This last post is a “scraps” post — a few leftover thoughts relevant to what I am hoping to say. Let me recommend one book here on vocation and discernment that is applicable to a wide spectrum of people: Personal Vocation by Germain Grisez and Russell Shaw. Okay, here we go:
At the end of the retreat, I sat alone for about twenty minutes and wrote down a collection of insights that had been collecting in my margins as he spoke, and during Mass. Here are a few:
He made this powerful point that I am struggling to recall. It was something vaguely like this: Those who seek extra-ordinary means (visions, locutions, mystical signs) from God as the ordinary means of discerning His action and will open themselves up, the Mystical Doctor tells us, to diabolical delusions. Satan is incapable of mimicking fidelity to God’s general will (like live a life of fidelity, selfless charity, obedience, humility –generally living by faith-formed reason) and can’t mime the ordinary means of accessing grace (like prayer, Sacraments). But he can mimic extra-ordinary signs and wonders, mystical signs in order to subtly lead us away, by his art and craft as the angel of light, from God’s general will. Those who attach to the extra-ordinary eventually detach from the ordinary. Hence, Jesus says to those who performed exorcisms, signs and wonders, but were simultaneously unfaithful to His general will: “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (all of Mt 7:21-24 makes this point powerfully). The extra-ordinary always has one purpose: to lead back to the ordinary that’s being ignored. It’s always an “extra.” It’s instructive to realize the Great Teresa said that the reason God showered so many extra-ordinary “favors” on her was because she was weak and slow and her Order had abandoned the ordinary path of perfection.
… The clearest clues to God’s design for our vocation and mission are the gifts we possess and the purified desires of our heart. God inscribes His will into our gifts, and then beckons to our free will to unwrap those gifts and give them away. Because every gift exists for others’ well being, and sanctifies us only when they are expended thus. Gifts are only an indirect compliment to us, a direct compliment to others. Also with vocation and mission — always “and” because we are called only to be sent. The vocation makes us feel loved by name (and we are!), but the mission makes others feel loved by name (and they are!) … All vocations-missions are local, limited, as only Christ had a universal vocation-mission. The plotted space of your mission is bracketed by your own limits, and perfection is in embracing the limits unlimitedly. More! God has so arranged things that those with the tiniest, even unseen plots are greatest in the Kingdom (1 Cor. 12:22-23). Those who feel they can do little, move little, contribute little, who feel they are functionally useless in a utilitarian world, when they consecrate their limits to Christ transfixed, paralyzed on Golgotha, have their field of reach stretched into the infinite. From her bed of pain, St. Therese was — and still is — transforming lives. The graced “roses” she said she would send from heaven all flowed from the tight confines of her fidelity in an obscure convent and on a sickbed struggling to breathe
… Most are called to consecrate the world in the world in secular apostolates, many are called to labor in the church’s vineyard in sacred ministries to build up Christ’s Body. And all ministries exist to serve the apostolate, those sent into the world to consecrate culture, politics, economics, business, science, medicine, agriculture, banking, IT, media, real estate, et alia. The world-loving laity are to be creative, co-creative with God to give rise to a new culture, a colorful culture, a joyful, peaceful, just, beautiful, song-filled, generous, love-ridden culture that will extend, unleash, reveal Christ’s new creation into this creation. Christians should be tearing the veil of the cosmic Temple every day to let the eighth day’s eternal light into places where darkness holds sway. Every act of virtue, every prayer, every moment of repentance, every downward-calling of the Spirit and every upward-offering of our Christ-bound body widens the tear and extends His Eucharistic reign … We need new architects of this new culture and civilization who “see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain” (Exodus 25:40) — on the mountain of Sinai, on the mountain of the Beatitudes, on the mountain of Tabor and on the mountain of Golgotha. Amen.
Last year I wrote a post on discernment in St. John of the Cross. I looked at a letter John had written in response to a request from his Religious superior, Doria, to investigate the claims of a Discalced Carmelite nun who asserted she had received extraordinary spiritual gifts and revelations. I wrote that post as a critical commentary on certain “inner healing” movements in the Catholic Church whose members have made astonishing and reckless claims to serve as mediums and diviners of God’s grace and will and words to vulnerable people who long to experience God’s presence. I thought sharing this brief section of that post would be a fitting way to conclude my thoughts on discernment:
In the letter, John reviewed the steps of his investigation and shared his judgment that the nun’s claim to gifts of a supernatural origin was a false claim. Among the signs of error, he noted four prominent issues:
First, she had mucha golosina de apetito, “a very greedy appetite” for extraordinary experiences. Being attached to extraordinary experiences is, for John, an wide-open door to deception. Second, she was overly confident in the truth of her interior experiences and was averse to submitting them to the judgment of others. “She has too much confidence,” he said “and too little caution about erring internally, which is not the sign of a good spirit. Everything she says about ‘she said to God and God said to her’ seems so much nonsense [parece disparate].” Third, she lacked discretion and was overly eager to speak about her extraordinary experiences and convince others of their goodness and truth. Even worse, John said, she was eager for more such experiences. Finally, and most telling for John, she was very resistant to his investigation into of her claims. Humility, he said, is infallibly the fruit of authentic spiritual experiences rightly received. When the humble “receive great favors” they are always eager to submit their claims to others’ scrutiny. As Jesus says in John 3:20, the humble are anxious to be exposed to the light of faith and sound reason.
At the end of his letter, John recommended to Doria a “test” for this nun. She must not write about or publicize these experiences any longer or even speak about them with her confessor. He recommended Doria pruébenla en el ejercicio de las virtudes a secas, mayormente en el desprecio, humildad y obediencia, “test her harshly in the exercise of the virtues, particularly in self-contempt, humility and obedience.” He also added that “the tests must be good ones because there is no devil who will not suffer anything for the sake of his honor.” “Such humility,” he added, is the safe road and on it no one will ever be deceived, for “these humble souls, far from desiring to be anyone’s teacher, are ready to take a road different from the one they are following, if told to do so. For they do not believe they could ever be right themselves. They rejoice when others receive praise, and their only sorrow is that they do not serve God as these others do. They have an inclination to seek direction from one who will have less esteem for their spirit and deeds. Such is the characteristic of a pure and simple and true spirit, one very pleasing to God. Since the wise Spirit of God dwells within these humble souls, he moves them to keep these treasures hidden, and to manifest only their faults. God gives this grace to the humble, together with the other virtues, just as he denies it to the proud.”