Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OSV, gave a retreat on Ignatian discernment to about 150 people in Ottawa Nov. 4

Discerning God’s will when either choice is good

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  • November 13, 2015

OTTAWA - Discerning God’s will when one choice is clearly immoral is easy, but discerning among good options can be helped by advice from St. Ignatius, Fr. Timothy Gallagher told a recent retreat in Ottawa.

Discerning whether God is calling you to marriage, to the priesthood or to consecrated life is an example, said Gallagher, a member of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary (OVM) and author of seven books on the teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola and the life of the OVM founder Venerable Bruno Lanteri.

Another example might be discerning among choices of careers, such as medicine where “the moral factor” leaves the person “free to observe either choice” and where St. Ignatius’ process might be helpful, he said.

St. Ignatius discovered the process of spiritual discernment after a cannon ball struck his legs, breaking one of them, forcing him to rest during his recovery. During this time, he spent hours plotting how he might gain the affections of a woman who was likely too highborn for him to ever marry. He also began reading the lives of the saints, and asked himself, “What if I should do as St. Francis did? What if I should do as St. Dominic did?” Gallagher said.

Ignatius noticed after spending hours thinking of how to “gain the unattainable woman” his heart “remained dry and discontented,” the priest said. But when he thought of the lives of the saints, his heart remained “happy and content.”

The realization God might be leading him to choose a life of faith led Ignatius to confession and conversion and to lead a life of holiness based on the context of discerning spirits, Gallagher said.

Ignatius believed in order for discernment to be effective, you “have to have a solid foundation,” he said. Gallagher offered a contemporary reading of the foundation, which included understanding “God created us out of love so that we might praise and reverence His infinite love and goodness, and by dedicating our lives to His service might enter an eternity of joyful communion with Him.”

Anything in our lives that helps towards this purpose we “should appreciate and use” but anything that detracts should be let go, Ignatius said. In other words, the foundation is the disposition of heart to be “completely available to God,” and “an openness to whatever God wills,” Gallagher said. “Without this disposition we are not ready to try.”

The means to obtaining the grace of openness to God’s will include frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist, poring over sacred Scripture, cultivating silence and spiritual direction, he said.

“It is not possible to discern without prayer,” the priest said. “The closer you get to Jesus, the more our hearts are going to be ready to choose in the same way.”

Going on a retreat could be helpful to experience silence and freedom from distractions, he said.

“God never calls upon us to be stuck in the spiritual life,” he said. Sometimes people feel like a “hamster spinning” in a wheel, and “if we feel like that, God isn’t calling us to that.”

Gallagher stressed we all are called to be saints, no matter whether married, leading a celibate single life, in the priesthood or in various forms of consecrated life.

“Say ‘Yes!’ to the call to be holy,” he said.

As for discerning between married life or celibacy for the sake of God’s Kingdom, Gallagher pointed out the Church teaches “the vocation to marriage is written into the very nature of man and woman.”

All are called to the “spousal gift of self,” that in marriage is the source of new life, physical life. However, the spousal gift expressed in consecrated life or the priesthood can also lead to “spiritual new life,” he said.

“Celibacy is a supernatural call beyond our nature,” he said. It is not uncommon for one to have “the call to marriage and spousal life and at the same time a call to renounce them for the sake of God and His Kingdom.”

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