Saturday 4 April 2015

Spiritual direction: knowing the person

From Patrick H. Byrne, "Ethics, Discernment and Self-Appropriation" paper presented at the International Lonergan Workshop, Jerusalem, to be published in Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education:

This brings us back to the very beginning of Ignatius’ directions for discernmentthe kind of person engaging in the spiritual exercises. Once again, Toner: “All else in discernment depends first on knowing what sort of person is experiencing the diverse motions” from the Spirit of God as well as from ignoble sources.[1] Knowing the kind of person is basic, because Ignatius recognizes that a person moving toward God will experience as consolation what a person moving away from God will experience as desolationand vice versa. Toner is emphatic that directors of the spiritual exercises, before “attempting to interpret the inner motions [of retreatants must] always try first of all to know not only where the other is spiritually, but much more importantly whether the other is progressing or regressing spiritually, maturing or decaying.”[2] He expands upon Ignatius’ brief characterizations of people who are progressing or regressing spiritually. He writes, for example, that regressing persons “little by little, through a life of petty egoism, trivial and selfish ambition, pleasure-seeking, or the like, drift away from God and grow uninterested in him.” This, he says, can happen “subtly and escape their attention,” but because of its hiddenness, can be more dangerous for them in the long run than if they had committed great crimes with full knowledge. Regarding people who are progressing toward God, Toner offers the example of Ignatius himself immediately after his conversion: “even his good desires were as yet shot through with egoism, with a spirit of vainglorious competition.”[3]

[1] Toner, Spirits 49. See Ignatius 204 [214-215].
[2] Toner, Spirits 54.
[3] Toner, Spirits 51.

A good rule for spiritual guides to keep in mind: know the person before attempting to interpret his inner movements. 

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