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Monday, March 20, 2017

Discerning the Will of God

A week ago I was at a high school youth conference and was talking briefly to a nun from the religious community Sisters of Life. In our conversation, she asked if I had read about St. Ignatius' works on discernment and mentioned that I might enjoy Fr. Gallagher's books and specifically recommended Discerning the Will of God: An Ignatian Guide to Christian Decision Making and The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living.

Upon arrival home from the retreat, I ordered the books and was excited to get started with Discerning the Will of God. I chose to read it first because the initial pages immediately captured my attention. Last summer I read a LifeTeen book, True North: A Roadmap for Discernment and appreciated the suggestions. I can't remember how different these two books are, other than remembering that True North was written more specifically for a teen/young adult audience - first person narrative layered in with an explanation of St. Ignatius' concepts. I remember that it was an engaging, thought provoking read; however, I forgot the specifics of it containing the rules and modes until I just referred back to the preview on Amazon.

Nonetheless, since I read about the concepts under a year ago, that made reading Fr. Gallagher's book even easier because the concepts were not completely new. In contrast to True North, Fr. Gallagher's book is written for an adult audience and weaves in a range of different scenarios from people in all different contexts in order to illustrate the discernment process. I can't remember if True North included multiple stories aside from the author's narrative that was interspersed throughout the book bringing the concepts to life.

Fr. Gallagher divides his book into three parts - preparation, discernment, and fruit. This was especially helpful because many of the aspects were already a part of my thinking process, but I had not retained how to intentionally move through a discernment process in a systematic way. Discerning the Will of God provides that, starting with setting the stage for successful discernment. As I moved through the three parts, I was able to notice which concepts seemed familiar and which aspects were either new or forgotten. I could reflect on which of the glimpses into lives of others resonated with my experiences and how they differed. I considered how the way I try to make decisions could have a stronger foundation and more naturally flow through a progression.

The section on preparation goes through the question at the heart of discernment, the foundation, the disposition, and the means or spiritual exercises. This helps me to reflect on the core of discernment. With the exercises, it was easy to consider what is already present in my life and what is lacking or could be improved. Part two goes through each of the modes, and that is where many aspects were familiar to True North. Finally, part three frames the bigger picture value of discernment.

Fr. Gallagher's book was accessible, easy to navigate because of clear organization and helpful headings. It will be fairly easy to go back and locate information that I want to refresh in my mind. While I don't have an immediate opportunity to go on a silent Ignatian retreat, I have plans to carve out some intentional time and space to have a self-directed retreat. Fr. Gallagher's book is going to help me with this process. Being able to intentionally look back at some of my spiritual notebooks through the lens of St. Ignatius' discernment concepts is going to help process what I have noticed and what I have been missing and to consider how to proceed.

I am grateful for the suggestion to read the book, God helped put this book in my hands at just the right time.

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