Monday, October 7, 2013

Discernment: Jonah's Way

Discernment:  In today’s first reading, Jonah 1: 1-2: 2, 11, we read about Jonah running away from the Lord, who had commissioned him to go to Nineveh, to “preach against it” because “their wickedness has come up before me.”  Jonah connects with a ship going to Tarshish in an effort to escape the Lord’s will.  A violent storm erupts and the ship is about to sink.  The crew is frantic. Jonah is sound asleep in “the hold of the ship.”  He knows why the storm has erupted and admits to running from the Lord.  To save everyone, the crew tosses Jonah off the ship. Everything calms down. Jonah is swallowed up by a whale for three days and three nights.  At God’s commands, the whale coughs him up on the shore of Nineveh!  God’s will prevails! We really do not escape carrying out God’s commands, though we may certainly attempt to do so. 

Part of discerning the will of God in our lives is learning to listen to the turbulence, the discomfort, the tempests that rise up.  There is a reason!  When we are running away from the Lord like Jonah had been, we do know why we run into stormy weather, so to speak.  And, if we do not know, those around us do, as did the crew.  It simply calls for honesty on our part and on the part of those involved in our lives at the time.  Sometimes, however, a turbulence is simply a turbulence and it is not connected to us being off course with our God any more than Jesus was off course when he clashed with the Pharisees, the Sadducees and teachers of His day. How did Jesus know? He knew because He and the Father were of one heart, one mind, one soul and every day He conversed with His Father.  We, too, will know as Jesus knew as we grow in intimacy with the Lord, taking time daily to commune with God our Father.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Discernment of God's Will

Discernment:  Discernment involves knowing when we are in sync or out of sync  with God’s will.   In  Ezra 6: 7-8, 12, 14-20, we read about how the Jews, having returned to Jerusalem following their exile in Babylon, rebuilt the Temple at God’s command and through the cooperation of the pagan king Cyrus and Darius, the encouragement of the prophets and financial help of the Persian empire.   All worked together to bring about the will of God for the good of the Chosen People, the People of God.  The Jews needed to recognize that God used even their pagan neighbors and those who imposed exile upon them , those whom they perceived as their enemies, to communicate His will and bring about His plans for their salvation.   In our day, we, too, need to be open to everyone and everything as an instrument in God’s hand to reveal what He is asking of us. This was drove home to me this morning. Five minutes into my hour of prayer, the fire alarm blared through the building. All were escorted to one “safe” place.  Ten minutes later, thinking all was clear, I returned to chapel, only to be called back to the “safe” place for another 30 minutes.  My hour of prayer was, to say the least, disrupted and basically close to its conclusion. I am boiling inside when, all of a sudden, the Lord says to me in the quiet of my heart:  “My will for you this morning is to be respectful of procedures put in place to keep the residents of this facility safe and to let go of idolatrizing your scheduled routine.” 
Be attentive today to how God communicates His will to you, through whom and through what circumstances of your life.  We may be clinging to our will and not seeking God’s will.  A clue might be how strongly you react to something or someone. Behind that reaction, if you probe deeply enough, you might find that which you, too, need to let go of in submission to God’s holy will!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Discernment: Is my life conformed to God's will for me?

 Discernment:  One of the most potent sources of knowing whether or not I am living a life that is in sync with God’s will is presented by St. Paul in Colossians 3: 1-11.  St. Paul clearly spells out what it means to live as a Christian, that is, as a person who has died and rose with Christ, as a person living life according to the will of God.  What criteria, so to speak, does Paul give us?  Put in a question form, Paul  is asking whether I am living a morally impeccable life.  Am I living a life of purity, honesty, serenity and peace; or, on the contrary, are my choices impure, immoral, dishonest and driven by feelings of annoyance, frustration, anger, or outrageous fury?  Am I building others up or tearing them down? Am I lying to myself and thus to others? Does obscene language dominate my thoughts and spill out into my speech?  Honestly answering those questions will give me the answer to the question: Am I in the process of bringing my life into sync with God’s will for me?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Discernment: Four Essential Practices

In his video made for World Youth Day, Fr. James Martin, S.J. breaks down four essential practices to discover your vocation, and I quote:

1.      Don’t wait for a flashing neon sign. While slogging through the daily routine of discovering one’s vocation, there may exist the misconception of waiting for a call. While some of our great saints have received direction in the form of visions and voices, waiting for a supernatural calling is neither the typical nor expected way to discern.

2.     You already have a vocation! We are made to be holy, happy, and to serve God. This may or may not mean a vocation to religious life, but we all have a vocation to become the best, holiest version of ourselves. This means we can banish the fear or trepidation that “I may have a vocation!” and instead realize that only by discovering our vocation will we be at peace.

3.     Don’t be hasty to disregard desire. Often, desire is confused with our selfish and shallow wants, but it’s much more than that – it is the key to who we are and what we are meant to become. In Fr. Martin’s own life, it was attraction towards service and the sacraments, which helped him understand his religious vocation. Through the deep desires of the heart, God calls us to a life which glorifies Him. To follow the desires of our heart, one must first set aside the shallow wants which lay on the surface to distract.

4.     Interpretation is needed — so pray for understanding. The path to Christ’s fulfillment is rarely clear-cut. St. Ignatius of Loyola said, “pray to understand your desires.” God speaks through peace and joy, but it can take time for emotions and distractions to settle, so to speak. Ask yourself what really gives you joy. Do not be discouraged if it takes time to recognize what holy desires God has placed on your heart. Learn from St. Augustine who said, “Our hearts are restless O Lord, until they rest in you.”


Friday, August 30, 2013

Discernment: What is God's will for Me?

In 1 Thes 4: 1, St. Paul says to us:  "This is the will of God, your holiness." So, if you and I are growing in holiness, we are then in sync with God's will.  But what is holiness?  Where do we look for it? Where do we find it?  Holiness is not like an object on the store shelf that we can simply buy and put on like a new suit, a costly perfume, a sparkling diamond.  No, it is within us, in our God-self, in our innermost self, that calls us us to be transparent and honest with others, that gently invites us to make choices that protect our integrity, that is, our identity as God's beloved daughters/sons, as persons who are loving, caring, forgiving, as persons filled with gratitude and awe, wisdom and prudence, joy and peace--gifts that flow freely from God's Spirit, gifts that dwell within us since our baptism.  We know that we are in sync with God's will when we refrain from immoral acts, do not give expression to evil, malicious, deceitful and impure thoughts but let them pass as clouds pass by.  We know that we are in sync with God's will when we are striving to please God above all, seeking His forgiveness from those we offend and saying "I'm sorry" when we have acted contrary to the way of love that Jesus teaches us in the Scriptures.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Discernment: "Teacher, what good must I do..." (Mt. 19:16)

In today’s Gospel, Mt 19: 16-22, the rich young man, who faithfully obeyed all of the commandments, approaches Jesus, wanting to know what more he has to do to gain eternal life. He is engaged in a form of discernment. The first part of discernment is knowing that something is missing. He doesn’t know how to get rid of that nagging feeling that leaves him with a sense of emptiness, of not doing enough. So he goes to Jesus and says: “Teacher, what good must I do...?” Jesus responds with His own question: “Why do you ask me about the good?” There is only One who is good….” What a statement to a rich young man who perceives himself as a very good man, as one who has kept all of the commandments, has made a good life for himself, has rightfully gained a lot of wealth. He is doing well, very well. He can be truly proud of himself so why this restlessness and why does Jesus say “only One…is good”? The rich young man is in a very good place spiritually in that he recognizes that something is missing and has made the right move by approaching the Lord. He’s gone to the right person. Jesus recognizes that there is something here that is laudable and upon which another kind of wealth can be realized, that of selling everything, detaching oneself from what is one’s own, and following Jesus unreservedly. No matter to which vocation in life God calls you—religious life, priesthood, marriage, the single life—you, too are called to follow Jesus unreservedly. To what might you be attached that blocks that giving of your all to the Lord and following His way as a religious, a married person, a single person, a priest?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Discernment: How God Directed the Israelites

In Exodus 40: 16-21, 34-38, we are given information of how the Israelites knew God’s will for them. A “cloud covered the meeting tent and the glory of the Lord filled the Dwelling….Whenever the cloud rose from the Dwelling, the children of Israel would set out on their journey. But if the cloud did not lift, they would not go forward; only when it lifted did they go forward.” A cloud was seen during the day and “fire was seen in the cloud at night…by the whole house of Israel in all stages of their journey.” This was the presence of God in their midst. God also gave them the Ten Commandments and wrote the Law in their memories: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (Jer. 31:33).

The Israelites did not go forward unless the cloud lifted. Imagine you and I heeding the clouds in our lives as a message from God not to make major decisions at that time, not to go forward when our minds are foggy, when we feel confused, when we really don’t know what to do or what to think. That is the time to recall Isaiah’s advice: “By waiting and by calm, you shall be saved; in quiet and in trust your strength lies” (Is. 30: 15). Also, then, imagine us following the directives of the Lord when “the cloud is lifted,” knowing that it is time to move forward , to implement a decision about which we are clear.

Like the Israelites, God dwells in our midst, in fact, God dwells in the very core of our beings. We are Temples of the Holy Spirit. God’s law is also written on our hearts and inscribed in our minds. The Holy Spirit lives within us “to infuse our knowledge with divine grace and guide us with divine creativity and wisdom” so that we, too, are able to stay on the right track on our journey to the Promised Land of Eternal Life with God (See The Word Among Us, July/August 2013, p. 51).

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Discernment via Disillusionments

One of the tools that God uses to lead us to "the pearl of great price," a treasure for which we are willing to sell all is the disappointments or disillusionment of our life.  It is true, I believe, in looking for the right person to marry--that person with whom one is called to form a lifetime commitment/partnership. Before finding that "treasure," that finest of pearls, an individual may date more than one person, suffer the heartbreak of broken relationships or even broken engagements.  The same process may occur in searching for the right major or minor in college, in finding the career or job that is a good fit. No less arduous, time-consuming and sometimes difficult, is finding the right religious community to which one belongs.  The Foundress of my religious community entered an active, apostolic community at age 21. Sixteen years later, at age 37,  she enter a cloistered community and eight months later God called to her to leave that community to establish one that combined action and contemplation. The road was difficult, filled with disappointments and disillusionments. Those disappointments and disillusionments were not unilateral but mutual. All of them led to seeking the will of God (discernment) and committing oneself to the Lord alone: our ultimate call. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Discerning your Spiritual Well-being

Discernment: Every day we are faced with discerning, “diagnosing, if you will,” the health of our hearts, not our physical health but our spiritual health.  In other words, is the Word of God, as it comes to you through the Scriptures, through the events of your day, through your relationships, falling  on soil in which it will bear good fruit, fruit that will last, or will the seed rotten, return to the earth without yielding the fruit within it?  If the soil of your heart is hardened by anger and hatred, jealousy and envy, judgmentalism and pride, selfishness and narcissism, by deceitfulness and meanness, then God’s word is choked off and eaten by “birds of prey,” unable to take root.  On the other hand, if your heart is made fertile by your humility, your honesty and openness,  by your generosity and love shown  to the poor and needy (especially within your family or, if a member of a religious community, the members of your community); if your heart is porous and softened by “rain” poured forth by daily prayer, reflection on the Scriptures, by taking time, in solitude, to bask in God’s loving gaze, then the seed of God’s Word, in whatever form it comes to you, will bear fruit that will last.


Can you discern the condition of your heart?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Discernment: Paying attention as Moses did

Discernment:  In today’s first reading, Ex 3: 1-6, 9-12, God revealed his mission for Moses to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt.  This plan is revealed in an unusual way.  Moses notices a burning bush but it is not being consumed by the fire.  So he decides to examine it.  God sees Moses approaching and calls his name: “Moses, Moses!”  Moses answers: “Here I am!”  God then reveals the mission of Moses leading the people out of Egypt, where they have become Pharaoh’s slaves.  Moses objects, saying: “Who am I to lead the people out of Egypt?”  God replies: “I will go with you.”

This story of salvation contains some elements of how we discover God’s plan for us: 1) God takes the initiative; God does the calling 2) God enters the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives—Moses is simply attending his father-in-law’s flock, and 3) our past, no matter how bad it might have been, is not something God holds against us.  These three elements are very important for us to realize. God is in charge. We belong to God!  Secondly, we are servants to one another and need to be going about our ordinary jobs, being responsible and dependable in carrying out our ordinary duties as servants.  Thirdly, our past is not a deterrent on God’s part and we needs to let go of the past and not use it as an excuse for doing what God calls us to do in fulfilling our role in salvation history.

Furthermore, Moses teaches us that discernment includes 1) paying attention, 2) examining the events around us—God may be trying to get our attention in those events, 3) being honest with God, and 4) seeking clarification from God, and 5) listening.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Discernment: Your Faith Commitment

Discernment of your commitment to Christ

As you reflect upon the following four movements in your journey as a committed disciple of Christ, where would you place yourself? in the first or second or third or fourth movements or in all four? 

First Movement: Exploring Christ

·         Seekers who have a relationship with God but have not necessarily had an encounter with
·         Persons who are seeking meaning and belonging and are trying to find their way.

Second Movement: Growing in Christ:  People who have had a personal encounter with Christ and are beginning to grow in their knowledge of God and our Catholic faith

Third Movement: Close to Christ:  People who are praying every day and are working at trying to seek God’s will

Fourth Movement: Committed Disciples of Christ: 

·         Every decision a person makes is Christ-centered.
·         This person gets it that this means continuing to develop a mature conscience and integrating
        one’s faith into all aspects of one’s life.
·         This person fully participates in the sacramental life of the church and service in the church and
       wider community.

(Source:  Rickard, Theresa, OP, “The new evangelization is interwoven with vocation ministry,” Horizon, Spring 2013, p. 10)


Discernment: "I want to be a sister"

You may be wondering how you will know that your desire to be a Sister is God’s will for you.  You might gain some insights into the answer to that question by viewing it from the perspective of how you would have known that you are called to marriage.  I suggest that you reflect back on a time when you  were dating and considering marriage.  How did you know whether marriage might have been right for you and that God might have been calling you to that vocation?  First of all, if you are a God-centered person, you  shared your thoughts about  marriage with God and sought God’s thoughts of marriage for you. You will have wanted to know God’s thoughts about you finding the right partner with whom to raise a family in the faith.  Second of all, both you and the gentleman would have sought certitude that you are meant to become husband and wife, to commit to each other in love forever.  You would have talked about it with each other.  You would have supported one another right up to the altar and beyond.  Both, not just one of you, if you both view life from a God-stance, believed marriage is a call from God for both of you.

Applying that experience to your desire to become a Sister, you and God have talked about it.  You have shared your thoughts with God and God with you.  In your relationship with God, you would have taken the position of a child talking to his/her parents, holding nothing back and seeking God’s input and His approval.  Second of all, you will have shared your thoughts with the Vocation Director of the religious community to which you feel called. Both you and the Vocation Director will have come to believe that consecrating your life to the Lord as a Sister is, in fact, God’s call to you and that this particular community is a good fit; namely, that you have the potential to commit yourself permanently to live out your baptismal call to build up God’s Kingdom here on earth as a member of this religious community,  giving expression to the charism and mission of the community and by being a faithful  community member.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Discernment: Where do I begin if I want to become a sister?

You begin this incredible journey, as any journey, by knowing where you want to go.  In which religious community are you interested?  Find out by doing some research. Go to the Internet, type in “Women Religious Communities.”  You will be directed to a website. In that website, click on the name of the religious community. That community’s website will open to you. Browse it! Read and reflect on it several times.  What about that particular community sparks a desire in you to consecrate your life to the Lord as a member of that religious community.  If what you are learning does not resonate with you, go to another website; search out another religious community.  Do so on the web and in person or over the phone.  Get to know the sisters in person. Attend “Come and See” sessions that a religious community sponsors.  “Hang out” with the Sisters.   Meet the vocation director in person or get to know her and let her get to know you via phone conversations.  

Discernment:  Vocation Directors have all sorts of materials that will help you in the discerning of your vocation and beginning this first step of the journey. Ask if she will share those with you  and then arrange phone conversations to discuss that material, piece by piece.  If interested in this first step, email me at and I will gladly assist you.  So will any other vocation director of the religious communities you found listed in the Women Religious Community’s Directory.  I encourage you to step out of your “shyness” and contact any one of them.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Discernment: The question revisited of dependence, independence and interdependence

Discernment:  To what is God calling me? That is a question each of us needs to ask ourselves on a regular basis.  We have been created to become our best selves, to rely upon God as an infant or a young child relies upon its parents/surrogate parents but to also to separate from such to develop a healthy dependency upon oneself and finally to become interdependent, recognizing our need for help, the importance of teamwork, of collaborating with others, of empowering others, of building upon the accomplishments of others.  The process of becoming our best selves and growing in maturity involves this climbing the ladder from the utter dependence of childhood and the developing independence as adolescence and  young adults to embracing the challenges of interdependence of mature adulthood.  This growth involves discerning what is asked of us as independent, separate human beings functioning from a state of individual competence to working maturely in unison, in collaboration, in reliance upon my own skills coupled with the skills of others, that is, working interdependently and in communion with others as modeled by the Trinity.

As the author of Ecclesiastes might say “there is a time for dependence, independence and interdependence.”  How well do I discern those times?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Discernment: The Human Cycle of Dependence, Independence and Interdependence

 We begin life totally dependent upon others and then move toward developing independence, a necessary prerequisite to being interdependent. Interdependence is a sign of a healthy sense of self, high self-esteem and a level of maturity that speaks of wisdom, prudence, and courage.   This latter sense of well-being is achieved only by those who have learned to take responsibility for themselves first and know when they need help. Those who are interdependent have built their “houses on solid rock,” as Jesus tells us in the Scriptures.

Discernment, as adults, means 1) that we know when others are legitimately dependent upon us and that we have a responsibility toward them, 2) that we know when it is essential that we depend upon ourselves, our abilities, our talent, acknowledge our dependence upon God working through us and guiding us and, finally, 3) that we know when  and how to work interdependently, acknowledging that we need the help and guidance of others:  Knowing  when and where to seek counsel; knowing when and in what circumstances we are powerlessness; knowing the importance of being open to and having the wisdom to  seek feedback;  in short, having the courage and the wisdom to enter into dialogue and mutual discernment in order to do that to which God is calling us as People of God, as Church, as God’s Kingdom People here on earth, members of one flock, one Shepherd, united in love as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Discernment and Peace

St. Ignatius of Loyola counsels us to avoid  making major decisions when we are not at peace.  How often do we not hear that a person who is recently divorced, or whose relationship with another has broken off, is already dating another person and/or looking for someone to marry ASAP.  He or she has not even recovered from the breakdown of the marriage or of the former relationship, has not taken time to grieve the losses or to reflect on what one needs to learn from the distressing situation so as not to relive the problems in subsequent relationships. 

When the "muddy waters" are churning, that is, one is not a peace, clarity is not possible.  The "mud" needs to settle before we are able to see with clarity, reason with objectively or choose wisely. To discern well one has to 1) allow the "muddy waters" to settle, 2) examine what created the "mud," that is, examine the problematic behaviors that "muddied" the relationship or brought "disaster" to a given situation, 3) reconcile the differences, at least within oneself, and perhaps with other/s, and 4) forgive oneself and other/s.  Once peace is achieved--that may take awhile, perhaps a long time--then we will see clearly to make a decision that, in turn, will lead to peace, to a new way of living, a new way of being, one that is more likely to be in tune with God's will and is not a reliving of past hurts.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Discernment and Belonging

Discernment and belonging:  All of us cherish the feeling of belonging--the place, the people, the work feels right. The feelings of being out of place, of being left out, of being ignored, being treated with indifference are important discernment tools. Those feelings/experiences are calling us to take notice, to do an inventory of sorts.  First of all, I need to examine in which ways I may be the reason for feeling misplaced or displaced.   Do I need to change my attitudes or my behaviors? Or does it have nothing to do with me—this simply is a place where God does not want me to be! I recall a story of a teenager who drove up to a bar. Clearly, she heard: (Sally—not her real name), you do not belong here!  She did not even have to enter the premises and feel the misplacement. God clearly indicated to her that she was out of place in this kind of environment. I’m not sure that she turned around and went home but she heard the message.

When you are feeling left out, when you don’t sense you belong, what helps you deal with these feelings? What steps do you need to take to feel more comfortable with yourself and others?  Finding your answers to those questions, or similar ones, is the work of discernment.  Knowing when to move on to a new career, a new residence, a new attitude, a new way of being, a new outlook on life could very easily be preceded by feeling out of place, feeling uncomfortable.  You may be sayings things to yourself such as: “I don’t fit in here anymore,” “I don’t belong here,”  “I’m in the wrong place,” “The timing is not right,” and so forth.  Paying attention to this discomfort and pondering its meaning will lead you to knowing what God is asking of you.

Do you have the courage to enter into the feelings of mis/displacement, the feelings of not belonging?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Discernment from a "Winner's Perspective"

Consider yourself a winner!  Feel the energy of putting yourself in the winner's circle!  Imagine looking back at each day's accomplishment from the perspective of "How did I win today?" Discerning what direction to take from that stance is effected in a positive way!  Imagine being a nominee for a Young Person's Award: you have been nominated for your courage in having left home and entered college; for leaving a job that was, in no way, using your skills or which was totally contrary with the values you hold as a Christian. Or maybe you have been nominated  because you have had the courage to go back to school or you have become involved in helping the poor at a soup kitchen or assisting the mentally or physically challenged at a summer camp.  In short, you have and are making decisions that witness to the strength of your character and that affirm your ability to make choices that are best for you. 

This is what discernment is all about!  God has given you the ability to know what is best for you.  Another person may think he/she knows what is in your best interest--only you know that!  Each time, then., you direct yourself in ways that brings out your best self, you have accurately discerned God's will for you.  Doing that in ways mentioned above paves the way for you to take on even bigger decisions like a lifetime commitment in marriage, in religious life and/or priesthood.  Discerning what is best for you in less weightier matters prepares you for discerning the way to take in weightier ones.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Discernment and Self-esteem

Discernment and Self-Esteem:  Considering marriage? Religious life? Priesthood?  Our decision to follow any one of those calls, I believe, can very well be thwarted by a poor self-image.  If one’s self-esteem is strong,  a person, most likely, will not doubt succeeding in the vocation to which God calls. However, if one’s self-esteem is low and the person does not believe he or she has anything to give to a marriage, to religious life or to the priesthood, or that failure is inevitable in whatever vocation is chosen, that is, the person is saying something like: “I won’t make it through training” or “I won’t meet the educational and spiritual demands that vocation will ask of me,” most likely that individual will hold back.  A vocation to which one feels strongly attracted may be dismissed  because, in the case of marriage, the individual may consider her/himself unworthy of connecting with the person that  would make for a strong marriage. Or the individual may consider him/herself  unworthy of being a priest or a religious sister. Obviously, then, a person’s discernment of his/her  vocation  would be seriously impaired. 

How to proceed, then, to strengthen one’s sense of self, to build one’s self-esteem, to change one’s negative image into an image of self that is open to the graces of the vocation that is right for the discerner?  Some of the following behaviors might be helpful:

·         Identifying  the negative self-messages invading one’s being and replacing them with positive sayings and doing so consistently

·         Looking  for positives in one’s life and acknowledging those experiences

·         Identifying one’s strengths and choosing to develop  those

·         Engaging in activities that build a healthy sense of pride in who one is and who one is capable of becoming

·         Setting a goal/goals and working toward achieving that goal/those goals

·         Finding a spiritual director who can help you achieve all of the above

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Discernment and Self-trust

Discernment is strongly effected, it seems to me, by one's ability  or inability to trust in oneself.  Self-trust may take a beating, if you will, by others' dismissing our contributions as insignificant. Eventually, if we experience this often enough, we begin to believe it personally.  Our self-trust is also eroded by being told by our parents, our teachers or other significant adults in our lives that "we don't know what we are talking about" or that "children are to be seen and not heard," or by simply being ignored whenever we'd attempt to share our views.  Other children may also have made fun of our insights. A teacher, verbally or nonverbally, may have communicated her/his disappointment in our answers to questions or our input into a topic under discussion.  Critical thinking skills, analyzing, thinking through situations, doing research and trusting our findings or conclusions may simply not have been encouraged in our home, school or church environments--however, we can still develop these skills. Or all of the reverse may be true and our self-trust is strong. Then, too,  I believe, is our trust in God's direction rising from within.

Apart from the above examples of how mistrust is nurtured, we may have personally weakened our ability to trust ourselves by having been deceitful in our dealings with others, having told "white lies" to get by with something or to avoid embarrassment or shame.  We may end up doing or saying something we really do not want to do or say because we are trying to please another and end up betraying ourselves. When we lie in order to avoid that of which we are afraid or in order to avoid hurting another, the person we ultimately hurt is ourselves.  When our goal is to please others at our own expense, we betray ourselves. Trust is eroded, weakened or shattered and needs to be rebuilt.

Ever say "Tell me the truth," or "Be honest with me."  Above all we want people to be honest and we ourselves want to be truthful with others.  We want others to trust us. Trust begins at home, as does charity.  As we build self-trust, we also strengthen our ability to discern God's truth, God's will for ourselves.  Grace builds on nature.

On a scale from 0-10, how would you rate your self-trust?  If low, what may be the root cause of your lack of self-trust? What can you do to strengthen your ability to trust in yourself?  How can you strengthen a weakened trust of self?  Only you can do that. That is why it is called self-trust.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Sexuality and call

Sexuality and Call:  All of us are made for others. We are called to wholeness, to union  with other human beings/with God.  We are incomplete without the other, without relating to others.  The other fact is that no one is capable of completing our incompleteness. Only God completes us. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God,” St. Augustine tells us. We will always feel somewhat incomplete, somewhat empty, alone.  That is a given!
However, we  are sexual beings and as such are called to strive toward union, a union modeled by the Blessed Trinity. Jesus prayed that we would be one as the Father and He are one, one with one another and with God. Male and female God created us.  Neither sex is able to be complete in itself.   To answer the call to move toward wholeness or completeness, to the point humanly possible, we need to be in relationship with one another on more than one level of being human. Those levels are the level of the intellect, the physical level, the emotional level, the level of affect, the psychological level, the social level, and the spiritual level.  The depth of the levels from which we connect with others, in any state in life—marriage, the single life, the priesthood or religious life--is the depth of our sense of wholeness and completeness that we will experience in our relationships.  The depth of self that we experience also depends on whether or not we are nurturing and growing on all levels of our humanness.  Our call is to develop all levels and to relate with others in ways that gives life, fosters union, and brings out the best of who we are as persons created in the image and likeness of our God.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Discernment: Listening to our Pain

Ever wonder what your pain might be telling you, what its message is?  We live in a society that teaches us to medicate our pain, to do whatever possible to be pain free.  A sore muscle, a headache, a back pain—pop a bill.  A little discomfort, go shopping!  To relieve the day’s stress, numb out with a cigarette, a puff of marijuana, a few drinks, a bowl of ice cream, a bag of chips, a candy bar, a good movie. Fed up, go gambling, play video games, surf the internet until one feels better. 

Compulsive behavior is a way to freeze our pain, whether physical, psychological or spiritual. At some point in time the “anesthetic” does not work at the original dose; a higher dosage of the original “painkiller” or a more powerful “drug” is needed to numb the discomfort.   As long as we keep denying our hurt, our fears, our anger, our sadness, our discomfort, the more likely it is that we will get caught in an addictive cycle.  At some point, to become free of the addictive behavior, we need to pay attention to the message from which we were seeking an escape.

The pain may be a warning that we are “surfing” down a path that is not good for us, goes contrary to our values, is downright dangerous, or is detrimental to our growth.  Discomfort may be inviting us to die to selfishness, envy, jealousy, to our need to be in control of another’s life, to arrogance and pride; and, yes, even to choices that are leading into a sinful lifestyle.
Are we ready to confront the pain instead of running from it? The challenge will be difficult—freedom comes with a price.  Making changes that will lead to a fuller life will not be easy, by any means, but will certainly be rewarding in the long run.  Growing pains are far better than the pain of avoiding growth.  Which do we prefer?

It might be helpful to reflect on the following questions:
  • What are the pains that we are attempting to escape?  What messages might these pains be telling us?
  • How were we taught to cope with fear, sadness and anger? Parents, what are your teaching your children when they are afraid, sad, angry?
  • What helps us to confront pain without running from it?  What do we do to help ourselves face some of life’s more painful moments?   Parents: what do you do to help your children face life’s most painful moment? What are you teaching your children?
Source:  O’Brien, Margaret, OSU, Discovering Your Light: Common Journeys of Young Adults,  Resurrection Press, Mineola, NY, 1991, pp. 20-21.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Discerning God's Will: One Step at a Time

There are days when it seems impossible to move out of feelings of being bewildered, overwhelmed, lost without even an inkling of where to begin, what to do, or what God wills for me that day!
In fact, sometimes we may think that God does not even care. In the first place, we might wonder, where was God when I got into this mess: I lost my best friend, my girlfriend/boyfriend dropped me like a hot potato, I failed that test and lost the possibility of any scholarship whatsoever; a parent died or my parents got divorced and there went any possibility of a college education (child support did not happen).  "Where God are you? Your will? My welfare? My happiness? It does not look like it, Lord," we might be saying.

Behavioral scientists suggest that, when we  feel lost, overcome by life's curve balls, not knowing which foot to put ahead of the other, not even what direction to take, that we choose one small task that we know is workable, doable, possible.  Completing that itsy, bitsy task gives us the energy to take another step, no matter how small,  in the direction toward which we want to go.  Each small step brings a sense of accomplishment, a little bit of happiness and satisfaction and prepares us to take the next step.  Like a child learning to walk, pretty soon we are running toward a desired goal, toward a sense of peace and a little bit of happiness. That is God's will for us.  Not easy but doable in small increments!

Source: O’Brien, Margaret, OSU, Discovering Your Light: Common Journeys of Young Adults, Resurrection Press, Mineola, NY, 1991, pp. 216-17

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Discernment: What Bartimaeus Teaches Us

In today’s Gospel, Mark 10: 46-52, Bartimaeus, a blind man, realizes that Jesus is passing by.  He calls out: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.”  The crowd tries to quiet him, perhaps believing that he is not worthy of Jesus’ attention.  He cries out even louder.  Jesus says to the crowd: “Call him.”  At Jesus’ command, they say to him: “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”  Jesus looks upon Bartimaeus with compassionate love and asks him: “What do you want me to do for you?”  In faith, Bartimaeus expresses his need:  “Master, I want to see.”  Jesus tells him that his faith has saved him. Bartimaeus’ sight is restored at that moment and he follows Jesus.

This story teaches us some important discernment skills:

1.       That we need to be aware of the noises around us

2.       That we need to recognize Jesus in the midst of the noise and in that or those who

crowd out Jesus’ presence in  our lives

3.       That we need to take ownership of our neediness

4.       That we need to know what it is we want of Jesus

5.       That we need faith—a faith that believes in Jesus’ willingness and ability to save us

 from our blindness  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Discernment: Scripture as a Means of Discernment

Discernment: Scripture’s Revelation

Often we ask: How do I know that I am doing the will of God?  Whom should I consult? One answer to those questions, of course, is Scripture.  The first reading of the liturgy for the 8th week of Ordinary Time, Cycle C, is an example.  Sirach (Chapter 35: 1-12) gives a picture of those persons whose will is in harmony with the will of God. They observe the precepts of God, give alms, not necessarily money, but good deeds according to their means, are just in all they do and share the gift of themselves with others cheerfully and generously. The books of Sirach, Wisdom and Proverbs are filled with passages that can help us come to an understanding of what God asks of us. So, too, does all of Scripture.

How open do I take time to search God’s will for me in His Word, a Living Word, that does not return to the Lord without fulfilling the purpose for which it was sent, as Isaiah tell us: “For, as the rain and the snow come down from the sky and do not return before having watered the earth, fertilizing it and making it germinate to provide seed for the sower and food to eat, so it is with the word that goes from my mouth: it will not return to me unfulfilled or before having carried out my good pleasure and having achieved what it was sent to do.”

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Discernment when "lost": Have you ever been lost in a place that is totally unfamiliar to you? Ever felt blindsided by something/someone and felt totally confused and asked “where do I go from here”? Ever questioned why awful things seemed to be happening to you? Ever questioned whether God cared, loved you, paid any attention to the “rocks being thrown at you,” the “walls caving in upon you,” the “windows being blown out,” the “electricity" being cut off  and the "lights" being out?

When any of that is happening, we may make choices that are helpful or those that are actually harmful to our well-being and to our moving to a place that re-energizes us, rejuvenates us, a place where again we experience our strength, reclaim our goodness, re-root ourselves in values that provide a strong foundation upon which to continue becoming the person God meant us to become: His ambassador, His friend and confidante, His disciple.

Choices that are helpful to discernment:

Calm down: find a place where you can think clearly

Calm down: find someone who will allow you to talk without putting you down, condemning you, judging you,  or giving you advice; someone who will simply give you support

Look at what is happening/what has happened and name it honestly

Identify how you feel about what has happened

Set new goals, given what has happened; set goal/goals that will rejuvenates you, energizes you

Choices that obstruct discernment:

Stirring up the “mucky waters” by asking “What is wrong with me?”

Stirring up the “mucky waters” by looking for blame, by putting others/yourself down, by condemning yourself/others, by judging yourself/others

Refusing to look at what has happened; being dishonest  with yourself/others

Repressing feelings; numbing out so as not to feel

Refusing to set new goals, to take responsibility to set new direction

Source: O’Brien, Margaret, OSU, Discovering Your Light: Common Journeys of Young Adults, Resurrection Press, Mineola, NY, 1991, pp. 16-17









Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Discernment: the role of how we use our time

Discernment and Time:  How often do you say to yourself or to you hear someone else say “I don’t have time. I’m too busy. I can’t take on another thing!”  We may begin our day rushing to get in a breakfast before running  off to work or school.  On our lunch break we may make a mad dash off to the post office or even squeeze in shopping for an overdue birthday card.  As we head home from work, we may make a quick stop at Kwik Trip to pick up some last minutes items for the evening meal.  As as quickly put together our evening dinner, we may simultaneously do our laundry.  Or, which is just as likely, we grab something to eat on the run  as we are off to an evening meeting or to drop the children off at dance school, gymnastics or practice for a little league game. 

What’s happening? Why are we living such hectic lifestyles?  Why are we so busy that we hardly have time to breathe, much less smell the flowers. What happens when suddenly we have nothing to do, an illness slows us down, or we’re taken out of commission for awhile? How do we cope?

Operating at full speed, being super busy all of the time, may make us feel important but it does not enable us to live a reflective life. As long as we engage life only on the superficial level of accomplishing this task and another and another and another, we are in danger of building our “houses” on sand with “no basement,” no depth. 

Any wonder why a person spends the majority of his/her life doing, not what he/she really wants to do but what he/she believes others want him/her to do or  to be?  Can you imagine what would happen if you did stop running and decided to “waste” time?

Any possibility that busyness is an avoidance of the important questions? Of facing yourself?  How do you react when a weekend is unplanned, when you anticipate having nothing to do? What do you do then? What if you set time aside to think, not do? To just be? To have time and space when you are not demanding that you are producing something considered worthwhile by societal standards and allowed yourself to do nothing or to do what you want to do not what others want you to do?

Maybe then discernment of what is important and is truly  meaningful to you would be possible!

Source: Compare Margaret O'Brien, OSU, Discovering Your Light: Common Journeys of Young Adults,Resurrection Press, Mineola, New York 1991, pp. 14-15.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Discernment: Voice within and voices without


 Imagine yourself shopping with a friend. You start out at each other’s side and then wander off to different parts of the store.  Time passes. You hear your name being called and automatically you respond: “Yes?” and  turn in the direction  from which your name originated.   Or imagine the phone ringing or a knock at the door of your home and you hear: “It’s for you.”  What is your reaction? How do you respond? These kinds of calls leave no confusion. You know how to respond.  It’s clear.

Go now to calls that originate from within your very being.   Inner calls are more difficult to detect.  You need to check your feelings, your intuitions, your hunches.  You need to talk to others: your peers, your friends, your parents, your siblings, your teachers, your counselors, your pastors/ministers. Figuring out what direction to take in your life is time-consuming.

Calls originating from your deepest, truest self are personal and intimate; no one else can make the decision for you: who to marry, when to marry, what career choice to make, whether or not to have children, whether to pursue a vocation to the priesthood, religious life or the diaconate or to serve God as a single person.   Some people abdicate their responsibility of decision making and do what others want them to do rather than what they want to do and know is right for them.  Being the author of your own life, knowing what you want of life and pursuing that path, not a path others map out for you, is a challenging task. It is not easy to assume this kind of responsibility.

Direction coming from your inner self originates from the Spirit who resides at the core of your beings—you will know that you are acting in accord with that Spirit when you sense a harmony between your outer and inner actions. Becoming skilled at recognizing the voice of this Spirit is hard work. It means that you need to develop, on a regular basis, daily no less,  the habit of listening to your inner self, being alone with yourself, quieting outer noises, seeking solitude.  How good are you at disciplining yourself to listen to yourself?

Source: Compare Margaret O'Brien, OSU,  Discovering Your Light: Common Journeys of Young Adults,Resurrection Press, Mineola, New York 1991,  pp. 12-13.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Discernment of God's Will: Does the Fear of Losses Hold us Back?

Today’s Gospel, Jn 16: 20-23, opens with Jesus saying to us: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.”  Of course, he is talking to His disciples just prior to His return to His Father in heaven.  However, we might look at this passage in light of discernment.  Many times, I wonder whether what holds us back from  embracing God’s will, or from taking the action we know God is calling us to take, are our efforts, conscious or unconscious, to avoid what we perceive will be our losses.  Grief is painful and perhaps we are holding back for those reasons.
Of what loss/es am I afraid?  That might be the question that I need to answer if I am going to move forward in accord with God’s will whether that be embracing the vocation to which I am called or something as simple, and complex, as stopping a behavior that is not healthy for me!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Discernment: What St. Paul Teaches Us

Discernment: What St. Paul teaches us
 Throughout this week’s liturgical readings we spend time with St. Paul.  Hints of discernment skills exist in many of the accounts of his missionary work to the Gentiles. In Acts 16: 11-15, for instance, he states that he and his companion “spend some time,” in Philippi and that, on the sabbath, they “went outside the city gate along  the river where [they] thought there would be a place of prayer.”  There they entered into conversation with Lydia, with whom they shared their faith.  “The Lord open her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying.
Several element of discernment surface:
·         The necessity of spending time in the “Philippi’s” of our lives to get to know the territory
·         The importance of going outside the busyness of the “Philippi’s” in order to quiet our minds
·         The need to look for a place to pray, to commune with our God in the quiet of our hearts
·         The realization that it is God who opens our hearts (a grace for which to pray)
·         The significance of paying attention to another’s beliefs following our openness about our own
·         The need to ask to be “baptized,” that is to die and rise with Christ to a new way of thinking, to new perceptions, perhaps

Friday, May 3, 2013

Discernment: Opening oneself to God

Discernment is about being open to God.  One of the things that can open us to God—to peace, joy, and love—are the hobbies which we enjoy. One of my former hobbies was painting outdoor scenes, using watercolor. I loved it. It felt so satisfying and uplifting to create something beautiful in my eyes and in the eyes of others.  In reflecting on that experience and longing to return to making time in my busy schedule to re-engage in  doing watercolor or learning to paint with oils, the thought occurred to me that, by taking time to engage in “fun” activities, the sense of doing things out of obligation is tempered into doing things out of love. God wants us to give ourselves to Him out of love, not out of obligation. He wants us to choose Him freely. A hobby, taking time for leisure and for re-creation, allows me the time to step back and do what I love to do: be creative.  Writing does the same thing for me. Being creative gives me energy to engage in life more fully, more freely, to relate to people more lovingly and respectfully.  And that is God’s will for me.  So, creativity and enjoying a hobby is a way to become “clay in the Potter’s hands.”

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Discernment: Transparency with others

Discernment:  Transparency with Others
The first reading of today’s liturgy, Acts 15: 7-21, teaches us the importance of being transparent in our discernment of God’s will in our daily lives.  Paul and  Barnabas are confronted by other Jews concerning the issue of circumcision, believing that any Gentile becoming a believer, a Christian, must be required to be circumcised.  Yet, God had already baptized them with the Holy Spirit and brought their faith to fruition in proclaiming the Good News and working signs and wonders  among the people.  To settle the dispute and gain clarity as to what God’s will might be in this instance, Paul and Barnabas go to Jerusalem to meet with the Apostles and the presbyters. They explain their dilemma, the dispute and confusion, the insistence of other Jews that the Gentiles be circumcised and the fact that the new believers have been baptized by God Himself and that they are performing wonders and signs of the power of the resurrection.  Why, they ask, should we place the burden of circumcision upon them and other Mosaic laws? 
In our discernment, we, too, need to be transparent with persons both in authority and  with those who share our everyday concerns. Clarity comes from transparency, from being honest and open with appropriate others.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Discernment: An Atmosphere that Can Lead to Openness

Discernment:  In Gen. 3: 8-12, we read about Adam and Eve hearing the “sound of Yahweh walking in the garden in the cool of the day…”  Taking time to walk in nature without ipods or cellphones, or any other technological device plugged into one’s ears is a good way of positioning ourselves to meeting God, of hearing “the sound of Yahweh walking in the garden in the cool of the day” with us.  We are alerted to several conditions that can open us up to hearing and recognizing  God’s voice: quietness, being out in nature, being away from the busyness of the day, being with another human being whom we love.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Discernment: Speak, Lord, your servant is listening

A classic story of discernment is that of Samuel.  We are told in 1 Sam 3:4 that Samuel is asleep and hears someone calling his name.; He thinks it is Eli. After the third time of being awakened by Samuel , Eli realizes that the One who is calling Samuel's name is the Lord Himself.  So he tells Samuel to go back to sleep and if He hears someone calling his name again t5o say: "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening."

We learn several things about discernment from that Scripture passage:
  • Recognizing who is calling may take an intervention, someone older and more experienced in listening to God than I am
  • God may call at night or when I am surrounded by darkness, darkness within and without
  • God may call several times before even the wiser person realizes that God is trying to get my attention
  • That it is important to ask the Lord to speak and that now I am listening.