Reflecting the Mind of the
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The Discernment of Spirits I: Desolation
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The discernment of spirits is part of the dynamics of the Spiritual Exercises (SE) and attests to their “combative” character. The Exercises are not an easy experience, because the experience of God is often confrontational and combative, as frequently emerges from the Bible (cf. Jacob’s struggle in Gen 32, the two books of Maccabees, the Book of Joshua, and Revelation). The battleground, as Ignatius acutely reminds us in the Two Standards meditation (cf. SE 136-148), is one’s own heart.

This is confirmed by the admonition Ignatius gives for those setting out on this type of experience: “In directing the Exercises, according to the needs perceived in the exercitant as regards desolations and the wiles of the devil, or consolations, one may explain the rules of the first and second weeks, to enable the discernment of the different spirits [nos. 313-327; 328-336]” (SE 8).

Discernment thus takes on the fundamental meaning of “seeking and finding the will of God in the disposition of one’s life for the salvation of one’s soul” (SE 1). This search consists first of all in the choice of one’s vocation, and for this purpose several modes of choice or “election” are presented.
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