Saturday, July 28, 2012

A break in the action

It's been a few days since I posted.

Actually, I have been learning, again, about the beauty of religious life in the Church - the amazing variety, the awe-inspiring diversity, of the charisms given by God to his Church and to the world.

We visited two Carmelite communities in St. Louis in order to be immersed in the Carmelite way of life. The Sisters taught us about the vocation to Carmel and showed how it is lived in the day to day lives of the Sisters and Nuns.

Because we saw both the active and the cloistered expressions of this life.

The Carmelite way is descended from Elijah the prophet, who was zealous for the Lord, the God of Israel. (Stunningly, their coat of arms includes a hand wielding a sword, just so we got the point!) They look to "Christ in prayer on the mountain" and follow him in a particular way. Carmelites (even the active variety) are hermits, who come together with other hermits to praise God and to show love, but always, they retire to the place of silence and solitude, to raise their hearts in praise - and to intercede for the needs of the Church and the world.

Benedictines serve God in the work of liturgical prayer. Carmelites are in solitude. ... We will continue to learn the ways God can call women to his service in the Church. ... Franciscans are next in line.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Prepare and dispose

The purpose of spiritual exercises is to prepare and dispose a person to carry out God's will. You practice various spiritual activities with the intent of becoming proficient in grace. Musicians practice, carpenters practice, writers practice, athletes practice.

So do saints.

The first "exercise" is reception of and prayer before the Holy Eucharist. I mean, It's Jesus. He is really truly absolutely there. If you want to talk to God, this is your best option. He is (literally) "up close and personal" in the Blessed Sacrament.

Assignment #1: How often do you attend Mass? Add at least one Mass a week. How often do you make a holy hour? If you are not already participating in Eucharistic Adoration, start. Lots of parishes have holy hours now, or convents. If not before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, then do it in front of the tabernacle. Find a place and set a time.

I heard a story the other day of a boy in one of our rural parishes who decided at his First Communion that he wanted to know and to do God's will for his life. He further decided that he was going to make a daily holy hour in church for that intention. He cajoled parents, neighbors, friends of his siblings, a teacher, to give him a ride to the parish church so he could make a holy hour every day at 6:00 am, before school started for the day. He's now in high school and still making his daily holy hour. He knows that God will tell him his will.

If a seven year old can do it, can you?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Building spiritual muscle

So, now you know the question.

You know the God with whom you are speaking.

You know yourself a bit and what is holding you back.

All of these things will need to be revisited over and over and over throughout the process, so, even though we move on, do not leave them behind. It may take time to really pin down the question - or as you move on, you may find that you need to go back and be more specific. That's fine.

There is no right way to do this. If you need more time on any one step, take it. At the same time, though, don't loiter. If you have some basic clarity, feel free to move forward. You can always cycle back through as necessary.

Now for the training. Discernment is a process, a preparation, a work out.

Have you ever heard of spiritual exercises?

Jogging, weight lifting, sit ups help the physical athlete to prepare, to build muscle, to become strong enough to win the race. You are going to practice building spiritual muscle. And run the race to holiness with strength and endurance.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Block removal - under construction

Now you get to work.

Looking for God's will is not hard as long as we don't automatically, from some hidden place, start sabotaging the process. Bring him the places where you are dragging your feet.

What are you afraid of? Take your time. There is no hurry here, but if you want genuine discernment, neither can you move on until you see the places where you have put up conditions. So keep a goin'. Don't put off until tomorrow the process of beginning to give it to him.

So you cannot change your attitude. Come to him as yourself, and in his light, talk to him about the situation. The fear. The balk. The weakness. The holding back...Talk to him about it now. And then again later. And probably later still. Instant probably will not happen. It does not have to. You have already started down the path to knowing God's will, because you begin to know where your will is set - and may be in opposition to him. At least insofar as it does not even want to admit discussion.

But take it to him as it is already. Only grace can give the light, the joy and the courage needed to deal with these things.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

An attitude adjustment

There are prerequisites for discernment.

You don't have to take a class. You don't need special training. You do not necessarily need a guide.

But you have to be willing to give him everything.

Yes, I mean it. All. Everything. The totality of your life, your loves, your likes (your dislikes), your stuff, your concerns, your you. ALL. But you also have to be honest. That is why knowing yourself is so very important. If you want to know God's will; I mean, if you really only want to know what he wants so you can do it, it won't be all that hard. But if you want to know "kinda" or "as long as he doesn't ask..." then you will be chasing yourself in circles.

The first step is to find any blocks. Dealing with them may take a bit, but you can't deal with them if you don't know they are there. You don't need to be afraid that God will "get you" for them. It's not like he doesn't know they are there, after all. Start the process in reality. What are you willing to give? What aren't you willing to give?

And always, why?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Who am I?

The process of discernment is the process of building a relationship. It can start a bit shaky:

Who is this God?

But, for most of us in the starting position, the other side of the relationship can be very nearly as shaky:

Who am I - really?

A few posts back, the question was raised: What are you passionate about? What draws you? To what do you feel revulsion?

Why?

God has created you for a specific purpose; he means you to be someone for and with him. He has entrusted to you a specific task - and he knows what it is. Indeed, he has from forever.

And you have all of the equipment to follow his call - in you.

Oh, I don't mean the pieces that depend on grace. But look at the saints, even the greatest. God granted Mary the Immaculate Conception so that she would be a fit Mother for his Son. Pretty impressive preparation. And Augustine had the intelligence to become the great Doctor of Grace. (We won't even go into the gifts, God granted St. Thomas Aquinas.)

Mother Teresa had the heart big enough for a world of poverty. Teresa of Jesus had a heart big enough for God, and could teach the rest of us. Mother Cabrini could organize anything she touched.

So what has he given you? What are your gifts, your "not gifts"? What draws you? What repels you?

Why?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Whom do we address?

Discernment, finding the will of God about at particular question.

Do you have your question? Good.

Now, who are you asking?

I can tell you some things about God. So can your parish priest, your spiritual mentors...lots of people. But you need to answer for yourself the question Jesus asked the apostles: Who do you say that I am?


See, it makes a difference, a huge difference. If you think that this is some sort of a test, where the examiner is trying to fail you (you know, weed out the weaklings), you will have a certain attitude (and probably a certain anxiety) about the process. If you think it's a game by a practical joker (figure it out, I dare you), you will have a different, but probably not much more hopeful, attitude.

Or, it could just be that the person who happens to love you the most in the universe is waiting for you to ask; he's hoping for it; he is planning how to tell you, and waiting for your response.

Well, that is a somewhat different story.

But what do you believe? I mean really. Deep down.

Think on that one in your prayer space and time.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Defining the Question

Discernment is a big word. It is a sort of impressive sounding word, but how does one practically go about it?

Discernment (in the sense of which we treat) is the process of seeking to know God's will, so that we can do it. This involves multiple pieces, so we can look at them step-by-step, day by day.

Just so you know, I am not using my own wisdom here. Discerning the Will of God, by Father Timothy Gallagher, provides an exceptional explanation and teaching on the art and science of discernment, and I use it frequently in working with young people.

So, what is your question? You may not know, exactly, right off the top of your head. So take it to prayer, and to thought and to reflection, however you do that - in front of the Blessed Sacrament, in the quiet of your room, with a journal, taking a walk. But define your question as clearly in your mind as possible.

What do you want to find the will of God about?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Discernment 101

The summer retreats have been a time of growth and good at the House of Formation. Quite a number of young women have wandered through and have taught me about the discenrment of life choices, the kinds of questions that come up. The kinds of fears that get in the way.

So let me see if I can help.

Yes. You need to pray. You need to seek. You need to question. So let us begin with prayer.

I have begun to publish the companion blog again, Musings, which is about developing a prayer life. If you want to look that up, the link is on the side bar.

Discerning the will of God. Sounds pretty intense. Yes, it is. We are talking about a life choice here. But then again, we are talking about God, who is most interested in each of us figuring our his will and purpose for our lives. So, as intense as it may be, we have good hope of a favorable outcome.

Yes. Pray.

But you also need to ask questions. (That is the cue to get out your journal or paper.)

  1. What draws you in life? What are you passionate about? (Hint: if you can't answer that, go talk to a friend who knows you well and hash it out. Talk to family.) What are the things you love?
That's enough for now.  For many people, that question alone can take a goodly amount of time.

So I'll leave you to it.