Multiple Goods Require a Choice
I started worshipping at a Melkite Greek-Catholic church in the fall of 2012. I was so enamored of this new way of living the Christian faith that I couldn’t wait to experience each liturgical season with them. When Great Lent came a few months later, I found myself in a dilemma. I wanted to experience their tradition as fully as possible by attending all their liturgical services, but I also worked full time and was taking classes to finish up my degree. Moved by excitement and seeing how good their liturgy would be, I decided to go almost every single night. Soon my time constraints forced me to choose between the liturgical services and my studies; I chose liturgy. It wasn’t until I had to drop one of my classes mid-semester that I realized I had been deceived. I chose one good over another without properly discerning which good was ‘my’ good. I was sorely disappointed that I failed to remain dedicated to a path to which I felt God had called me.
I knew for a long time that “Satan masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14), but I did not know that such masquerading could entail true goods or that a prayerful and sincere heart could be fooled by the light. In my case, I saw the goods of liturgy and studies, and I went with the good that I knew was objectively greater without discerning whether that was the particular good to which God was calling me. If you have been fooled by Satan masquerading as an angel of light, do not lose heart. St. Ignatius of Loyola offers wisdom to help us discern.
St. Ignatius’s Rules for Discernment
St. Ignatius drew insights about discerning the movements of the soul by reflecting on his own experiences in life. He offers twenty-two rules for discerning whether the movements come from good spirits or bad. In addition to following the good and rejecting the bad, we can stay on the path to which God calls us by employing the three ways St. Ignatius offers for discerning God’s will. A good spiritual director can help us discern according to these rules and ways. One that is particularly helpful for avoiding deceit is the fourth rule Ignatius outlines for persons that are in what he calls “The Second Week”:
“It is proper to the evil Angel, who forms himself under the appearance of an angel of light, to enter with the devout soul and go out with himself: that is to say, to bring good and holy thoughts, conformable to such just soul, and then little by little he aims at coming out drawing the soul to his covert deceits and perverse intentions.”1
Notice that the evil Angel in this rule does not actually start with evil. On the contrary, he starts with “good and holy thoughts.” It is only later that the evil Angel draws the “devout soul,” “little by little…to his [the evil Angel’s] covert deceits and perverse intentions.” If you sincerely seek to do God’s will and follow his plan for your life, then you are one of the devout souls that the evil Angel targets with this method.
Follow the Goods to Which God Calls Us
The lesson here is simple: when good opportunities and ideas come to us in life, we should not accept them simply because they are good. We should first discern whether the new opportunity or idea is the particular good that God wants for us. Otherwise, we may end up losing a good to which God has truly called us. And our virtue and relationship with God may be diminished in the process.
When I pursued the good of liturgy during Great Lent, I ended up having to give up a class which was part of a plan to which God had called me. Because devout souls are less likely to fall into traps that are blatantly evil, the evil Angel tries to get them to follow a good to which God is not calling them. Herein lies our need for discernment. Liturgy is an incredible good, but I was not being called to go every single night in place of my studies. Because I did so anyway, my relationship with God became diminished when I realized that I did not complete the task he had given me.
With St. Ignatius’s rules for discernment, we can learn from our mistakes and prepare for future discernment. If you are interested in learning more about the rules outlined by St. Ignatius, consider reading some introductory materials, such as those written by Father Timothy M. Gallagher, O.M.V.: The Discernment of Spirits, Spiritual Consolation, and Discerning the Will of God. You can learn about these books on his website: http://www.frtimothygallagher.org/books. Let your next discernment be with the Lord!
1 St. Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
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