Thursday, April 28, 2016

Discernment: Letting Go, Letting God

Discernment:  In today’s first reading, Acts 15: 7-21, Peter participates in the debate about whether to demand that the Gentiles be circumcised before being baptized in Christ Jesus. Eventually, Peter gets up and says to the Apostles and the presbyters: “My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the Gospel and believe.”  Peter knows his place, his calling.  Do you know yours?

Knowing does not mean that you will not find yourself in difficult situations such as a heated debate with fellow “apostles,” or presbyters (members of the clergy), or family or community members or friends.  You may need to take a stand. So, too, might the “apostle” or “presbyter,” the member of your family or religious community,  or, even, friends.  You may leave each other on opposite sides of the debate and need to move on . The door that you wanted open may not open for you or for the presbyter or others with whom you are discussing an issue.  It is then time to move in a different direction that God will reveal to you and to the other “apostles” or the “presbyter or others involved in the argument.  Letting go, letting God, trusting that God has another plan full of hope for you, not just the one you were determined to make a reality for yourself,  is part of  what discernment is about!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Discernment: The Role of Closed Opportunities

Discernment:  In today’s Gospel, John 15: 1-8, Jesus reminds us that He is the true vine and that His Father (and ours) is the vine grower.  The Father “takes away every branch in [Jesus] that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does …[the Father] prunes so that it bears more fruit.”  Jesus also reminds us that we are “already pruned because of the word that…[Jesus speaks to us].”

The Father’s pruning might occur when “a door” or “a window” of opportunity is closed. The pruning or closing of the door or window may be a very painful experience for us, especially if we are not living by faith, knowing that God’s plan for us is full of hope not disaster. God may have diverted us from a decision we were about to make because He has better plans for us. He also may be teaching us obedience to His will and letting go of ours.  Discernment means that we need to allow “closed windows” or “closed doors” to be a sign that God wants something else of us, something that will bear greater fruit than what we envisioned.

How open are you to closed “windows” and closed “doors” as revealing the will of God to you?  Are you open to this being part of discernment?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Discernment: Recognizing God's Voice

Discernment:  How do we grow into recognizing the voice of God speaking to us? The Gospel for today, John 10: 22-30,  gives us the answer. Jesus says: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”  

When we think of parents knowing the voices of their children and vice versa, we know that the ability to discern those voices is built within human nature. It naturally happens beginning in infancy and even before that, namely in one’s mother’s womb.

 I believe that you and I existed in God’s womb from all eternity before we were conceived in the womb of our mothers.  That means, as in the natural order whereby we know the voices of our parents and siblings, so, too, in the spiritual order, we know the voices of God and of spirits, good and evil.  That knowing is built in our spiritual beings.  Humanly speaking, the infant begins in the silence and the darkness of the womb and then, outside the womb. A baby, at first, is all ears for months, listening to voices around him or her. The infant learns the voices of those close to him or her and can discern voices that are caring or non-caring, loving or non-loving, safe or unsafe, nurturing or non-nurturing. Spiritually speaking, from infancy on, we also grow to recognize the voice of God, the Beloved, the unconditional Love of the Holy One.  We can be taught to pay attention to God’s voice speaking within us, around us,  within the darkness, within the silence.  We need to learn to be “all ears,” so to speak, as we were as infants to human voices around us.  Only then is discernment of the will of God for us possible. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Discernment: A Gift from God

Discernment:  In today’s first reading, Acts 9: 31-42, Peter, totally transformed by the outpouring of the Spirit upon him at Pentecost, is an instrument in the hands of Christ, healing the sick, the paralyzed, raising those who have died and proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection. He is doing everything in the name of Jesus, the Son of God, the Holy One whom he had denied, whom he had challenged when He spoke of going up to Jerusalem to be killed by the chief priests and leaders of the people, the man who jumped in to the waters to walk to Jesus and sunk out of fear of the elements, the one who chopped off the soldier’s ear, and the one who locked himself in the upper room out of fear of the Jews.  Now, baptized in the Spirit, he feared no one and never said “no” to Jesus again. He opened his mind, his heart and his will to the Spirit of Christ leading him, strengthening him,  and challenging him to act in His name without fear, without giving in to weaknesses, without pride, knowing, beyond doubt, that only in Christ Jesus is his salvation and only in Christ Jesus does he do the will of the Father.

Are you growing in the ability to discern when you are relying upon strength alone or trusting in the Lord? Are able to discern when you are challenging God, complaining against God and when you are cooperating with God?  When you and I begin a project and abandon it when the going gets tough, it is then that we are most likely not cooperating with the Lord, or we may have entered into that project without calling upon the Lord.  When we rely only upon ourselves, we increase our vulnerability to deny the Lord in crucial circumstances or to engage in behaviors that are contrary to what God expects of us. On the other hand, when we are working with, in and through Jesus, we then recognize our dependence upon grace, and grace alone. When we call upon the Lord in humility and trust, we are able to get across the troubled waters of our lives.  Yes, only in God will we leave our comfort zones, as Peter did,  and be receptive to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, sent my Jesus, to take possession of our minds, our wills, and our hearts. It is then that we are truly capable of discerning that to which God is calling us, be that a vocational call, a career call, or a relationship call, or any other,  even when previously we deemed the obstacles too great.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Discernment: God's intervention!

Discernment:  In today’s first reading, Acts 9: 1-20,  Saul is on his way to Damascus to arrest men and women who are followers of Jesus. He has, in fact, been authorized by the high priest to bring people back to Jerusalem “in chains.”  On the way, Jesus intervenes and confronts him:  “Saul, why are you persecuting me”?  Saul, startled, no doubt, asks the question: “Who are you, sir?” “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.”

Sometimes, like in Saul’s life, discernment of what God is asking of us is very clear.  However, Saul still had free will—and God would have respected that. Saul could have refused and continued what he believed was the will of God for him, namely, to stop Christians, who in the mind of a devout Jew, was betraying the faith handed down to the Jewish people for centuries.

God can and will, however, intervene strongly in our lives, as He did in Saul’s, clearly directing us “to get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.” That might translate as follows: “Fill out that application!” “Go, talk to your wife about what happened last night and apologize for your obnoxious behavior.” “Go apologize to the teacher for interrupting her/him and disrupting class.” “Get up and make that phone call to the Vocation Director or to the Marriage Counselor or to your parish priest and you will be instructed on how to proceed.”   “Stop procrastinating.”

Yes, God is in charge. Jesus is our Master in life and in death, including death to our wills when they are not in harmony with His.   Do you allow God to direct you? Or, do you resist, not wanting to be told what you must do to get out of a quagmire?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Discernment: When the Suggestion seems Ludicrous

Discernment:  In today’s Gospel, John 21-1-19, Peter and six of his companion apostles go fishing.  They work all night long and catch nothing. Jesus meets them in the morning on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias and asks them if they have caught anything to eat. “No,” they respond.  Jesus suggests that they cast the net over the right side of the boat and “you will find something.” Without hesitation, they do so and haul in 153 fish.  It is only then that they recognize the man on the seashore!
At times the Lord invites us to do that which sounds ludicrous, like date so and so, consider religious life or priesthood, or even respect the vocation of the single lifestyle; or choosing a career that we truly want to pursue but others are against it because “it won’t yield a lot of money—you won’t get wealthy doing that kind of work.” Once we say “yes” and experience the power of God at work in our lives, we recognize that it was Jesus calling us.

Most times, the Spirit’s invitation is not as weighty as vocational or career choices. It could be engaging in a task that is difficult to do at work or within one’s family. It could be changing one’s attitudes or behaviors that frustrate growth in love and forgiveness and mercy toward self or a family member.   It could be getting help to overcome an addiction or to face some limitation that, with help, can be overcome.

Discernment: following suggestions that seem ludicrous to those who do not understand or when viewed without faith and prayerful consideration!  Being true to one’s inner self is difficult at times but possible through the power of the Spirit: our innermost self is hidden. Without developing a life of prayer and reflection, solitude and quiet, we are likely not to recognize “Jesus on the shore of “Tiberias,” and trust God’s suggestions!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Discernment: Three Considerations

Today's first reading, Acts 5: 34-42, reveals the power of God at work in everyday life. In the  Acts of the Apostles,  Gamaliel, “a teacher of the law, respected by all the people,” challenged the members of the Sanhedrin, before whom the Apostles appeared as prisoners.  “…have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourself fighting against God.”  

Reflecting on this passage, three things surface in considering discernment: 1) If what you are pursuing in your life is of God, it will endure.  If what you are considering is of  divine origin, the invitation to actualize the consideration will persist.  If the activity in which you are involved is God’s will for you, you will succeed in it, even when you meet obstacles or others oppose you  and the work you are doing. 2) If the origin of that to which you are opposed is of divine origin—be that something in your own life  or the life of another--you could be fighting against God when you walk away or ignore the invitation. 3) God will raise others up at the right time to confront those who are putting obstacles in your path, as He did for the Apostles before the Sanhedrin.  God has your back!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Discerning What God is Asking of Us Daily

Discerning What God is Asking of Us:  Every day, we face the challenge of doing God’s will, even in the smallest decisions of the day.   Doing God will involves discerning which spirit to follow: the evil spirit the spirit that opposes God’s will for us, that wants its own way, not God’s, or the spirit that empowers us to obey the will of our Creator. In today’s first reading, Acts 5: 27-33, the Apostles are brought before the Sanhedrin and are questioned by the high priest, accusing them of teaching in Jesus’ name when human beings have  ordered them to stop doing so.  Peter and the Apostles are unafraid and firmly state that they must obey God, not human beings. They keep their focus on the Lord Jesus, whom God has “exalted…at his right hand as leader and savior to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.” Peter and the Apostles will not stop giving witness to this truth that has become their truth.

Our faith, like that of Peter’s and the Apostles’, will be tested. It is in the testing that our faith is strengthened, that we learn the art of discernment. However, we are very capable of ignoring the good spirit and going our own way, thus weakening our faith. God does not ever give up, however. Whether we follow Jesus as our leader and savior does not diminish God’s desire to lead us in the right direction. God does not falter. We do.

Discernment includes discerning the decisions we make each day: those by which we followed the good spirit’s lead as well as those by which we followed the spirit within us that opposes God’s way for us. When we choose the latter, we are often choosing the easiest road to follow, the easiest decision to make or we make no decision which, in fact, is a decision!  We are usually then avoiding sacrifice and hardship. “It’s too hard,” we complain. “I’m not up to it,” we argue.  “I’m too young, too old, too this, too that; I’m not smart enough, pretty enough, educated enough; I’m scared; I don’t have the skills and am unwilling to develop them” and so on and on and on as we make one excuse after another and another and another!

Where do you find yourself in discerning the will of God for you in the smallest and not so small decisions that you face?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Discernment: The Element of Darkness

Discernment:  In today’s Gospel, John 3: 16-21, the evangelist reminds us that “the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his [or her] works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his [or her] works may be clearly seen as done in God.”

Let’s write that as though John were addressing us personally. It would read as follows:  “When you prefer darkness to light, you do so because your works were evil.  When you do what is wrong, you hate the light and avoid coming toward the light, so that ‘ your works might not be exposed.’  But when you live the truth, you come to the light, so that your ‘works may be clearly seen as done in God.’”

One of the elements of discernment involves darkness. Only if I know darkness will I know light. That is true in discernment.  A discerning person goes through darkness before coming into the light. It is because the person recognizes being in the dark that she/he also recognizes when the light is turned on.