Saint Ignatius and Discernment

The recent feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola brought into my heart the importance of discernment, a fundamental aspect of the spiritual life, which helped Ignatius to progress in his loving relationship with Jesus Christ, and which he himself helped to perfect.

For the warrior Iñigo it was surely not an easy task to undertake. Busy as he was with earthly matters and soaked in earthly conquest, Iñigo could not sit down and reflect on his life. However, what he did not do by choice he had to do by the way his life unfolded: In 1521, at Pamplona, a French cannonball shattered his leg. The leg was set badly, thus healed crooked. Iñigo, carried away by the vanities of the world, begged the doctor to break it again to heal in the right way. Due to this painful procedure Iñigo had to endure a protracted convalescence. To fill his time, Iñigo asked for chivalric romances to read. Providence had it that the only books to be found were a life of Jesus and lives of the saints. When at last he opened these volumes in reading them a new world of hope and joy was being opened to him.

Moved by what he was reading, Iñigo started his inner journey which was both painful but full of hope. He started to imagine the life of Christ as he prayed, picturing the scenes. He started realizing that the kind of people like Saint Francis of Assisi were braver than the bravest soldiers he ever met and fought with. Although Iñigo kept dreaming of knightly glory he began to observe that these dreams left him with a bitter aftertaste. They gave me no joyous hope but left him stuck in the mud of sadness and heaviness of heart. On the contrary, thoughts of the Lord or of the saints’ sacrifices, although they were challenging however they left him with a perpetual peace. Without realizing what was happening to him, Iñigo was being taught by the Holy Spirit on how to discern to accomplish God’s will in his life.

We too need to discern in our lives. All of us need to make choices which help us shape our lives. Obviously if we make choices according to God’s plan for each and everyone of us then we experience that inner abiding peace Saint Ignatius experienced when he was in his long convalescence at Pamplona.

In order to discern well we need to go into our desert to have the right milieu wherein we can listen to the Holy Spirit’s directions as Iñigo did. During this important process in our lives into which we all enter, one way or another whilst journeying to Heavenly Jerusalem, I found Pope Francis’ catechesis on Saint Joseph, man of silence, very helpful. This catechesis, which the Pope gave to us on Wednesday 15 December 2021, presents to us the compelling example of Saint Joseph as the man of discernment. Pope Francis said:

This is why we must learn from Joseph to cultivate silence: that space of interiority in our days in which we give the Spirit the opportunity to regenerate us, to console us, to correct us. I am not saying to fall into muteness, no, but to cultivate silence. May each one look within themselves: often  we  work on something and when we finish, we immediately look for our telephone to do something else… we are always like this. And this does not help, this makes us slip into superficiality. Profoundness of the heart grows with silence, silence that is not mutism as I said, but which leaves space for wisdom, reflection and the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we are afraid of moments of silence, but we should not be afraid. Silence will do us so much good. And the benefit to our hearts will also heal our tongue, our words and above all our choices. In fact, Joseph combined silence with action. He did not speak, but he acted, and thus showed us what Jesus once told his disciples: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 7:21). Fruitful words when we speak, and remembering that song: “Parole, parole, parole…”, (words, words, words), and nothing of substance. Silence, speaking in the right way, and at times biting your tongue a little, which is good for you instead of saying foolish things.

Real discernment leads us to fruitful action. This was the experience not only of Saint Ignatius but of all the saints who wanted Christ to live in them. Saint Joseph’s powerful example is undoubtedly a great help towards this holy way of living.

I do not know what to ask You. You alone know my real needs, and You love me more than I even know how to love. Enable me to discern my true needs which are hidden from me. I ask for neither cross nor consolation; I wait in patience for You. My heart is open to You. For Your great mercy’s sake, come to me and help me. Put Your mark on me and heal me, cast me down and raise me up. Silently I adore Your holy will and Your inscrutable ways. I offer myself in sacrifice to You and put all my trust in You. I desire only to do Your will. Teach me how to pray and pray in me, Yourself. Amen.

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.