“Understand”: The 2nd Step in Ignatian Discernment

Once we have achieved the 1st step & become aware of what is stirring spiritually in our hearts and thoughts, we are ready to move from “noticing” (1st step) to “understanding” (2nd step).

“Rules for becoming aware and understanding to some extent the different movements which are caused in the soul, the good, to receive them, and the bad to reject them” (St. Ignatius).

This 2nd reflective step seeks the answer to questions such as these:

Q. Are these specifcally spiritual stirrings, that is, do they affect my life of faith, hope, and love and my following of God’s will?

Remember, Ignatius is not asking us to discern all the movements of the heart (even though that is valuable to do so) but rather those spiritual movements which “may impact our adherence to the will of God, as strengthening or weakening this adherence” (25).

If they do, then discernment of spirits is indeed necessary and you must ask this question:

Q. Does this bear the signs of God or not?

“When, through reflection, I have found sufficiently clear answers to these questions and can name the spiritual experience as of God or not of God, I have accomplished the 2nd step of discernment of spirits; I understand this spiritual experience” (Gallagher, 24).

There are 3 possible sources of inspirations: 

1. The Good Spirits

The good spirits cause consolation and seek only our good – to lead us to God. 

Who is the good spirit? (click here for more)

2. The Bad Spirits

The bad spirits cause desolation and seek only our harm – to lead us to hell. 

Who is the bad spirit? (click here for more)

3. You

Your sensual appetites, sickness, addictions, beliefs, desires, strengths, weaknesses, and diseases due to original sin can cause many kinds of non-spiritual consolation and desolation, and your own makeup can also amplify spiritual consolation and desolation.

Origen’s view:

“Early in the Christian tradition, Origen taught that thoughts may come from God, the angels, the devils, or our very own selves” (Gallagher, DS, xv).

St. Ignatius’ comprehensive view:

St. Ignatius “took into consideration almost everything that influences Christian life and Christian decisions: the Holy Spirit, good angels, demons, what flows from the human spirit’s rational and volitional structure, what comes from one’s imagination, one’s memory, one’s emotions, one’s sinful and disordered nature, what one eats and drinks, light and darkness, even the seasons of the year” (Gallagher, DS, xv).

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