God speaks through our thoughts and feelings. It is of fundamental importance to know our thoughts and arguments and to understand where they come from in order to discern which to follow. The interaction between thought and feeling is important because it permits us to verify adherence to God or to the realities that take us away from God. Feelings can betray the effective adherence to God. I can have a good thought of Gospel content but associate it with a negative feeling. The question becomes: What is it that resists this thought that is good in itself?
What is needed is an attitude of discernment, not of a single act but of constant readiness. This attitude is based on continual attention and openness to God and to the Holy Spirit. It is by faith we know that God communicates and reveals himself. An attitude of discernment blocks confinement to our own feelings and opinion. It is a dialogue of communion with the Father. Discernment is not a calculation, a technique, an argument or a majority decision. Discernment happens with prayer and humility.
The fundamental rule of discernment is the presence of interior peace. This presence must be distinct from a “passing joy.” It is not a joy that presents itself with intense emotions, somewhat noisy, short-lived and very attached to the senses. All of a sudden you find yourself surrounded by this interior peace. It is obvious that it does not depend at all on the “outside” but it flows from within.
To better understand this fundamental rule, it is necessary to know the anthropological framework. Human beings have two primary components: reason and emotions. The first rule of discernment acts at the psychological level. We experience the peace when the reason component and the emotions component are oriented toward the same object. However, when someone is oriented with emotions toward one thing and reason to another, one then experiences distress, desolation, anguish and frustration.
Discernment is extremely important because it is not always instantly obvious to determine toward what objects our emotions and our reason are directed. It is not only a question of seeing what exists but also of understanding where it comes from, where it is going and what type of thoughts come with it.
Next Issue – Two Phases of Discernment, Part 1