Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Continuing with Discernment

I’m continuing here the reflections from the last post. When we’re dealing with a person fundamentally oriented to God instead of to himself, then the ways in which the Holy Spirit, as well as the evil spirit, work on the soul are necessarily different. We saw last time that the Spirit tries to separate thought from feeling when both are oriented to self-indulgence, while the devil tries to keep them together in being turned away from God, and hence from truth and love.

Now we have a different case. When a person is oriented toward God, then the Holy Spirit will try to keep reason and emotion united and focused in the same direction. It is not enough simply to have an intellectual faith or relation to God, for if the heart is not fully engaged, then the emotions may begin to tend once more toward the world’s sensuality. Therefore, God may grant spiritual consolations to enable us to rest in the Lord, to allow our faith, hope, and love to grow. Everything begins to speak to us of God, and we are led to rejoice and give thanks to the Lord. Meanwhile He continues to support the intellect with reasons for these spiritual consolations. One’s thinking is reinforced by the Scriptures, the traditions of the Church, the witness of the lives of the saints, etc. Thus reason and emotion are united in their God-ward orientation, creating an integral union within the person, and the peace that this union produces is the genuine peace of a life of undivided devotion to the Lord.

Now if the evil spirit comes upon one who is fundamentally oriented to God, he will try to separate reason from emotion, to disrupt the inner harmony and make the soul restless and hence vulnerable to suggestions that would return it to its former ways of self-indulgence. The enemy will mainly act on the reason at this point, suggesting false ways of reasoning, magnifying obstacles and increasing fears and anxieties. One way of discerning where such thoughts come from is noticing if they lead to self-preoccupation. If we start worrying about ourselves, what problems await us, what people might say, we are not listening to the Holy Spirit anymore but are opening the door to the devil. Once we allow our minds to wander, to focus on memories best left forgotten, we become restless and disturbed, and this is the opportunity the devil has been looking for. By this time we have lost the peace that we enjoyed when our thoughts and feelings were united in faith and love for God, and so the enemy moves in for the kill, aggravating our anxiety or turmoil. Now that he has us in a state of mental confusion or unease, he is ready to suggest his own remedy: a “consolation” which leads us back to sensuality or any form of self-indulgence. And if we go for that, then both our reason and emotion are turned once again in the wrong direction, and gradually our orientation turns from God to ourselves. Then the Holy Spirit will have to start all over in bringing first our mind and then our affections back to focusing on God.

So wherever we find ourselves, basically self-oriented or God-oriented, there will be a struggle within, for there is an ongoing battle for our soul. St Paul puts it this way: “The desires of the flesh are against the spirit, and the desires of the spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other…” (Gal. 5:17). If you are basically focused on yourself, you have to tear yourself away from self-indulgence and allow the Holy Spirit to enlighten your reasoning and to give you a capacity for spiritual joys, that you may desire the things of God over the things of the world, the flesh, and the devil. If you are basically focused on God, you must be vigilant and “hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown” (Rev. 3:11). For the devil will try to shake your foundation, lead you to memories of forbidden pleasures or anything that will steer you away from the life of faith in the Son of God. Woe to those who were once turned to God and then turned away! “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first” (2Peter 2:20).

Let us be aware, then, of the movements of mind and heart, and discover whence come the counsels to walk in this way or in that. It is not always easy to know the source of our “inspirations,” since original sin has left in us a tendency to seek ourselves, and some have even made an art of self-seeking in the guise of piety or religion. It is only when we are committed to doing the Lord’s will at all costs that we will be able to discern the inner movements and follow those prompted by the Holy Spirit. Then our minds and hearts will be confirmed in their orientation to God, and we shall fear no evil, nor be deceived by it. “He who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).