DISCERNING PRIORITIES


in the Parish, at work and home
By Fr. Ray Zeugner, Liaison to the Bishop
Diocese of Marquette, Michigan
"Beloved, do not trust every spirit, but put the spirits to a test to see if they belong to God, because many prophets have appeared in the world."

The over all picture:

Discerning the movements, urgings or thoughts within ourselves or hearing what others are saying to us, is absolutely crucial for a Christian. Promptings can come from four different areas or a combination of them: the WORLD, the FLESH, the DEVIL, or GOD. Some people act on every prompting, saying. the Lord told me..., with devastating results to others and themselves. And others, frightened of making a mistake or not understanding what discernment is all about, have to act and make judgments on situations constantly. Take for example the whole Charismatic Movement - Is this of God, the human psyche or Satan? I have heard all three proposed. How can we discern or test whether this is of God or not?

A few very basic principles:

1. DOES IT AGREE WITH SCRIPTURE?

2. DOES IT AGREE WITH THE TEACHING AND TRADITION OF THE CHURCH?

Since Christ founded the Church on the Apostles and told them that He would send the Spirit of Truth to be with them always, what the Church teaches is crucial for discerning. One aspect of the early Christian community was, "They devoted themselves to the Apostles instruction... "(Acts 2:42). I have seen people leave the Church because they believed God told them to. Immediately we can see that this was not from the Lord, since the Lord would never tell us to abandon the Church, His Bride.

3. IS THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT PRESENT?

Do I sense His peace, joy, love etc. One Author put it simply this way: "If it leads to love of self (in the good sense), love of God and neighbor, it is of God."

4. THE MORE SERIOUS THE CONSEQUENCE, THE MORE SERIOUS THE TESTING!

The Lord definitely wants us to step out in faith. This is one of the biggest drawbacks for Christians finding a greater release in the Spirit. They tend to be frightened of not being accepted if they make a mistake and are reluctant to step out on an urging to speak in prophecy, prayer or reading from Scripture. Usually, in my experience, no one is really harmed with a general prophecy or prayer that may come from the human psyche and not from the Lord, as long as it leads to the Lord. So there should not be any fear except for a little hurt pride.

A very important point to remember is that the community or prayer group ultimately is the one to discern. The Spirit is not only working in the individual, but also in the group at the same time. There is a certain rightness about it, along with agreeing with Scripture and the Church. As a person spends time in prayer, reading Scripture and knowing the teachings of the Church, the discernment given by the Spirit grows more acute.

Also, I have found for instance, that if there is a prophecy calling for rejoicing, the Lord also gives the grace to rejoice ("of ourselves we can do nothing"). So the end fruit tells us whether or not it is from the Lord. If there is a serious consequence to what you feel the Lord is saying, more testing is necessary. This is not lacking faith or trust on your part, rather it is testing as Scripture encourages.

If for instance you feel the Lord is calling you to leave your job and town and go into a new ministry in another state, country or town, this is serious and must be discerned. It has happened to many. I immediately think of Mother Theresa in India who heard the Lords voice in her mind on a bus trip calling her to leave her ministry to the rich and to serve the poor in India. Here are some ways to discern:

  • CONFIRMATION: Let the Lord confirm it several times through prophecies, Scripture etc. The fruits of peace, love and joy would accompany.
  • MATURITY: Talk it over with a mature person in the Lord or your pastor for added discernment.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Let the Lord open the gates or opportunities.
  • TRUST: Go out on faith and trust.

5. DOES IT LEAD TO GOOD ORDER:

St. Paul speaks to the Corinthians that their meetings be in good order (1 Cor 12:29). Our God is not a God of confusion, but of good order. We can easily see this from looking at creation. God put order in the universe. How does good order apply to the Christian life? One of the first insights I found when a person enters into the spiritual journey, including myself, is that the Lord wants to re-order our priorities. Again, some basic principles I have learned in the proper order given: VOCATION:
  • JESUS: is Lord and is top priority - prayer life, surrendering and following the Spirit.
  • VOCATION:(Married and family life, Priesthood, Sister, Single)
  • JOB: business or means of livelihood.
  • CHURCH: Or parish (for priests, sisters, deacons, this is tied in with vocation and a higher priority and commitment).
  • CHARISMATIC: Crusillo or other movements (those in leadership have a greater priority and obligation).
  • COMMUNITY: Civil community life (voting and concern for your town is a Christian virtue. (Those in political office have a greater priority).
  • COUNTRY: The broader community of county, state, nation and world - in that order.

Adjusting to our changing lives:

Temporarily, a lower priority can supersede a higher area. e.g., a close relative dies and you must leave your family for a little while to attend to these needs. It must be born in mind that this is only temporary. I have seen where an individual with a generous heart and good intentions got so involved with parish work to the neglect spending sufficient time with the family. All good things may not necessarily be Gods will for a person. On the other hand, I have seen some so involved with their job or family to have nothing left for other lessor priorities that God calls for. In this order there must also be time to recreate without making that top priority all the time. This could be my big temptation since I love to fish!

6. DISCERNING PARISH PROGRAMS AND ACTIVITIES:

One area in our Christian life I would like to address (see d and e above) specifically relates to RENEW and other related parish programs. Many people are finding themselves overextended and burning out with too many things going on: Prayer time, family, job, parish, Charismatic Prayer Groups, RENEW, and other programs. It becomes frustrating as people are often reluctant to say to no, especially to church functions.

After prayer and discussion with the Service Team as well as the Diocesan RENEW Team, the following may give you some guidelines. You will have to go into prayer to apply these principles to your situation to discern your own personal response.

  • CHURCH: Is of greater priority than the Movements. The Movements are for the purpose of renewing the Church - not an entity unto themselves.
  • DIOCESE: The Bishop has called for Diocesan RENEW. This means more than just a parish social function.
  • PARISH: Everyone should be active in some way in the parish -even in a minor ministry.
  • CHARISMATIC RENEWAL:The Lord has called forth the Charismatic Renewal (endorsed by the Church - see the statement of the Bishops from the National Catholic Conference). Since the Lord has gifted persons with the charisms that ultimately belong to the Church, He expects us to use them and mature in them. Only gradually, in my estimation do I see this being incorporated in to the Church, e.g., healing. But there are many others that need, as I see it, not only acceptance in the Church, but maturing in prayer groups, e.g., prophecy, vocal spontaneous praise, baptism or release of the Spirit, tongues etc.

Summary of the discernment process:

  1. The U.P. Service Team discussed along with somewhat of a survey on a national level what would happen if a prayer group stopped meeting during the six week sessions of RENEW twice a year. The liaisons I talked to on the national level stated that the prayer groups died and the charisms dropped in the process.

    So, discerning the best we can, it was felt by the Service Team that the prayer groups should continue their regular meetings. I talked earlier about temporarily changing our priorities. This would be fine if the groups did not die in the process and the charisms for the most part along with them.

  2. Since the Church is a higher priority and especially since the Bishop has called for RENEW, everyone is called to be involved in some way. I can see those involved in the Charismatic Renewal as well as other movements able to contribute a tremendous service even in the area of spontaneous prayer and fellowship.

    Each person in prayer has to set down their priorities - the greater the priority - the greater the amount of time and concern needed in that area. Whether a person is involved in the CORE group of RENEW in a parish or attending the small group, has to be discerned by you individually. Those in leadership positions in the charismatic renewal would have a greater responsibility to the prayer group without neglecting involvement in some way in RENEW.

In conclusion, I would like to quote Sister Joan Carol of the Diocesan RENEW Office:

"Sometimes, the most holy thing to do is say NO!"


From the Diocese of Marquette Michigan, U.P. Catholic Charismatic Newsletter (June 1985)

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