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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Pope Francis and the discernment of spirits

There's a post at NCR - Battle with the devil: Pope Francis frames the fight in Jesuit terms - that attributes Francis' many mentions of the devil to his Jesuit education in the discernment of spirits. For those interested in reading more about the discernment of spirits, I have a past post on it. Here's what I wrote ...


As it gets closer to the memorial of Ignatius of Loyola, here's another post about Ignatian stuff ....

Perhaps the most important gift of Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises is the practice of the discernment of spirits. Ignatius believed that our thoughts, feelings, and moods arise not just from our own interior processes, but can also be the result of the influence of good/bad spirits leading us toward or away from God. Discernment allows us to figure out which voices we are listening to. I find the concept of the discernment of spirits very challenging because it takes for granted the idea that not only good but also evil exists in the world and that we can be influenced by both ......

St. Ignatius of Loyola began to learn about the discernment of spirits while convalescing from serious battle injuries. He noticed different interior movements as he imagined his future .... Ignatius believed that these interior movements were caused by “good spirits” and “evil spirits.” We want to follow the action of a good spirit and reject the action of an evil spirit. Discernment of spirits is a way to understand God’s will or desire for us in our life.

Talk of good and evil spirits may seem foreign to us. Psychology gives us other names for what Ignatius called good and evil spirits. Yet Ignatius’s language is useful because it recognizes the reality of evil. Evil is both greater than we are and part of who we are. Our hearts are divided between good and evil impulses. To call these “spirits” simply recognizes the spiritual dimension of this inner struggle.
- Introduction to Discernment of Spirits

The one book I own that's specifically about the discernment of spirits, Spirit of Light or Darkness? by Jules Toner SJ, has this to say on the subject ....

"What is meant by "spirits" in this context? By that term we refer to the Holy Spirit and to created spiritual beings (angels, Satan, and demons). There are some who question the reality of created spiritual beings .... Ignatius without doubt was sure of their reality, and we will speak from his point of view. But is there any reason for us to concern ourselves with any spirit other than the Holy Spirit? With the good angels, no: for whatever way they would influence us would be what the Holy Spirit wants them to do. About evil spirits, however, we need to concern ourselves very much. Most of the rules [Ignatius' rules for the discernment of spirits] are taken up with discerning when the evil spirit is acting upon us and how to defeat him. In the context of our study, the term "evil spirit" will be extended to include not only evil spirits in the proper sense of the term, that is, created personal immaterial beings, but also the dispositions of evil within ourselves, the evil structures of society, all that can be a source of inner movements (of thoughts, affective feelings, and affective acts) contrary to what the Holy Spirit wishes to work in our lives through faith, hope, and love. The term will not include in its meaning those antispiritual movements themselves. Some commentators seem to understand evil spirit to mean such movements; They seriously misrepresent Ignatius's thought by doing so."

Most spiritual directors, I think, would tend to emphasize the good and bad spirits Ignatius writes of as metaphor for psychological states, but here's an interesting bit from JP Meier's A Marginal Jew, as published in Jesuit spiritual director William Barry's book With an Everlasting Love .....

... it is important to realize that, in the view of Jesus, . . . human beings were not basically neutral territories that might be influenced by divine or demonic forces now and then. . . . human existence was seen as a battlefield dominated by one or the other supernatural force, God or Satan (alias Belial or the devil). A human being might have a part in choosing which "field of force" would dominate his or her life, i.e., which force he or she would choose to side with. But no human being was free to choose simply to be free of these supernatural forces. One was dominated by either one or the other, and to pass from one was necessarily to pass into the control of the other. At least over the long term, one could not maintain a neutral stance vis-à-vis God and Satan.

For more on how William Barry SJ sees the discernment of spirits, take a look at How Do I Know I’m Experiencing God?, an excerpt from his book A Friendship Like No Other, posted at the Loyola Press Ignatian Spirituality site.

What made me think of posting on this subject was an article I read yesterday at The Way, a Jesuit spirituality journal, by Fr. Robert Marsh SJ - Discernment of Spirits: A Cosmological View. You can read or download it here.



Anonymous Henry said...

Hi Crystal. I've read a few books by Fr. Barry's and I think they have a lot of good qualities. There's actually a book by Fr. Timothy M. Gallagher titled "The Discernment of Spirits" which I think has the clearest explanation of what St. Ignatius meant, IMO.

Hope you and your sister are well my friend.


7:14 PM  
Anonymous Richard said...

Discernment of Spirits is the most compelling part of Ignatian spirituality to me. If I am honest with myself I need it to be something substantially more than shifting mood or psychological states. More than consolation, it is that sense of refreshment and healing not only internally but that sometimes extends to life's situations and relationships.I guess I'm okay with angels (and maybe demons.) Bad spirits seem more like zombies or viruses, animated but cut off from God or the creative regenerative source. High entropy parasitic. Almost as fun to think about this stuff as time travel. Thanks for the great posts. Rich

8:25 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Henry,

I've read most of Wiiliam Barry's books but haven't read any by Fr. Gallagher, so thanks for the recommendation.

Thanks for the good wishes - I hope you and your sister are well too :)

9:35 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Richard,

I'm not sure exactly what to believe about the discernment of spirits - I don't want to believe that "bad spirits" exist. But I like that discernment seems to gives one a way to feel reciprocally connected to God and the universe, a way that can in theory help one make good choices.

But must stop watching movies like The Prophecy ;)

9:43 PM  
Anonymous Victor said...

Hey Crystal! I haven't read anything yet and we 98% godly cells of Victor are good but we can't write a book on this post of 'you', "I" mean YA until we read "IT" NOW! Right?

As a matter of fact our per riff he all, "I" mean our peripheral nerve, no, no! our peripheral point that our good friend Henrie, "I" mean Henry is here so we can't wait to read "IT" all NOW!

Truth be known, we gods first want to apologize for that little retardo soul of Victor who keeps insisting that his "ONE" per sent age still exist and truth be known and buy the way, there's no truth cause our magical mirrors of the alien gods told U>S (usual sinners) so and they don't lie like those so called "MEN" do. Hey long story short, we must get rid of those so called Canadian Harp Her (s) and between me and 'you' magical crystal, we gods don't know why the alien gods chose that guy through U>S gods NOW!

OK! OK! I hear YA! Maybe they heard "The Bell and think, "I" meant thought that they could Rob The Way if YA get my drift NOW!

Hey! Crystal, this "ONE" per sent age of Victor's "Jesus" must be rushing, "I" mean rubbing in out of U>S cause we could truly write a good butt then "I" see High Victor's co called soul coming with his nose UP in his hair that he just gave a blow job too so we better just close. But shucks they're so much more that we gods want to tell YA butt Victor would be right when his two per cent Canadian cells tell U>S that we're off topic again. Longer story short! Maybe when he starts his new blog when his Canadian FED UP, "I" mean his Federal Election starts so we'll just finish this off with a Canadian song instead of continuing NOW and....

End YA say sinner vic! By Snuffy George that sounds great so by George, let's listen to that song that You gods have picked NOW!

Go Figure brothers and sisters in Christ! :(

Hey Victor! Did YA like "IT" NOW?

Bye George! I'll tell YA sinner vic when the tears stop circling in reality NOW!

Go Figure NOW! :)


10:20 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Victor :)

2:32 PM  

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