Discernment in common
Fr General, Arturo Sosa SJ, has sent a letter to Jesuits and their partners in mission around the world, addressing ‘Discernment in Common’. Discernment, in the Ignatian tradition, is understood as seeking and finding the will of God, especially in important decisions. It is strongly connected to what is known as ‘the movement of spirits’ in Ignatian spirituality. The habit of regularly reflecting on these movements, the ‘examen’, enables people to understand what is moving them towards a fuller life (consolation) and what is taking them away from love, peace and joy (desolation). Individual discernment is different from discernment in common and Fr Sosa states his desire that there be a growth in the culture of discernment in Jesuit works. He notes in his letter that, since the ‘Deliberatio’ of the first Jesuits in Venice, discernment in common is essential to the Society’s ‘way of proceeding’. This refers to a key moment when Ignatius and his companions prayed together over a period of time to decide their future path, a process during which the culturally diverse group experienced a growing sense of unity. Pope Francis has repeatedly insisted on the importance of spiritual discernment for the Church as a whole. Fr Sosa also reminds the reader that the Pope has especially asked the Jesuits to contribute to a diffusion of discernment in all aspects of ecclesial life.
Referring to the recent worldwide meeting of Jesuits, General Congregation 36, Fr Sosa stresses that the practice of communal discernment is key for implementing the decisions of the Congregation, particularly in the call to the work of reconciliation, as well as in choosing universal apostolic preferences for the worldwide Society. Insisting that discernment is a prior condition to apostolic planning, Fr Sosa admits that there is a positive tension between the two. This is the tension that comes from making sure that decisions are made in the light of the experience of God whilst also ensuring they are practical and effective. However, discernment in common is vital if a merely secular, corporate type of planning is to be avoided. He then encourages each work, province, region and conference to gather together best practices of discernment in common, supplementing them with a pertinent bibliography.
Finally, Fr Sosa provides nine hallmarks of discernment in common, not as a series of steps to follow but rather to paint an overall picture of what it would involve undertaking this process together. These hallmarks take us through a dynamic process, from choosing the matter and the participants carefully, to the importance of having an inner freedom and mutual knowledge and trust of each other and how the practices of prayer in common, spiritual conversation and the examen are useful tools to assist this. Finally, he says, it must be clear from the beginning of the process how a final decision is to be made.
The letter was sent out to the worldwide Society from Rome on the 27th September. This is a significant date for Jesuits being the anniversary of the founding of the Society, when formal approval was given by Pope Paul III in his bull, Regimini militantis.