How to Know That a Choice Is Right

By William A. Barry, SJ
From God’s Passionate Desire

woman-looking-reflectiveThere was an unspoken rule for discernment prevalent in the church prior to Vatican II that the more unpalatable of two choices was the one to lean toward, since it was more likely in accord with God’s will. The idea that we should expect to feel happy in this life seems far-fetched, does it not?

And yet, in the rules for discernment of spirits proposed by Ignatius of Loyola in The Spiritual Exercises, we read that for those “who go on earnestly striving to cleanse their souls from sin and who seek to rise in the service of God,”

it is characteristic of the good spirit . . . to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations, and peace. This He does by making all easy, by removing all obstacles so that the soul goes forward in doing good. (n. 315)

Ignatius expects that those who know what pleases God and act accordingly will be blessed. And Ignatius is talking from experience—his own and others’—not from theory.

According to him, if we are trying to live a life in accordance with God’s good pleasure, the best criterion for deciding whether an experience or a choice or a way of acting is of God or not is to ask whether we find ourselves “blessed,” in the sense of having “courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations, and peace.” This rule echoes Paul’s words to the Galatians based on his own experiences: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (5:22-23). In fact, in the same rule Ignatius notes that “it is characteristic of the evil spirit to harass with anxiety, to afflict with sadness, to raise obstacles backed by fallacious reasonings that disturb the soul.”

Excerpt from God’s Passionate Desire by William A. Barry, SJ.

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Rules for Discernment