Ten principles of discernment

By | September 12, 2012

In today’s Gospel, Peter made the discernment that Jesus should not have to suffer and die in order to redeem us. We know Jesus’ response: “Get behind me, Satan.” In the letter of St. James, a discernment was made as to the relationship between faith and works. Faith without good deeds is dead; we demonstrate authentic faith by helping others. And Isaiah the prophet was a discerner. Despite being beaten, buffeted and spat at, the prophet still discerned that God was his help and thus Isaiah would not be disgraced.

Here are 10 principles of discernment:

1. Discernment is a prayerful process by which experiences are interpreted in faith.

2. Discernment must deal with many voices seeking to capture our minds, hearts and energies.

3. Discernment is cultivated in listening with love that allows one to hear the felt experience of good and evil movements within oneself, others and society.

4. Discernment relies on two foundations: Jesus and revelation.

5. Discernment assumes that God is continually working in the depth of every individual and community.

6. Discernment respects the nature of time and is willing to wait freely for a decision that has need of clarification, detachment and magnanimity.

7. Discernment is a gift (grace) given to those who are properly disposed to receive it because of obedience and surrender.

8. Discernment blends faith and pragmatism: it searches out God’s will in radical trust and does it.

9. Discernment looks to consequences for its authenticity: decisions are of God if ultimately they lead to life and love.

10. Discernment leads to truth and through truth, into freedom.

In our Gospel acclamation, St. Paul states with assurance: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” If we need an example of someone who had a courageous, discerning heart, it was this apostle to the gentiles. He knew who Jesus was, what discipleship cost and how to lose his life in order to save it. Unlike St. Peter, it would be hard to imagine St. Paul taking Jesus aside to rebuke him for teaching the way of the cross. For St. Paul, discerning the cross and its meaning was at the center of his life.

Questions for reflection

1. What does discernment mean to you?

2. Why is discernment such a difficult art?

Bishop Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.

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