Our graduation and achievement driven culture might find this concept difficult and alien: continuous discernment. What does that mean?
Elizabeth Reardon has a fine post at the Ignatian Spirituality site. Her conclusion resonated with me:
I respond to God’s calling with loyalty and service. It compels me to be open and receptive to change and ready to move with the Spirit as it wills. This journey of discernment, though continuous, isn’t arduous, but a joyful journey into what God has prepared for me. Its reward, far greater than anything I can conceive of, is one that I would not trade and will gratefully spend a lifetime pursuing.
I reflect on the questions posed to me in my current situation. Especially “Why are you leaving?” Serving God’s people in the Church isn’t a one-time decision I made in the 80’s. In a way, that discernment to go to graduate school and then into parish ministry was the beginning. Not the end.
I think about my family life the same way. Marrying my wife was just the beginning. Later came home, a child, a Marriage Encounter, and the sharing of trials, joys, and suffering. It’s a continuous discernment not because the basic question is up for grabs. Far from it. But a wedding is a doorway into a new life, and this life brings experiences that are shared, addressed, absorbed, or even overcome or discarded.
How can people raised to graduate from school and move into a job handle this? It would seem that modern mobile culture already finds people moving from job to job in their lifetimes. Is there a sense of progress? Or is it more drift?
Usually when I’ve moved on from a parish, it is partly because I’ve done all I can do with my gifts and their needs. I will be replaced at the student center by a fine and accomplished musician with missionary experience who will be able to move things in directions I could not. Staying on would allow me to cultivate personal friendships a bit more. But I cannot serve myself under the guise of serving others. Sure: I could do good work. But the aim is better work. That’s the Ignatian principle of magis.
More, better, greater: that is Christ’s vision for his disciples. That is why continual conversion, discernment–however one terms it–is so vital. The mission doesn’t get to be about us. And we play our proper role in the new opportunities that beckon.