I wanted to add on, just a little bit more, to our most recent blog post on Spiritual Direction with Our Holy Carmelite Mother Teresa and speak about discernment. That underlined, bolded and italicized word has been completely distorted. Not merely because of the New Age movement in the Church but distorted even by traditional Catholics as well. How does one discern in the traditional sense? Before Our Lord ascended into heaven He told His Apostles, “I have yet many things to say to you: but you cannot bear them now” John 16:12.
For example, Peter was told he was destined to be the rock of the Church, but was not told that he would be crucified upside-down. One step at a time. Our Lord knows we are frail and can only handle so much; especially when it comes to martyrdom. There was no discernment needed with IF Peter was really chosen to be the first pope or not (even after he denied Our Lord thrice); “God does not change His mind”; the rock was Peter and that was that. The discernment for Peter was rather HOW, WHERE and WHEN it was to take place. Do you know what the traditional definition of discernment is?
The ability to judge well.
So simple. Notice how it says nothing about “seeking outside help” and then making a decision. In my last post I showed that remarkable quote about Direction, taken from the teachings of John and Teresa, with how “we really only need Direction when we cannot, without man’s help, come into unction with the Holy Ghost” on our own. Do not misunderstand me by assuming I am saying that we need to come to the point where we do not have a Director at all; Our Holy Father John of the Cross warns about the danger of becoming our own guide, but what I mean here is we MUST learn to make proper judgement for ourselves as well, because this is required of the perfect. If we do not learn to judge well and simply seek Direction for EVERYTHING… that is actually a sign of spiritual immaturity. Look what Saint Paul says about the traditional definition of discernment:
But the spiritual man judgeth all things; and he himself is judged of no man.
Spiritualis autem judicat omnia : et ipse a nemine judicatur. 1 Corinthians 2: 15
Essentially this is saying: JUDGE EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING. We have to do this even with priests (in or outside of the confessional) and even our own Spiritual Director. Remember when I said Teresa had twenty or so Directors in her life? It is likely that when the priests were hindering her and encouraging her to turn her back on the reform, that she sought out the priests who rather supported her on the endeavor because despite opposition, she was able to form her own judgment in KNOWING that her work was the will of God. This did not mean that she was only choosing Directors who told her what she wanted to hear, nay, but because she made her own judgement with seeing clearly that the reform was the work of Almighty God. It was a waste of time to continue to listen to those who did not take her seriously- they ultimately were not taking God seriously and no doubt THAT is what distressed her.
The discernment aspect of “is the reform REALLY God’s will?” was over for Teresa. She knew it was God’s will (most likely by the great attacks she was suffering precisely because it was Divinely inspired) and the only discernment left was WHO was going to help her, WHEN it was going to begin and WHERE these foundations would be set up. She placed her confidence in Our Lord with the when, who and where BECAUSE the reform was a definite, and knew that her Bridegroom would provide and accomplish great things in her. I sometimes wonder if she grew tired of hearing the clergy say, “this might not be from God, let us really pray about this”.
When Our Lord said, “drop your nets and come follow Me” notice how He did not say, “really pray about dropping your nets and THEN come follow Me”. Eye roll. NO, Our Lord’s call is urgent and when we hear the Voice of our great God telling us His will, we do not delay. Why? Because we have become so familiar with making our own judgement as “spiritual men” and so accustomed to the sound of His sweet Voice that we know IMMEDIATELY that it is of God rather than Satan. That former modern notion quite frankly does not seem holy at all; there is definitely such a thing as “too much” discernment. Discernment really does not mean “spend years praying about something”, which is really what the definition has become to even Latin Mass Catholics.
It means having the ability to judge; that is all. If we develop this ability, as did Teresa, the cross that comes with it often can be the very apparent distrust that many priests have with simply not being able to trust our ability to discern without them. As I said before, for women, typically brides of Christ, there is an immediate “suspicion”, that Teresa spoke about in The Way of Perfection. However, this applies most especially to the laity (male and female). I will keep his name private but a dear friend, who is also male, and a holy member of the laity gently reminded me of this after reading our other post:
I do not believe that it is solely women that priests can have trouble with. I believe it happens with the laity as well. And it makes sense. In our “worldliness” of which Holy Priests are a part and can fall victim, there can be a sort of pride attached to position. If I place myself in their point of view, the evil one can easily have thoughts enter like; “how can this person be so Holy, or Holier than me? I studied this much? I prayed this much more. I am ordained. Etc. Etc. I am sure it can be a struggle for some and this is why retreats are prescribed often.
I apologize if it sounds like I have been putting down the priests recently; I promise you that I love and respect their position of authority with all my heart. I am not judging THEM per say, but I am judging their judgement, if you will. As one member of the clergy reminded me yesterday before Mass, our beloved Church, a perfect Divine Institution, is run by the imperfect. He also reminded me that “there are good and bad priests; both are from God”. Bad priests are a punishment from God the Father for the sins of the world but there are also the bad ones that are used for our good in the spiritual life.
Our Lord NEVER wills evil but ALLOWS it if it fits in with His divine plan- for the good as well as the bad. Remember, His eyes rest on the just as well as the unjust; all is providence and for those who love God “all things work together for the good” Romans 8:28. The priests who opposed Teresa of Jesus ultimately were the instruments that perfected her. It was for the good of her soul that she suffered that rejection and because of her fidelity to that cross, she reached the Seventh Mansion by remaining faithful to God’s will even when the representatives of Christ tried to hinder her.
When Saint Paul says, “judge all things” this does not mean “judge as in condemn”, but as in “form an opinion or conclusion about” everything and everyone if they are going to try and guide you and form their own opinion of you. Sometimes we do not even ask their opinion, yet they give it; these are tests from Our Lord. One time I told a priest in Carmel that something kept happening that really made me scratch my head and I asked the priest, “why does Our Lord do that”? and you know what he said? “To annoy you.”
I do not mean this next part in a non-charitable way, but if we do not make it a habit to be able to stop, evaluate and truly discern what is from God and what is not from God in EVERY situation in every given moment, even when it comes from Our Lord’s priests, we will not become familiar with what we need to accept and what we need to reject. We will stay babies in the spiritual life and as my friend reminded me, “how many settle for the Third Mansion”. If we do not make this a habit, we will think that ANYTHING the priests say MUST be God’s will, because they are just that, priests. We want to believe that what they say is God’s will, of course. But this does not mean we assume they are always right and fail to judge their judgement when our sanctification depends on it.
JUDGE EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING. If Teresa went ahead and was wrongfully obedient and believed the priests, who told her that beginning the reform was satanic, we would not see dozens of foundations of Discalced Carmelites, today. Teresa judged the situation and despite suffering this rejection, she knew it was Our Lord’s will to move forward with the reform, because “the spiritual man judgeth all things.” Most of the time we are hurt at being misunderstood because Our Lord is trying to show us some of our self-love when we are opposed by even the just.
Let’s face it, it feels wonderful to be understood and praised for seeking a holy life, but we need to check this and most likely the reason why Our Lord is allowing us to suffer rejection from holy souls is to show us our personal desire to be approved, which, needs to be weeded out of the heart. Take it from me, but I have indeed noticed that when some priests, not all, see that we perhaps did not take their advice after all, they think we are not only being defiant but really following the voice of Satan, instead of seeing that we are learning to “have the ability to judge well”. It could be really easy to do what the priest says so we stay in his good favor, but it is a wisdom and a courage to fight for carrying out the will of God when even His representatives look down on you. I know it hurts, but no one ever said becoming a saint was a walk in the park.
It does not matter how many years of study someone has; if we ever let that get to our head we must stop and remind ourselves that “He has hidden things from the WISE and PRUDENT and has revealed them to the little ones.” It is not necessary to have five different degrees in theology, philosophy and apologetics to know how to traditionally discern. Sure, that probably helps but the best thing we can do, which is more valuable than any old degree, is to become humble, allow ourselves to be humbled, and trust the Guide of our souls and the Spouse of that Paraclete: The Immaculate Conception, to teach us all things. You know how I feel about the Spiritual Exercises, I do not use that method of prayer, but Ignatius’ discernment technique is really a gem. When someone, especially a priest, says something that might confuse our interior we must simply:
2.) Accept or reject (if their words cause our emotion to skyrocket negatively and our immediate reaction is fear and distrust in God, well we know this only comes from Satan and we must never change our path simply because a holy priest said so.) JUDGE EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING!
3.) Thank God and move on.
A MOST BLESSED FEAST OF SAINT SIMON STOCK!