On Discernment According to St Ignatius

My friend, Fr. Brian Graebe, hugging his father just after his ordination.

One of the books I have on the go right now is the basis of the name for this blog, The Christian State of Life by Hans Urs Von Balthasar.  I have almost finished the book and currently on the section on the discernment of a call in one’s life.  The section of this book (the section which ends the book, in fact) is based on St Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises.  The entire book is, in fact, a meditation on the exercises, but this section emphasizes its dependence upon the exercises even more so.

As I was sitting with the book this morning, I came across a concept that I had never heard before and, to be frank, was like an intellectual light which broke open darkness and doubt that had been reigning in my discernment for years.

Balthasar, reflecting on some very strong words by St Ignatius, speaks about the inequality of vocations.  He says that the discernment of vocations is not an either-or (referring to either marriage or the priesthood/religious life).  He says, rather, discernment is about hearing a specific call, an election from God, which calls you to a special service in greater union with the Lord Jesus Christ.  In other words, discernment is more about whether or not there is a divine election in your heart, a way of discovery the specific call of God.

Balthasar goes on to give a humbling example.  He says that those called to married don’t hear a divine call, a special election from God.  He wondered if it is fair to say that God would give the same priority in the call to marriage life as He would to priesthood and religious life.  He also goes through many scriptural quotations to demonstrate his point.

What is meant out of all this?  Balthasar, first and foremost, is not arguing that priesthood and religious life makes you a qualitatively better person, that such a call is only for the really special people.  God does not play favourites.  Rather, the office or way of life one may be called to is of such importance that it requires a special call from God to move the heart because this call brings the one called to lose themselves in the call, to put their selves to the side for the sake of the call.

The argument in favour of this is not necessarily that those who become married are not called by God, they are called, but according to the natural means He has established in the created order.  Those called to a life of intimate union with Christ require that special call precisely because it is supernatural, it is out of the norm established in creation.  Those called are not better, nor are they higher in God’s plan.  It is simply that God needs priests and religious to aid the life of the Church, and thus it requires a special call so as to serve the rest of the Church to achieve holiness.  The ultimate measure of greatness is holiness, and that is achieved regardless of a natural or supernatural vocation.

I find this helpful in the realm of discernment because it is no longer between a bunch of possible vocations.  Discernment is about seeing if God is working a special call in our hearts.  If he is, then we have to follow that for God will bring us a great fulfillment if we do.  If he is not, then we are called to marriage, which is good and holy and part of God’s plan for holiness in our lives.

Discernment is not meant to be an overly complicated process.  I have noticed in my life that with all vocations being equal, it makes it to be a tormenting process to “figure out what God is calling you to.”  If there is a nudge in the heart that God is calling you to something special, that is probably God calling you to imitate His Son in a more intimate way.  If there is nothing, if things seem as “normal”, then there is a good chance God is allowing you to follow the natural call to marriage.

St Ignatius is a great help in the realm of discernment because he gives clarity to the soul when it is potentially in the greatest confusion.  He uses as the basis for his exercises the Gospels, which are a sure guide in aiding the soul in its path towards God.  St Ignatius is a great gift to the Church in the realm of discernment because of the clarity he gives.  Discernment is not meant to be a groping in a dark, but a walking in the light.  If we are groping, we are probably not listening accordingly.  With this way of approaching discernment, we can have a greater peace in our heart as well since it is about looking in our heart, through prayer, to see if God has a special call for us.  If we believe He is calling us in a special way, we must seek out a spiritual director to aid us in deepening our sense of the call.

in Christ




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2 responses to “On Discernment According to St Ignatius

  1. Andrew Young

    Hi Harrison,

    I was unaware that you kept a blog. You have probably mentioned a number of times over the years and I didn’t make the connection. I hope to explore it further now I know it exists.

    Thanks for sharing this bit about Balthasar’s prospective of the vocations. I intend to pray and look further into this to see if it will aid in my own discernment which has actually taken on more of an Ignatian approach during my internship year.

    Best to you brother. COURAGE!

  2. Pingback: Vocation to the Single Life? | The Christian State of Life

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