This is actually the third article on discernment of spirits. In the first, 'Discerning
Priorities', I spoke about the basic principles of the gift and how to discern priorities
in the parish, at work and at home. In the second, I talked about principles, attitudes
and shared examples of discernment from my own life.
In this article I would like to go a little deeper into discernment. Discernment of
spirits is a gift of God whereby we can judge whether this particular thought or urging
comes from our own mind and desire, God or Satan.
SEARCHING OUT THE FRUITS:
The greatest criteria for discerning what comes from God is the appearance of the fruits of the Spirit. "...the
fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness, and chastity."
I often hear people say, "I don't experience this peace, joy, or love that Father talks about. Or if I do, it is only on rare occasions." Why is this? The fruits of the Spirit are gifts of the Spirit that grow within as we continue to draw closer to the Lord with a clear conscience. It is not always living on a perpetual high, but rather an abiding quiet joy and peace. Although, at times the Spirit does fill us with a rush of joy, peace, or love to overflowing. Christians should be noted for these abiding fruits. But still with the above in mind, why is it that so many Christians still walk around quite joyless and lacking the peace of the Lord?
HEARING HIS WORD IN THE QUIET:
I believe the greatest reason for this is that people are not quiet enough inside themselves, but are burdened with many things on their mind. Another possible reason is that they are not taking the time to sit in the Lord's presence in quiet prayer. If they do pray, so often it is filled with petitions and constant chatter. Did not the
Lord say, "Come to Me all who are burdened and let Me refresh you." To simply praise the Lord is fine and opens the door to receiving Him, but our spirits need to be quiet too.
When we quiet our minds and place all things into His hands, we are then more able to listen to the movements of the Spirit within our own spirit. You will be able to detect the slight urgings within you to praise the Lord or be silent before Him or to give your heart and respond to His callings. For example, if you sense a call to rejoice in Him, simply tell Him that you receive it, open your heart and praise Him. You will sense joy welling up
within you. Stay with it as long as He calls for it within your designated prayer time. Only the Lord should be on your mind and nothing else. If you find you are having distractions, go back to simple praise or repeat Jesus' name over and over quietly. You cannot expect this with five minutes of prayer a day, but rather fifteen to twenty minutes. It takes time to quiet down.
THE ULTIMATE DISCERNER:
Another obstacle to receiving the fruits of the Spirit is Satan. He will try to rob you of God's peace, joy, and
love by having you dwell on your over-concerns and burdens mentioned above. "...the evil one approaches him to steal away what was sown in his mind.. What was sown among briers is the man who hears the message, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of money choke it off..." (Matthew 13:19-22)
The ultimate discerner. whether something is from the Lord or not, is the Church. The Lord through ordination
has appointed the Church leaders as the final discerner. Vatican Council Document on the Church states in
paragraph 12 speaking about the charismatic gifts, "...judgment as to their genuineness and proper use belongs to those who preside over the Church, and to whose special competence it belongs, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to that which is good." (1Thes. 5:12, 19-21) The Church when
discerning, uses the same criteria as mentioned in Galatians - presence of joy, peace, love, etc.
Pastors by ordination and as extensions of the Bishop are also appointed to discern what comes from the Lord as long as it is in agreement with the Bishop and the Church. Even though some may feel that because many clergy are not directly involved in the Charismatic Renewal and their judgment could be faulty, nevertheless by their study and competence as ordained pastors, they are aware of Satan's ways. This means, of course, that they are teaching and discerning the same as the Bishop and the Church. Therefore, there is the obligation of prayer groups to submit to their pastors and the Church as the ultimate discerners.
CHANCING IT ALONE:
A good safeguard for discerning what the Lord desires and is doing in our individual lives, is the need for each person to have a spiritual director. Priests again are competent in this area even though they may not be directly involved in the Renewal. It is ideal to seek a priest who is both a man of prayer and learned. But St. Theresa of Avila even admitted if there had to be a choice, she would look for a director that was learned. This does not
mean, however, that lay persons could not be directors provided they are mature persons of prayer, have knowledge of the Church's teachings, and the right interpretation of Scripture. In any case, if we do not seek out a spiritual director, the danger of ending up as a "lone ranger" or out in left field is a great hazard and openness to the possibility of deception in our spiritual journey.
THE ROLE OF SCRIPTURE:
Along with this danger and possible deception, we need to realize that Satan will try to counterfeit everything the Lord gives. Satan can and often appears as an angel of light. For example, God offers happiness by following His commands. Satan on the other hand offers a false happiness through temptation to seek sinful desires for self-gratification. Satan can mimic God's gift of tongues, but it will lack the presence of God, love, joy, and peace. This is your criteria for discerning. Satan even tried to deceive Christ by quoting Scripture in the temptations in the desert. Christ discerned this by seeing them as all self-seeking rather than for God.
A true safeguard in discerning is to check what we hear and feel against Scripture and the teaching of the Church, keeping in mind that the Church is also the guardian of Scripture and gives the true interpretation. We can see what has happened by all the divisions in the churches precisely from misinterpretation of Scripture. Satan was up to his old tactics of sowing weeds among the wheat.
IT BELONGS TO EVERYONE:
As the Bishop's appointed liaison to the Renewal in the diocese of Marquette (Mi), I have the awesome responsibility to make the Bishop's presence and the Church's teaching present to the Renewal in our Diocese. I have worked closely with the Upper Peninsula Charismatic Service Team to ensure what is being done and taught is really from the Lord and in agreement with the Church's teaching. The recent days of renewal in different parts of the Diocese along with leadership days are cases in point. This means that there should be a certain amount of submission and obedience to the Bishop's liaison and the Service Team to help us discern what the Lord wants for our particular prayer group.
Discernment not only belongs to the leaders of the Church, it belongs to everyone. We are all to ask for and grow in this gift. The way discernment grows is through prayer. Scripture reading and study, and knowledge of the Church's teachings is also very important for healthy growth.
DISCERNING MARY'S ROLE IN THE PRAYER GROUP:
I have noticed our catholic tradition and teaching of giving honor to Mary at a prayer meeting is often missing in the Renewal. I believe this has been carried over from our Protestant brethren whom the Lord has used to help
us open to the gifts. There is a fear that to honor Mary is to take away from what belongs to Christ. It is wrong to adore Mary, but to honor her is correct. After all, she is the example of a perfect disciple by her total submission and obedience to the promptings of the Holy Spirit throughout her life.
I would suspect that if we asked the Lord to remove the fear of adoration or the fear of offending our Protestant brethren present at a prayer meeting, we would hear the Spirit move in some of our prophecies, words of wisdom or inspired prayer, about Mary as intercessor as well as the exemplar disciple. Do we not feel we are intercessors when people ask us to pray? Why not Mary?
What it comes down to is getting rid of fear and being faithful to the truth the Church teaches.+
From the July 1987 issue of the U.P. Catholic Charismatic Newsletter