Discernment

Sanctity is the coup of audacity in the Christian life. It is the obvious consequence of anyone who professes to be a Christian. Radicalism or nothing. Holiness is not an option. It is for each one of us, as Mother Teresa claims, a simple duty. Mediocrity has no place in Christianity.

And this is cool! There are in the world, Blaise Pascal claims, three possible levels of greatness: the order of bodies, in which wealthy people, very beautiful people or those of an eye-catching physical presence stand out; the order of intelligence and genius, in which artists, writers and scientists are distinguished; and the order of holiness in which, after Christ, the Virgin Mary and the saints are outstanding.

And he shrewdly adds that while an almost infinite distance separates the second order from the first, an ‘infinitely infinite’ distance separates the order of holiness from that of genius! “One drop of holiness, says the musician Charles Gounod, is worth more than an ocean of genius”.

Many and many and many go for beauty and wealth and body fitness. A good number go for studies. You and I should go for holiness! (And maybe, get the other two on the side!)

They say, holiness is a terrific adventure. Like all adventures there is a moment which starts it all, a ‘first stone’ of the building. For our consolation, this moment can occur at any age in life. It is never too late to begin to be saints.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta is a typical example. Until the age of 36 years, she was a ‘normal’ religious of the Congregation of Loreto.

It was during a train trip from Calcutta to Darjeeling for her annual spiritual retreat that the event that changed her life occurred. God’s mysterious voice addressed a clear invitation to her, “I want Indian religious, Missionaries of Charity who will be my fire of love among the poorest, the sick, the dying, and the children of the streets. I want you to bring me the poor. … Will you refuse to do this for me? … There are convents with many religious who take care of rich and privileged people, but for my indigents there is absolutely none.”

It was not easy. Confiding with Archbishop Perier, she said: “I have been and continue to be very happy as a religious of Loreto; it is hard to leave what I love and expose myself to new hardships and sufferings which will be great.” Then turning to Jesus she exclaimed: “Why can’t I be a perfect Loreto religious? … Why can’t I be like all the others? … What you ask me is too great for me … Look for a more worthy and generous soul.”

As we all know, Mother Teresa answered with a yes. Sanctity hinges on this “yes” said to God at the moment He reveals his will personally to someone. In the life of each one of us there has been or there will be a call. And perhaps we answered or hopefully will answer yes. Perhaps a ‘yes’ in the dark. Yet it is a very vital yes for us … and for so many who will benefit from this ‘yes’.

A ‘yes’ which has to be repeated a zillion times. God’s first and decisive call is followed by many other discreet invitations that we call good inspirations.

These inspirations of grace walk alongside the other ways to discover what God wants from us – namely the events of life, the Word of the Scriptures and the advice of a spiritual director or catechist. The most delicate problem in regard to inspirations has always been to discern those that come from the Spirit of God from those that come from the spirit of the world, one’s own passions, or the evil spirit.

It was above all to respond to this need that the Jesuit founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola developed his doctrine on discernment.

His modus operandi was to observe the intentions – the “spirits” – that are behind a choice and the reactions that the latter causes. What comes from the Holy Spirit brings with it joy, peace, tranquility, gentleness, simplicity, light. What comes from the evil spirit brings sadness, disturbance, agitation, disquiet, confusion, darkness.

In practice, it is true, things are more complex. An inspiration can come from God and, despite this, cause great disturbance. But this is not due to the inspiration, which is gentle and peaceful, as is everything that comes from God; it stems, rather, from resistance to the inspiration. A serene river also, when it meets obstacles, causes whirlpools.

The secret is to abandon ourselves to the interior Teacher who speaks to us without the noise of words. As good actors, we must listen carefully, on great and small occasions, to the voice of this hidden prompter, to recite our part faithfully in the theater of life.

It is easier than one thinks, because the Holy Spirit speaks to us within, he teaches us each thing, and he instructs us on everything. It is enough sometimes to glance within.


(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.