(part I of II)

DISCERNMENT OF SPIRITS I


By Father 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 they belong to God, because many prophets have appeared in the world." (1 John 4:1)

In the June 1985 newsletter, I wrote an article on discernment giving some basic principles to work from. Because of their importance this article will be devoted to repeating some of these principles (to refresh our memory) and then present some applications of these norms:

PRINCIPLES OF DISCERNMENT:

  1. Does what you sense agree with Scripture?

  2. Does it agree with the teachings of the church? The Lord sent the Spirit of Truth upon the Apostles and Church to be with them always. "They devoted themselves to the Apostles' instruction.." (Acts2:42)

  3. The fruit of the Spirit will be present: The opposite of the Spirit are those from the flesh: "lewd conduct, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, bickering, jealousy, outbursts of rage, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness..." (Gal. 5:19-21) "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness and chastity." (Gal. 5:22-23) . These good fruits:
    1. Lead to love of God, neighbor and self (in a good sense)
    2. Bring unity and harmony - not confusion
    3. Give a sense of rightness - honest and true
    4. Give good order. A sense of balance of priorities: prayer, study, family, work, recreation. Listen to your body - when over-tired, nervous, guilty conscience, depressed; the Lord is speaking to you about priorities, balance and sin. In a prayer meeting, the order of simplicity and basic theme emerges.

ATTITUDES TO MAINTAIN:

  1. Be quiet in mind and heart before the Lord: Lift your heart to God in simple praise to get your mind on the Lord and off your problems. When we are in a turmoil, this remains only an obstacle and we cannot hear His gentle voice in so many conflicting signals.
  2. Be as passive as possible: Have an attitude of giving it all up to the Lord to do His will. Holding on could easily result in dictating to the Lord what you selfishly desire.
  3. In all large decisions pray: Pray with the above attitude; considering the pros and cons of the decision with your spouse if married, and seek out a mature spiritual director to help you discern.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCES OF DISCERNMENT:

    Learning To Hear His Voice: Quite a few years ago when I was not familiar with the Lord speaking to me, I would tend to distrust any thought I had as being from the Lord. When I first began to hear the Lord speak in prayer, it went something like this: "Come to me and I will refresh you." I learned not to analyze or discredit the thought right away, but rather (whether from the Lord or not) simply to give myself to Him. Then as I began to sense His peace, joy, or love and rest in that, I realized it came from the Lord. As you can see, it agreed with Scripture from the Gospel of John as well as the fruit of His peace, joy or love.

    Being Honest With the Lord: On another occasion the Lord taught me about being honest with Him and myself. I was in prayer and sensed a question came to mind: "Do you love Me?" I wasn't sure at first if this was from the Lord or myself - so I responded "Yes." Over a period of a few minutes the same thought came back to mind four times. I still wasn't sure if this was from the Lord or not, but since it came back so many times I began to look at myself and realized I was not always obedient to His calls. I finally answered: "Somewhat." I knew immediately from the sense I had that I was now being honest and that this was from the Lord. He continued to fill me with His love in order to love Him in return. Again the fruit was there and honesty.

    Experiential Relationship with Mary: Another time when I was in prayer, I sensed the Lord speaking. In the context of what I was hearing, He said that He was going to send His Mother to me. There was a great joy and peace that followed and I was quite jubilant at the thought. I expected some sort of apparition. As the weeks passed with nothing happening, at least so I thought, I was ready to discredit the whole thing and throw it out. In prayer, I would regularly receive the thought to trust Him when I would have these doubts. What happened over a period of months was an unexpected growing affection towards Mary and a sense of her presence in the Holy Spirit. At first this disturbed me for I never realized you could have an experiential relationship with Mary, too. I checked it out with a mature priest in the diocese and was assured that with the Communion of Saints this was possible and in conformity with the teaching of the Church. I also learned from this incident not to read more into what the Lord was saying, looking for an apparition. It taught me to discern thoughts with the teaching of the Church.

    Providing For Our Needs: On another occasion the Lord taught me to trust Him and that He provides for our needs. I had spent a lot of money having a road built down a steep hill for access to my cottage. That same night after the road was just finished, very heavy rains came and washed half of the road away. I was beside myself because I didn't have the money to rebuild. I stopped to pray and sensed that I should give it up to the Lord. When I did, I sensed the Lord wanted me to rejoice. I felt anything but rejoicing, but told Him I received His joy. I found myself flooded with joy in the pouring rain looking at the destroyed road. I sensed the Lord say to trust Him. That was difficult. But early the next morning I heard the bulldozer on the hill. The contractor had returned and rebuilt the road even better than the first time at no cost. Again, we see the fruit of joy as well as the word being proved true.

    Personal Conflicts: In another situation when I was having difficulty with a personality conflict with a person on a team I was working with, I could see all the reasons why this person shouldn't be on the team and who needed much correcting. However, in prayer when I was open to have the Lord confirm my own thoughts, the tables turned and found Him saying to me to love the person. I didn't expect that! I asked the Lord to help me. Over a period of six months or so I found my whole attitude changing toward the person. I see now that the Lord will always work for reconciliation and that much of the problem was with me. We were able to talk things out in charity and patience after this.

    Increasing Prayer Time: Some years ago I felt the Lord wanted me to increase my prayer time to one hour besides the Church's Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. I wasn't sure if this was from the Lord at first. I spent the time in prayer and it seemed very right when I finished. I began to practice this regularly until on one occasion I was confronted by a fellow priest for spending too much time in prayer. I couldn't pray very well after that and began to wonder if I wasn't deceiving myself and possibly neglecting my work. Again I went in prayer and sensed to cut the prayer time back to half an hour. After six weeks of this I felt I should evaluate it. In my honest opinion I felt like I was saying to the Lord, "hello and good-bye" in so short a time. I increased my prayer to three quarters of an hour for awhile and finally back to the hour. There was a sense of rightness without neglecting the parish.

    Spiritual Director: Over the years I have learned also the need for having a spiritual director. Many times we are too close to the situation to hear the Lord objectively. About ten years ago I was constantly afflicted with terrifying thoughts of death especially during the night when I would wake up shaking. At first I thought it might be my mid-life crisis. I sought out a spiritual director only to find out after some sessions that my problem was not forming closer relationships in the parish with a resulting lack of fulfillment and happiness. I had been afraid to form lasting friendships since I would have to leave them when transferred. Once I began to take the initiative to form some relationships and continue to develop a closer walk with the Lord, all these fears disappeared.

I share these times of discernment with you in the hope that it will help you to discern the Lord's voice in your life. +


From the April 1987 issue of the U.P. Catholic Charismatic Newsletter

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