HomedotMagisDiscernmentThe Audacity of Discernment

The Audacity of Discernment

man sitting near tree, thinking or discerning - photo by Chinmay Singh via Pexels
Editor’s note: Throughout July, we’re hosting 31 Days with St. Ignatius, a month-long celebration of Ignatian spirituality. In addition to the calendar of Ignatian articles found here, posts on dotMagis this month will explore the theme of “The Audacity of Ignatian Spirituality.”

Discernment is at the heart of Ignatian spirituality. While bed-ridden and recovering from injury, Ignatius first came to recognize that different experiences and products of his imagination led him toward or away from God. On the surface, that realization isn’t life-changing. Some things give a person joy, and some things make a person despair. But the audacious leap Ignatius made was to realize those movements of the heart—the positive ones and the negative ones—were the movements of God speaking directly to him, within him.

To claim such intimacy with God, unmediated by the Church, was scandalous at the time. Not only did Ignatius claim that the experience of intimacy with God was his, but he taught that it was available to everyone if they learned the rules of discernment. Everyone—women and men, the poor and the rich, and even people around the world who had never heard of Jesus—could come to have deep relationships with God through discernment. That was a recklessly bold claim in Ignatius’s day. This teaching brought him before the Inquisition multiple times. But rather than see the members of the Inquisition as his enemies, Ignatius held to the belief that his greatest enemy was within himself. That’s audacious!

Rather than just following rules of ritual and moral codes defined by others, the idea that there were rules for discerning the movements of the heart that one can practice in order to grow closer to God was completely original in Ignatius’s day. In discernment, we practice our free will to choose either to follow our God of Love or the enemy of human nature. Even to be given free will as a creature, not controlled by instinct or nature, let alone an infinite God, is astonishing. But more, to have the capacity as mere creatures to discern the movements of the spirits within our hearts and the interplay between good and evil, so as not to lose our souls, that is audacious!

Personal discernment is the most powerful tool in our spiritual toolkit. We can recite prayers, participate in rituals, reflect on Scripture, build community with others, serve, and seek justice, but personal discernment amplifies each of these toward conversion of the heart.

In communal discernment, we humble our individual egos and self-interests to listen to God speaking through the movements of our hearts. We have the audacity to believe that in sharing the most intimate desires of our hearts and our challenges with others about a shared issue, we can discern even more clearly God’s call to us.

The rules of discernment are about navigating the affairs of the heart, not thinking through a situation. In practicing Ignatian spirituality, we discern the persons we are called to be. We are shaped by God into something we never could have become just by our own thinking. In discernment we place ourselves in the hands of God the Sculptor. The philosopher Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” Perhaps the most audacious claim of Ignatian spirituality is “I discern, therefore I become.”

Today in 31 Days with St. Ignatius, read Allowing God to Work Through Ignatian Contemplation by Rebecca Ruiz. Then use the hashtag #31DayswithIgnatius on your favorite social media channels to share how you find God working in your life.

Photo by Chinmay Singh on Pexels.

Lisa Kelly
Lisa Kelly
Lisa Kelly is a wife, mother, and Ignatian Associate living in Omaha, Nebraska. She works to help organizations integrate spirituality into their planning and systems. She and her husband, Tom, completed the 19th Annotation in 2005, just prior to spending two years living in the Dominican Republic with their three young children, supporting the work of the Jesuit Institute for Latin American Concern. Additionally they have lived in El Salvador and Bolivia for extended periods.


  1. Thanks for this awesome piece. Treading the beaten path is simple and easy. Through the exercise of discernment one offers oneself the opportunity to taste and savor small hardships and relish big victories. Good old Saint Ignatius is relevant for all times and all places.

  2. Lisa,
    Thank you for this refreshingly clear and bold explanation about the individual and communal gift of Ignatian discearnment. It comes at a moment when I’m wrestling with how or if I should respond to published criticism by an in-law which has been shared extensively in our extended family. Many thanks for your clear and powerful insights – and your gift of authorship.


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