“Be Aware”: The 1st Step in Ignatian Discernment

“Rules for becoming aware and understanding to some extent the different movements which are caused in the soul, the good, to receive them, and the bad to reject them” (St. Ignatius).

Becoming aware is the gateway to all discernment” (Gallagher, DS, 17).

  • We open our spiritual eyes to what is spiritually stirring in our minds and hearts, consciously acknowledge whether or not we are in consolation or desolation, and recognize the spiritual forces at play. 

Becoming aware of spiritual movements.”

  • Ignatius’ Rules are directed to specifically spiritual movements, that is, spontaneous pre-moral movements that directly affect our adherence to God’s will.
  • There are 3 distinguishable kinds of interior awareness: (1) Psychological; (2) Moral; (3) Spiritual. Although all 3 are closely interconnected (they are found in 1 human person, the development or underdevelopment of each will strengthen or slow the growth of the others), Ignatius directs our attention to the movements of the heart that have special significance for our life of faith and our pursuit of God’s will.
  • These spiritual movements include both:
    1. Patterns of thoughts = thinking, reasoning, pondering.
    2. Stirrings of the heart = delight, joy, sadness, agitation, etc.

Becoming aware is the most difficult step.”

  • Our need for proper instruction in spiritual awareness, an entire culture that shapes itself on this flight from what is “within” by creating a busyness that further pressures individuals to be “without,” we are afraid not to be busy, the intangibility of interior movements and their complexity and rapid flux, the fear of going “within” and encountering or limitations and weakness, the deception of the enemy who, obviously, does not wish our eyes to be “opened a little” with the wonderful growth this offers, and the pull to outward diversion fueled by contemporary technology (as the latest means of exercising this age-old tactic).
  • Recognize the difficulty. Admit it. Revere it.
  • “Something in our soul has a far more violent repugnance for true attention that the flesh has for bodily fatigue… a quarter of an hour of attention is better than a great many good works” (Simone Weil).

Becoming aware is interior asceticism”

  • It’s a real “interior asceticism” in the words of Thomas Merton, a spiritual discipline to become aware of the stirrings in our hearts and their related thoughts.

Becoming aware of the enemy and the battle!”

  • There is an enemy! It’s a fact. Expect to encounter his hindering action. By simply admitting this reality, we can make a great step in becoming more aware.
  • If you’re unaware that there is a battle going on, or you’re aware that there’s an enemy in only an abstract and vague way, you’re going to lose the battle most likely. If you come unexpected and unprepared to the battle, you’ll lose.
  • You don’t get to choose whether you’re going to have a battle, it’s a fact of life.
  • You only get to choose whether you’ll become aware and win or lose the battle.

Becoming aware takes courage!”

  • “Faith in a loving God, a Saviour, gives us the courage to be “within.” It tells us that to be “within,” far more than to face our limitations, is to encounter the infinite, personal, warm, and eternal love of the Saviour: it is to know the light that shines in the darkness and which the darkness has not overcome (Jn 1:5)” (Gallagher, SCF, xxxiii).
  • There’s a big difference between “myself in desolation” and “myself-reflecting-on-myself-in-desolation” (Toner, Commentary, 151).
  • A reflection on Mary Magdalene’s courage to become aware (click here).

Becoming aware is the way to encounter Christ.”

  • “Only when we learn experientially the truth that there is a “light that shines in the darkness” (John 1:5), and that to be “within” is above all to encounter the personal presence, the love and healing of our Savior, does this resistance begin to diminish” (Gallagher, DS, 20).
  • “Return to your heart!… Christ dwells in the inner self; in the inner self you will be renewed in the image of God” (St. Augustine).

Ask yourself…

  • Q. How aware am I of my interior spiritual experiences throughout the day?
  • Q. How often do I consciously stop and acknowledge what is stirring spiritually within?

“to some extent”

  • The rules will not say all that might be said about discernment of spirits.
  • The rules shed light on our spiritual experience. They do not explore it exhaustively.
  • The rules are useable in practice. That’s Ignatius’s goal. Not to be exhaustive.
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