Though replete with spiritual activities and formation programs, our parish community seems insatiable of its hunger and thirst for more! Beyond expectation, a total of 150 attendees joined our Silent Retreat held at the Carmelite Missionaries Center of Spirituality in Tagaytay City last July 9 and 10 despite these days falling on weekdays!

We were extra blessed to have Fr. Ramon Bautista, S.J., a sought-after guru of Ignatian Spirituality, to facilitate our 2-day Silent Retreat. Fr. Mon, as he is fondly called, is mild-mannered and showed a very humble demeanor. His persona appropriated to his topic – Spiritual Discernment, which also matched the newly-formed ministry in the PCJ parish, the Ministry of Spiritual Direction/Discernment. Such a circumstance gave us more excitement and interest on these grace-filled days.

Spiritual Direction or Spiritual Discernment sounded esoteric in the beginning. It was like for the holy and righteous only. Nonetheless, because it is a mandate to us Christians to strive to be holy and righteous as our Heavenly Father is, this retreat must be a pathway to achieve that command.

Fr. Mon started by emphasizing that spiritual discernment cannot be separated from prayer. “As prayer and discernment are both gifts, they are also an art – meaning we learn them by doing, by practice!” According to St. Ignatius, the perfect context to learn prayer and discernment is during a retreat.

Discernment is exercised through faith and is examined prayerfully. One’s experiences, thoughts, feelings and overall situation are meant to seek and find God’s presence and action in one’s life so that this person can pursue choices that are more in accordance with the Spirit’s lead.

To optimize the impact of our Silent Retreat, we were encouraged to temporarily cut ourselves from worldly concerns, especially with our use of phones and gadgets; and instead immerse ourselves to quality silence and prayer, dispose our interiority, do the given exercises, and journal the highlights in every session.

Fr. Mon’s approach to dissecting spiritual discernment was both simple and refreshing. He presented discernment as something that can be done and should be done on a regular basis. He continued by stating “spiritual consolation” as representing “good feelings” or feelings of holy desires, including forgiving from the heart! But more than the good feelings, our discernment or decision should move and bring us closer to God.

The flip side of spiritual consolation is “spiritual desolation.” This is represented by bad feelings, and more of restlessness in having no peace, in turmoil of spirit and in too much attraction to the values of the world. These feelings bring us away from God. Behind any desolation experience is an exaggerated, inordinate attachment. The greater the attachment, the more intense is the desolation. Hence, it is imperative that we do not make a decision in times of desolation.

Fr. Mon featured Solomon, Mary, and David as examples for spiritual consolation and desolation. In our modern and present time, he related the experiences of Cherry Pie Picache who managed to forgive the person who killed her mother; of Arthur Ashe, a first class athlete who got infected with HIV from blood transfusion, yet did not complain because he focused more on the blessings and awards that he received; and of Olalia Oliveros, a famous commercial model and media personality in Spain who pursued a calling to become a religious nun!

These examples led us to examine our lives and be sensitive of God’s constant involvement in our everyday experience. We have therefore re-learned to entrust everything into God’s hands, to prayerfully listen to our feelings, and to act on them through the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The final part of Fr. Mon’s presentation was the aspects of doing discernment. Discernment is not all theoretical. In fact, it is more practical because it is exercised in a relationship with God. Every day we should engage in the process of discernment. There are four types of discernment:

  1. Discernment of Presence – being sensitive to God’s presence. Where do you see God in your daily life? It is hoped that we see Him in people, not just in things or activities!
  2. Discernment of Interiority – the language of discernment is the language of feelings. Allow the heart to dominate/reign. Just feel! Anthony de Mello in trying to interpret Ignatius exclaimed, “Of what good is it to know the number of (mangoes) in your tree when you’ve not tasted even one?”
  3. Discernment of Meaning – look out for the signs of the times. What could the signs of the times be telling us? Where is the Lord calling me?
  4. Discernment of God’s will – What is God’s desire for us? We need to invest much in prayer because prayer connects us with the Lord.

All these types of discernment must be done in prayer. In discernment also, we need to learn the art of questioning. Before we formulate discernment questions, we need to consider certain pointers or indicators that may suggest to us where the Holy Spirit is leading us or working in our lives. Only then can we arrive at a proper discernment! These are the pointers or indicators in formulating discernment questions:

  1. Deep holy desires – our deepest desires often reflect God’s deepest desires for us.
  2. Gifts and talents/blessings – what are my top gifts? Accept them. Do not deny them. Nurture your talents instead of burying them. What can I share/give? To whom should I share them? To whom much is given, much is expected.
  3. Sense of compassion – Christian compassion is our willingness to enter deeply into the chaos/pain of others. Where or what is your more compassionate energy leading you to or to do?
  4. Personal Pain and Sorrow – we are a wounded people. A guiding principle is our own personal pain or sorrow can be one of the clearest indicators in discernment.
  5. Own “spiritual consolations” – our own spiritual consolations are intimately linked with God’s will for us. What do they tell us? Thus, when discerning options, choose which option gives more peace, serenity, and makes you more alive. Where do I feel the pull? Which option brings more sense of inner congruence – feels better, more right?

At the end of the retreat, spiritual discernment appeared not esoteric after all! It is as easy as ABC or 1, 2, 3 when one is immersed in prayer and deeply connected with God. The whole retreat was beautiful and enlightening. Thank you, PCJ parish! Thank you, Fr. Willie Ramos – our parish priest! Thank you, organizers of the retreat! Last but not least, THANK YOU, Fr. Mon Bautista!