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Posted July 21, 2010

Discovering Godís Purpose

Taken from The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times: New Perspectives on the Transformative Wisdom of Ignatius of Loyola. The review on this book is already posted on our website.

We have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of Godís will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding (Col. 1:9)

Having done all he could, Ignatius felt certain he had found Godís will. On what basis could he make such a claim? Can we say the same if we follow these methods? Ignatiusís certainty was not based on a theory of the powers of the human intellect, nor on the infallibility of consolations or other data of experience. His assurance rested, ultimately, on his belief that God is supremely good and requires only that we do our best t determine the most beneficial course of action. God would have to be malevolent or capricious to require something of us and then frustrate us after we had tried our best to do it. In the end, Ignatiusís certitude rested on ďfaith in Godís gift of the Holy Spirit.Ē His experience convinced him that God is more eager to communicate what is good for us than we are to discover and embrace it.

From this it follows that this kind of certainty of having found Godís will is not reserved to a spiritual elite. We, too, can have that assurance if we are ready to be led by God (ďindifferentĒ) and to do all we can to discover the best decision. That is a powerful stimulus to persevere in the face of obstacles. It enabled Robert Coleís little friend, Tessie, to confront jeering segregationalists in New Orleans. [Tessie was one of the first to go to an all white school. Her strength in enduring the jeering came from her home background in which her grandmother instilled in her all God wants is that we try our best. She endured thanks to her seeing she was doing Godís work].

Nevertheless, certainty of doing Godís will is circumscribed in several ways that must be kept in mind if we are to avoid self-deception and fanaticism. For one thing, we only arrive at moral certitude, not absolute certitude, about Godís purpose. Moral certitude sees darkly, as in a mirror (compare 1 Cor. 2:15016 and 13:12), and remains open to revision. The Ignatian procedures allow us to discover Godís will for now. The best course of action depends on circumstances, and circumstances change. As new information comes to light, we must be ready to recognize that what had been the best option may no longer be the best. Toner puts it more sharply: the Ignatian procedures permit us to discover only what we should try to do. They do not guarantee the results of our efforts. You may decide to go to work in Africa, say, and then get too sick to go. This does not mean you made a wrong decision. The decision was apparently right when you made it. Our efforts may appear to fail. But, as Jesusí apparent failure shows, that does not mean we were mistaken about what God asked of us. Moreover, since we can be certain only about what we should try to accomplish, we wonít pursue success (as we envision it) at any cost. We will do our best and leave the results in Godís hands. Ignatius, who channeled all his energies into founding and organizing the Society of Jesus, once said that he would need only fifteen minutes to adjust if the Society were suppressed.

Finally, personal discernment only discovers what I should do (or try to do) Ė not what Maria or Joe should do. (Communal discernment is another matter). This frees me from the need to coerce others in the name of my crusade ó and from frustration when they fail to sign up for it.