Our last blog dealt with the objective aspect of discerning God’s will, the call for all Christians to learn and obey the teachings of the Bible and the Catholic Church. Now, we will focus on the subjective aspect of God’s will. As we mentioned, what God asks for each of us will never be contrary to the teachings in the Bible or of the Catholic Church. Although we all have that in common, what God might ask of each of us beyond the objective requirements of our faith might be very unique. How does God want each of us to build up the kingdom, to serve humanity? How does He want each of us to use our unique gifts? What does God want each of us to do this year, this month, this day, this hour?
In this first blog on the subjective aspect of discernment, we will focus on two principles: 1) God is communicating to each of us all the time; 2) God leads, then we respond. I’m going to quote extensively from an article entitled “God Calls, We Respond,” by Fr. David Fleming. Fr. Fleming has written extensively on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, which set forth a comprehensive approach to discerning God’s will. Whether we follow the Spiritual Exercises or not, the principles expressed by Fr. Fleming in this blog apply to all of us.
Fr. Fleming writes: “God calls. We respond. It is the fundamental dynamic of the spiritual life… The purpose of the Spiritual Exercises, writes Ignatius, is to facilitate the movement of God’s grace within us ‘so that the light and love of God inflame all possible decisions and resolutions about life situations.’”
Fr. Fleming continues: “God is an active God. He is ever at work in people’s lives, inviting, directing, guiding, proposing, suggesting. This understanding of God animates Ignatian spirituality and gives it its internal cohesion. The techniques and practices associated with Ignatian spirituality are all designed to help us be more attentive to this active God. Ignatian spirituality can be described as an active attentiveness to God joined with a prompt responsiveness to his leading… Our response to God occurs now. We are not to be inhibited by our own weakness and failure. We are not to ponder our unworthiness. God is working in our lives now and we are to respond now.”
We are all unworthy, but this does not stop God from constantly communicating to us. As Fr. Flemings notes, “The Gospels show us Jesus entering into people’s lives and inviting them to follow him—right from where they are, from boats and fishnets and from tax booths. He does not demand first that they run to the synagogue. Neither should we delay our response to God until we deal with our neuroses and character defects and our own sinful behaviors.”
God meets us where we are and as we are. He is not limited by our limitations. Fr. Fleming states: “Our response to God grows and matures and deepens over time. It is a process, not an event. Paul writes to the Corinthians that ‘I fed you milk, not solid food, because you were unable to take it.’ (1 Corinthians 3:2) God will give us what we need. If we are beginners, or if we are troubled and weak, God will give us milk. Later on we will have solid food. All along the path we will be answering God’s call to ‘follow me.’”
Because God is constantly communicating to us, we delay action until we have God’s direction. This requires attentiveness, trust and patience. Are we willing to wait? Fr. Fleming describes this process as follows: “God initiates; we answer. We do not strike out on our own. We are to ‘follow.’ To follow means that we adopt a kind of active passivity toward the action of God. ‘Active passivity’ captures the characteristic tone of Ignatian spirituality. It is a spirituality of attentiveness, of watching and waiting, of noticing the ebb and flow of our feelings and inner dispositions. We are like the servant and maid in Psalm 123:
Yes, like the eyes of a servant
on the hand of his master,
Like the eyes of a maid
on the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes are on the LORD our God. (Psalm 123:2)”
Fr. Fleming concludes: “Jesus challenges the [rich] young man [in the Gospel]—and us—to be free of what we claim as our own. This may be our material or worldly possessions. It may be our ideas and our desires. God calls us to be free of these things, claiming them as our own. Will we offer them to God and to God’s shaping and forming and using them? He looks on us with love. What more can we do to respond to this love?”
The invitation, and the challenge, is to wake up each day with a mentality asking “Lord, what is Your Plan for me today? I have my plan, with a small “p.” Help me to discern Your Plan.” With our personal plan, we may be able to use our natural gifts and the gifts and resources of others. However, if we are discerning of and obedient to God’s plan, we receive the immeasurable benefit of His supernatural grace and power. This makes all the difference in the world. We will also find that God’s plan is far more exciting, far more adventurous, than what we are likely to come up with on our own.