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  • Dr. Karen Shields Wright

Discernment & The Interior Life

Discernment as Decision Making

Discernment as decision-making is the process of the act of judging what is true, ought to be, and moving past our limited perceptions using prudence with a reasonable assessment of all the factors. As a Christian decision-making involves much more. We are to use the foundation principles within the Catholic social teachings: dignity, solidarity, subsidiarity, charity, and justice and to use discernment in following God’s will.

Discernment with the discernment of spirits in Ignatian Christian tradition

Discernment in Ignatian Christian tradition is the process of determining God’s desire in a situation or the cause of a given impulse within the human soul and where the influence came from a ‘good spirit’ or a ‘bad spirit’. ‘Good spirit’ is the influence of God, the Church, and the good in one’s soul; the ‘bad spirit’ is the influence of the enemy, the world, and the flesh:

  • the ‘good spirit’ (God and angles) acts upon our reason and conscience while

  • the ‘bad spirit’ acts on one’s imagination and senses

  • for ‘spirits’ can be judged by the end they seek and their mode of action

The key to discernment is humility which also requires calm rational reflection. We are to take into account considering our concupiscence (a tendency to sin – sin being an act of willful or unintentional neglect of grace).

Two Ways of Discerning

Two ways of discerning can be either by a charism (God’s spiritual gift) or to discern the ‘spirits’ by God’s assistance through acquired knowledge – i.e. studying biblical truths. Interior Movements and their Effects What are we looking out for in prayer and in our everyday decision-making? Interior movements consist of the interactions of our intellect, will, and affect: i.e thoughts, insights, feelings, emotions, moods, urges, impulses, desires, imaginations, attractions, longings, inclinations, and even resistances that spontaneously arise within us.

These movements are related to the:

· intellect (thoughts, reasonings, and imaginings)

· will (urges, impulses, and desires)

· affect (emotions, feelings, and moods)*


These spontaneous movements are called ‘spirits’ in Ignatian tradition that can arise from either the self or a ‘good spirit’ (God, angels) or a ‘bad spirit’ (the enemy of our human nature, the world). Our freedom consists in choosing (using our free will through God’s grace) to either accept or reject the direction of these movements.

Will and Spiritual Freedom

Our will is a gift from God to be used – we are called to be proactive Spiritual Freedom - is freedom from disordered attachments and inordinate desires so as to make a choice that is within God’s will for us which is to flourish in all that we were created to be.

Consolation & Desolation
  • Consolation – we have a felt sense of comfort, solace, relief, support, and reassurance (positive feelings - they come to me).

  • Desolation – we have a felt sense that leaves us a sense of dryness, emptiness, sadness, despair, or anguish (negative feelings – they come over me).

Natural Consolation & Desolation with Cause

External - we experience from a movie, nature

Internal - from our personal insights

Spiritual Consolation & Desolation

Consolation and desolation are spiritual when they have God as their object; as a felt reaction to God and God's truth. Grace from God as in infused contemplation.

· Consolation is not necessarily felt, yet it is known by its fruits; any increase in faith, hope, and charity.

· Desolation is a felt reaction that we have moved away from God, such as following a temptation from self or ‘bad spirit’, which is moving into areas that are not God’s will for us, leaving us with a sense of desolation.

Are you Drawn or Driven?
God draws, the enemy of our human nature drives

Spiritual Feelings

Spiritual Feelings – are feelings through the lens or perspective of faith. These ‘spiritual feelings’ of consolation and desolation indicate to us are direction - been moving towards God (a felt sense of consolation) or away from God (a felt sense of desolation).

Noticing our interior movements during and after prayer and discern where they came from and then choose. In this time of discernment, is where we begin to learn more about ourselves and where God wants to lead us.

We are to ask God to help us understand what was aroused and why. ( As noted it is by the end they seek – ‘spirits’ and their mode of action).


Affect is a psychological term for our underlying experiences of feeling, emotion or mood.


Feelings express an innate emotional state, yet not always. One can have a feeling of knowing such as when grace flows in. Feeling is an essential part of consciousness, arising from a combination of emotions and thoughts. Feelings can emerge from biological, psychological, natural responses, and spiritual causes. We are to become aware of what and where they originated.


Can be defined differently depending upon the discipline. It is an experience (positive or negative) to significant events (what we may or not remember) or what we hold as valuable (our faith or ethics) capable of triggering distinctive bodily changes and behaviors. · In discerning we look at emotions as arising from within, and are to be evaluated through reasoned reflection, where did they come from, why, and are they to be acted upon.


A mood is a psychological state with or without a known cause, a general orientation that can last a day or years

St. Ignatius Rules of Discernment - Rule #2 Of the 14 Rules, this Second rule helps clarify.


This is taken from Fr. Gallagher’s handouts with what is in (_______) are my notes.

Rules for becoming aware and understanding to some extent the different movements which are caused in the soul, the good, to receive them, and the bad to reject them. And these rules are more proper for the First Week (of the Spiritual Exercises).

In persons who are rising from good to better in the service of God our Lord.

· It is proper to the good spirit (God, angles) to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet, easing and taking away all obstacles, so that the person may go forward in doing good.

· (Even in correcting us to be becoming our better selves, how we have been created to be, we are given the grace to hear it and to act, the ‘voice' is gentle and soft yet firm, guilt followed by sorrow.)

· For then it is proper for the evil spirit to bite, sadden, and place obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, so that the person may not go forward to do the good or push us to go beyond our human capacity.

· (We feel driven - the ‘voice’ is the hyper-critical, self-punishing for not being perfect or not doing something we should of, feeling shame or not worthy for having limitations, not realizing we set ourselves up with unrealistic expectations, etc.

Note: Guilt is what we feel when we have moved away from grace, while feelings of shame tend to be what others who moved away from God did to us or what we do to ourselves as self-hate.

How do we discern we are in God's will?

It will be known by its fruits.


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