Love in Action
We gather to learn about and practice discernment of spirits in community. To what purpose? Why gather with others on this spiritual journey? The individual who seeks God is never on a purely personal journey. We believe in the Trinitarian, relational God in whose image we are made. Within the practice of communal discernment, individuals may be led to a deeper relationship with God and one another. Individuals may experience healing, conversion and a greater sense of purpose. Do we receive healing only for our own sake, as good as that is? Do we grow in love with Jesus just for ourselves? True discernment in the spirit leads to fruitfulness: greater love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (NIV, Gal. 5.22-23) The discerning community becomes a Body in itself, and must ask itself how it should respond to the graces it receives as a group. No longer a matter of choosing good over ill, continual attentiveness to the Spirit brings a burning desire to choose the greater among the many goods.
The conversion of Ignatius and his ability to describe the spiritual and human dynamics of ongoing transformation are a case in point. Ignatius taught the first companions what he learned about the ways of God and the movements in his own human heart. What he had learned, he could not keep to himself, but he felt compelled to share the insights he has received. Because of his zeal and that of his original companions, generations of Jesuits and spiritual directors have helped others pay attention to how they are moving either toward or away from God in any one instance, through moment by moment discernment. When Ignatius was touched by God, his work of love was to share what he had received. Each of us is called to witness to the good that God has done for us.
What Ignatius gave us is a framework to understand our own lives in the context of the Paschal Mystery. His Spiritual Exercises were a description of the journey he took with Christ that led to Ignatius’ conversion. In these “exercises,” he helped others walk through the life of Christ intimately for 30 days, approximately four weeks, five periods of Scriptural prayer a day with the person of Christ.
As Christians live the “four weeks” of the Spiritual Exercises day in and day out. The Paschal Mystery, the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the God-Man, is the prototype of the human experience coming from God and returning to God. We celebrate this mystery each time we come to the liturgy and each round of the liturgical seasons. By remembering this life perfectly lived in love and fidelity, we have a chance of remembering who we are and who we are called to be today.
The Four Weeks are the cycle of our life and relationship with God and one another, since we are an incarnational people:
Principle and Foundation
Do I know that I am made in God’s image and likeness?
Do I know that I am made to praise, reverence and serve God?
Do I know I come from God, and that I am made for eternity to be with God?
Does my life, do my concrete choices, reflect the above convictions and self-understanding?
If these foundations are in place, I will have the desire and courage to meet this God face to face in and through the extraordinary, transformative love of Jesus Christ.
With this conviction that I am loved, I have the courage to look at the ways in which I have been less than human, less than loving, less like Christ. At the same time, I am keenly aware of God’s great mercy in all of salvation history, culminating in the gift of God-among-us, Jesus Christ. My human limitations, sinfulness and resistance serve to throw me onto the mercy of God in gratitude.
Jesus Christ becomes the object of my desire, “to see him more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly.” The second week is about immersing myself in his stories, his teachings and healing, his personality. I meditate on the Gospels and talk to him in my heart about all that transpires in my life. This is like the falling-in-love stage in any relationship.
If I have indeed fallen in love, I will want to put my life on the line with and for my Beloved. I will follow him to the ends of the earth, even as far as the Cross in order not to be separated, but rather to be in solidarity with the one I love. People make all kinds of sacrifices for people and projects. Because we are talking about the Son of God, however, the suffering I endure for the sake of the beloved, for the sake of Jesus and all those whom he loves, my suffering, like his, is redemptive. This is the gift of the Resurrection, the promise fulfilled
Because of Jesus’ love and fidelity to the end, there is no morbid end to the story, but rather, hope. Filled with a sense of hope and gratitude, I cry with the psalmist, “What return can I make to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?” (Ps. 116).
This story then becomes my story. This story is our story. When we gather as Church we become a single entity as well as its parts. We are all somewhere in our lives on the cycle of the Four Weeks humanly and spiritually. We anticipate the birth of something new in and among us. We watch and fall in love again or for the first time. We make commitments and fall on rough or excruciating patches. We die to ourselves, and we rise again, ready to offer ourselves in renewed zeal and gratitude. This happens in our relationships among one another as much as it happens within us, and in relationship with the living God. Each round of the story in our lives or through liturgy, we are formed more deeply as Church, the Body of Christ.
Knowing where we are on this Four Week cycle helps us to know how to test the spirits. Is my orientation, my “true north,” really Jesus and the will of the Father? As human beings immersed in this world, this orientation will often look like how I love those God has placed in my life, the privileged channels of God’s grace for me. These include my brothers and sisters who are the most in need, the most marginalized and oppressed: “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me?” If love is not concrete, incarnational (enfleshed), it cannot be love. In the community, it must also be discerned how we will respond in love in concrete ways, not only for one another, but for the wider circle. For what purpose have we gathered? Each of us could have gone to a spiritual director separately to seek healing and guidance in the Spirit. We are gathered for a purpose. How do we seek the will of God together for the greater good?
Group Reflection/Personal Practice:
Where are each of you in the four week cycle? Share with one another how Christ’s Paschal Mystery is manifest in your life at the moment. Are you full of gratitude and resurrection joy? Are you experiencing a “dark night” of the Cross? How does this place in the mystery affect how you perceive the world and your relationship with Christ? If you are not comfortable talking about where you are at the moment, witness to a time in your life when you really identified with the mystery of Christ, and what this did for you and/or those around you?
What does “love in action” look like for you at the moment? What is the current invitation of grace? Discernment requires that we listen to God’s invitation. Often we set out to do good things for God without asking God for the direction and “permission” to move forward. It is important to “wait on the Lord” for confirmation that we are indeed following the Spirit. Witness with one another when you have moved ahead and realized it was under your own enthusiasm. Witness also to a time when the movement of grace was clear.