success stories

Posted February 13, 2004

Book: What Is Your Will, O God?
Author: Jules J. Toner, S.J.
The Institute for Jesuit Resources, St. Louis, MO, pp.110

An excerpt from the Jacket:

What is Your Will O God? aims at helping to develop or improve oneís skill in the Ignatian method for seeking and find Godís will. It does so by providing the material for careful and sustained casework. Many of the cases presented here are firsthand accounts of actual experiences, kept in the narratorís own words. The book complements the authorís Discerning Godís Gill: Ignatius of Loyolaís Teaching on Christian Decision Making.

The work also builds on the authorís earlier exposition of Ignatian teaching on discernment of spirits. A Commentary on St. Igatiusí Rules for Discernment of Spirits, and the accompanying casebook, Spirit of Light or Darkness?

An excerpt from the Book:

The Essential Conditions for Sound Discernment of Godís Will

From two basic truths about our relationship of dependence on and collaboration with the Holy Spirit in discerning Godís will follow two essential conditions for sound discernment.

From the first truth, our dependence on the Holy Spiritís guidance, we derive the first essential condition:

Anyone seek Godís will must be open to the Holy Spirit. From the second truth, that the Holy Spirit ordinarily guides us through our own efforts, the second essential condition follows:

We must carry out as best we can the search for Godís will.

In order to have any justifiable belief that we are being led by the Holy Spirit in seeking Godís will, we must be sure we are fulfilling these two conditions. It is, then, critically important to understand what this involves. Let us try to reach a thorough practical understanding of these conditions.

The First Essential Condition: Openness to the Holy Spirit

Of the two essential conditions for our discerning Godís will, the first one, openness to the Spirit, is more important. In fact, nothing in the whole process of seeking Godís will does more to assure success in this search.

Faith, charity and hope, along with the humility that is prerequisite to and consequent on these, fundamentally constitute openness to the Holy Spirit in Christian life in general. Within the particular context of discerning Godís will, certain particular expressions of faith, hope, and charity in a Christian life open to the Holy Spirit need to be stressed. The first is a sincere intention to do whatever God wills, no matter what the cost. Seeking to know Godís will with the intention that, once we have learned what it is, we will then deliberate whether or not to do it, is worse than a waste of time. The second element to be stressed is an intense and persevering desire and petition to know Godís will, accompanied by faith that God will lead me to know it. The third element is indifference to every alternative for choice except insofar as it seems to be Godís will.

This indifference is the essential condition that is hardest to attain and easiest to overlook. For this reason Ignatius in his instructions on seeking Godís will never tires of recalling and emphasizing this quality. It is, as we shall see, the sure expression of and test of faith, hope and charity, the ultimate criterion of openness to the Holy Spirit; and, more than anything else, therefore, it is the key to successful discernment of Godís will. All the meditation or contemplation and self-examination in the Spiritual Exercises prior to the Election is directed toward achieving it. Understanding it is fundamental if we are to have any comprehension of Ignatian discernment. So at this point let us look more deeply into indifference.

In general, apart from its special meaning in the context of Ignatian discernment, indifference entails an affective attitude that is a mean between contrary affects such as love and hate, desire and aversion, hope and fear, joy and sorrow; it negates each of these contraries. Commentators frequently understand indifference as a state of affective apathy toward some person, event, or thing; but this interpretation might be questionable even in general. Indeed, in the context of Ignatian discernment of Godís will, as we shall see, such an understanding wold be all wrong.

When the term ďindifferenceĒ is used in the context of discerning Godís will, it denotes indifference to every alternative for choice prior to deciding which one God prefers, which one is more for Godís glory in us. The contribution that indifference makes to discernment is that it frees one to see the truth by preventing any spontaneous attraction to or aversion from an alternative that might influence the judgment. It is not sufficient that discerners are so free that when they see what God wills, they will choose it; that degree of freedom may still leave discerners unwittingly blinded by their desires and fears. When adequately indifferent, discerners are so immune from the influence of selfish desires for or fears of any alternatives that they are not only entirely ready to choose whatever they find as Godís will but also so free that no desire or fear wil influence their discernment processes, ready to undertake discernment.

When truly indifferent, the will of the discerner regarding the alternatives for choice is like a balance at equilibrium, ready to be weighed down on either side by the evidence of what God wills. Another, perhaps a deeper, way of putting it is that those persons who have reached indifference to all but Godís will have already made their choice in principle; that is to say, they have already chosen whatever will turn out to be Godís will. At the moment of finalized judgment, the choice in principle becomes ipso facto an actual choice specified by that judgment. The problem in discerning Godís will should never be whether discerners will choose to do what they judge to be Godís willí it should be only an intellectual problem of reaching a sound judgment.

Although this attitude of indifference is not easy to attain, we must not represent it as harder than it is. It does not necessarily involve freedom from all attraction to or aversion from alternatives (sometimes it should not or cannot), but only freedom from the power of these to sway the discernerís judgment. The gap between the power of these attractions and aversions and the power of discernersí greater desire to know and do Godís will is the measure of their indifference. It is adequate when the desire to know and do Godís will is so much greater than other desires that the latter are rendered impotent to determine the discernsí judgment of what God wills.

Cases with Questions for Reflection

1. I had been involved n my design business for ten years and had found it artistically satisfying and financially profitable. Since my children were all going about their own adult lives, I used this business to replace them. I became a compulsive worker. The business consumed most of my waking hours, and these hours became longer. The terrific stress of such work began to sap all pleasure form it; still, I worked on. God was in my life, but I paid scant attention to him. There was, of course, Sunday and a good moral life, but no acknowledged relationship with God other than that. My youngest daughter told me that I was a legalistic Catholic who was not a Christian. I protested, sometimes quite loudly, trying to defend my spiritual mediocrity. She prayed for me.

2. Many things started leading to Christ, too many to relate them all here. The most prominent was a sermon one Sunday at the cathedral. I began to be on fire. I actually began to pray daily (other than programmed prayer). It seemed stilted and foreign to me, but I remained faithful to it. I gave up television and began reading Merton.

3. In June I went on an eight-day retreat. That did it. I was in love. Now that my allegiance was sworn to Christ and his people, what, I asked myself, do I do with this bloodsucking business? I looked at it in every way I could think of; and, even though I had nothing in the wings that would replace it, I still felt and thought it was time to let it go. I went home and proceeded to start dissolving it. My husband couldnít quite understand any of this, but he did like the change in me and so made no effort to influence my decision.

4. I began my ministry of love by starting two Bible-prayer groups (billed as Praise and Thanks Groups) at a retirement center. I am now in my third year with them. I also began t facilitate two Bible-study groups at my parish. They did not have a program before this one. My next request from God was to have two groups on Saturday at the country jail, one for women and one (with a male partner) for the men inmates. My husband supported my missionary work; he was happy about it and I was overjoyed by it. All of this had been going on for quite a while. I was gradually being asked for more personal detachment, and I had been willing to respond.

5. Now, out of the clear blue came a phone call from Ed. a man I knew. He told me that the executives at his agency were no longer pleased with the style of the local designer and that they would like me to give a fresh and residential feeling to their executive offices. They had heard about my work and thought they would like this style. My response was, ďIt sound wonderful, but I have retired, so I guess I canít do it.Ē Ed proceeded, ďThey will give a generous retainer and let you have a free hand within an appropriate budget. We are redoing all the offices within the next three years and, of course, you are the choice for that also.Ē By this time I was o longer in the moment. My dream button has been activated by the most exciting offer of my career as a designer. I found myself saying, ďYes, I will do it. Thank you for thinking of me..Ē

6. I donít think I was off the phone more than ten minutes when physical symptoms began. I was breathing heavily. I almost felt sick to my stomach. My mind was screaming, What have I done? But, then, other thoughts came to me, encouraging me to follow through on what I had done: no one really cares whether I do these little ministry things or not; the church can get alng very nicely without my efforts; the people will just gravitate to someone or something else; I wonít even be missed. None of these thoughts were there before the phone call from Ed.

7. It seemed I had barely enough strength to telephone my friend in whom I had confided over the years. She had come home for a reason she couldnít explain until after my call. I told her what had happened and how horrified and depressed I felt. She calmly recited all the reasons I had given in the past for retiring.

8. My next call was to my daughter. When I told her the whole story, her comment about the ďlittle despairĒ scenario was, ďMom, that is all lies. We both know the value of the things you are doing and why you are doing them.Ē This stunned me. Suddenly all was clear. I felt peace again. Poor God, I am so shallow and faithless, and he still showers me with love and grace.

9. I hung up and was very certain of my next move: I would call Ed. and gracefully decline. I told him I had been retired just long enough to be out of touch with my profession and promised to recommend another designer who would do a fine job for them.

Questions for Reflection

1. Paragraphs 1 and 2 lead up to the decision Ann (the women in the case study) makes in paragraph 3. In these paragraphs 1-3, do you think Ann is making a discernment of Godís will? Why or why not? If so, by which of three Ignatian modes?

Mode one:

1. Critical evaluation of the data to see whether it was a genuine first-time experience

2. If genuine, then assent with reflective certainty of what was shown as Godís will in the direct experience.

Mode two:

1. Critical evaluation of the data to see whether the consolations and desolations were spiritual; if so, whether they were prompted by the Holy Spirit or the evil spirit; if by the Holy Spirit, whether they were integral with the attraction to one of the alternatives for choice.

2. Interpretation of the evaluated data to get evidence by applying the pertinent rules for discernment of spirits.

3. Weighting evidence and concluding tentatively

4. Seeing confirmation and finalizing the conclusion

Mode three:

1. Critical evaluation of the data

2. Interpretation of the evaluated data to get evidence, by applying the magis principle

3. Weighing the evidence and concluding tentatively

4. Seeking confirmation and finalizing the conclusion

2. In paragraph 5-8, it is clear that Ann is facing a new situation which calls for her to make a crucial decision. Guided by the Ignatian rules for discernment of spirits, show how the events related in paragraphs 5-8 reveal the work of the evil spirit and the Holy Spirit influencing Ann toward her decision.

3. In paragraph 0, it is clear that Ann has come to a decision. Looking at paragraphs 6-8, do you see whether she came to that decision by the Ignatian second or third mode of seeking Godís will?