Spiritual Discernment

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Miguel Ángel Fiorito, SJ

 Miguel Ángel Fiorito, SJ / Spirituality / 9 December 2021


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The search for God at every moment is the hinge on which Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s whole doctrine of spiritual discernment turns. In this sense it is not specific to Saint Ignatius, because such expressions are common, both in the Old Testament (cf. Amos 5:4, with the note in the Jerusalem Bible) and the New (cf. Matt 6:33, again with the note in the Jerusalem Bible). To seek God, it is said, is to appeal to him, to interrogate him… to seek his Word, his Face, his Will… to seek his Kingdom.[1] But this biblical thought also becomes Ignatian when it configures a “person of action” or an “active person” characterized by the fact that, without ceasing to seek God in a life of recollection or prayer, he or she seeks God above all in action.[2]

The active person seeks God above all in action. Moreover, the active person orients prayer to action, and not vice versa, as the contemplative person does. Action itself prepares one for prayer. It is the “prayer-action circle” of which Jerónimo Nadal, one of the first disciples of Saint Ignatius, often speaks.[3] To better characterize this search for God, especially in action,  we will speak of experience as Saint Ignatius speaks of it.

That God is to be sought in the experience of discernment is a basic principle of Ignatian spirituality. The experience of discernment is twofold: it is both external (historical, in relationships with others) and internal (in one’s own conscience).

For Saint Ignatius there is a very intimate relationship between the two types of experience: the starting point of Ignatian discernment is external experience, that is, the events of daily life; but the “circle” is not closed unless internal experience, which is contemporary with the other, is taken into account.

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