help us begin to differentiate these things.
The first is simple: if a movement of the heart, or anything
received in prayer, directs you towards the Triune God and
towards charity, then it is from the Spirit of God. The
second is like it: if what you receive or experience draws
you away from God, then it must be from one of the other
three spirits. Especially if you feel pulled away from God,
even to a disdain or distaste for what is holy—then it is
likely from the spirit of the enemy, the devil. Another
principle to be aware of: your inner voice can push you
towards good, neutral, or bad directions. It can be
conditioned by the enemy to do his work for him, and
likewise, it can be sanctified by God so that your desires
line up with His. And a good self-knowledge is crucial for
detecting when your own inner voice is speaking. One
more principle to remember: the voice of the world is not
necessarily always towards evil, but it does tend to be used
by the enemy—after all, Jesus called him the prince of this
world. And finally, a simple guideline: frequently ask God
that you may hear and respond to His voice, especially
when entering into prayer, and He will assist you. These are
just a few basics to get us started on advancing in this skill.
Let’s practice with a brief example. You’re in Mass, and
your stomach grumbles. As the priest is preaching, your
mind wanders, and you consider where you’ll go to eat
after Mass. This is a pretty neutral example of being moved
by one’s own voice. Everyone has to eat, and the body lets
you know this. However, let’s say you continue to focus on
food and, rather than offer up your temporary suffering and
refocus your spirit on the Mass, you begin to detest the fact
that you had to come to Mass. You wish the priest could
hurry up and get it all over with. You start to hate the priest
himself. Now, the spirit of the Enemy is creeping in and
speaking.
One who is trained in the discernment of spirits will detect
this happening. You can see how this can be a valuable
skill to have. This is but a brief introduction to one piece of
Ignatian spirituality, and I invite you to explore the rest of
what it has to offer by researching St. Ignatius. We may
well return to this subject some day!
God bless,
Rev. Ben Johnson

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