On Speaking Pleasantly.

Altar in the Lady Chapel in Ely Cathedral
On Speaking pleasantly 1: Reading of this post.

No foul word should ever cross your lips; let your words be for the improvement of others, as occasion offers, and do good to your listeners.

Ephesians 4:29; The New Jerusalem Bible

A friend of mine at church recently commented on my choice use of language on some of my social media posts (asterix’s included) and my jocular, but nevertheless aggressive expression of the violence in my heart being incongruent (my words, not my friend’s) with my practice as a spiritual director, and how I am when I am leading sessions on prayer. Quite right, I say. My friend has spoken truthfully, and with love, as Paul encourages us to do in his letters. Swearing is an issue for me, I hold my hands up to that particular fault, and it is not my intention to justify it here: it is not a good thing generally speaking and it makes nice people feel uncomfortable. There has been some discernment in my life around this subject however, and it is that process I want to share here.

I was not brought up to swear; quite the opposite in fact. It was definitely frowned upon at home growing up. I developed the habit when I started playing football in my twenties.

I say dear girl, that was rather a harsh tackle!

Is not really conducive to picking yourself up off the ground again and going after the ball. There needs to be a shorter, more motivational phrase in that situation. And where I come from, there is also the prevailing attitude that you get your studs in first, to use a contextual footballing analogy. So, there is evident a transition from who I was and from where I have come, to who I am becoming.

On my annual 8 day IGR the year before I made The Spiritual Exercises – the Song of Songs retreat, a story for another day – I discerned after a lectio divina on one of Paul’s letters, a feeling of discomfort at my own, and persistent use of uncouth language. I decided that I would stop swearing, and only “speak pleasantly” in the future. It took me about three days in the silence of the retreat to stop swearing in my self conversation. It is amazing how deeply embedded such language is when it is a habit. When I came out of the retreat, I was no longer speaking these words out loud and it was noticed by people around me. So what changed? Why has this unpleasant habit grown in me again?

My situation changed within months of returning from the Exercises a year and a half later; I found myself bombarded with persistent, aggressive and undermining hostility daily, for a sustained period of time, which was desolating to my spirit. In my morning prayer, I always asked for the graces of strength and courage to face the situation, and so I faced it, and stood against it. One of the ways the enemy works, as described by Ignatius in The Spiritual Exercises is the following:

The conduct of our enemy may also be compared to the tactics of a leader intent upon seizing and plundering a position he desires. A commander and leader of an army will encamp, explore the fortifications and defenses of the stronghold, and attack at the weakest point. In the same way, the enemy of our human nature investigates from every side all our virtues, theological, cardinal and moral. Where he finds the defenses of eternal salvation weakest and most deficient, there he attacks and tries to take us by storm.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl

I draw attention to the relevant phrase I have put in bold type. I maintained my pleasant, if firm and composed, speech throughout, both while the situation was in play, and in private, until I read, as part of my studying of the art of spiritual direction, that unexpressed anger can be turned inward and lead to depression: I immediately recognised what was happening within me, that the desolating voices were like a buzzing, flickering light bulb, destroying my faith in myself and my belief in my ability to fulfill my calling and they were using my virtue to ensure that a powerful sword against those voices was left in the scabbard.

St Patrick’s Breastplate Mandala
On Speaking pleasantly 2: Reading of this post.

Ignatius also suggests how to resist the enemy:

…the enemy becomes weak, loses courage, and turns to flight with his seductions as soon as one leading a spiritual life faces his temptations boldly, and does exactly the opposite of what he suggests.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl

Or let me put it another way through a story given in The Song of The Bird, by Anthony de Mello:

The devil once went for a walk with a friend. They saw a man ahead of them stoop down and pick something up from the ground.

“What did that man find?” asked the friend.

“A piece of truth”, said the devil.

Doesn’t that disturb you?” asked the friend.

“No”, said the devil, “I’ll let him make a belief out of it.”

The Song of The Bird, Anthony de Mello

Or, another way, concerning scruples, Ignatius says:

If one has a delicate conscience, the evil one seeks to make it excessively sensitive, in order to disturb and upset it more easily.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl

And:

A soul that wishes to make progress in the spiritual life must always act in a manner contrary to that of the enemy.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl
Ironwork from a garden seat at Penhurst Retreat Centre.
On Speaking pleasantly 3: Reading of this post.

The conversation with a spiritual director is very helpful in discerning when our own virtue and delicate conscience is being turned against us. I will never forget the moment in my meeting with my director, when I described that buzzing, flickering light bulb and how those critical voices were telling me how rubbish I was and how incapable I was for the role that God had called me to. When I verbalised this “self talk”, the foul words I was internalising, I was shocked. I understood in that moment the strength of the pull of desolation, and how important my daily pleas for the graces of strength and courage were, and how God was always there, pouring his grace out so that I was not overwhelmed by it. Neither will I forget His strength surge within me when the next time, in private, I let out a torrent of expletives and expressed my fury. Until this point, I had been a gardener in a war, and at last, I brought my warrior to the war and was now using weapons that God had not forbidden me to use.

In a different biblical translation, the phrase I began with reads:

29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,[a] as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.

Ephesians 4:29 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition (NRSVACE)

I am reflecting that the evil talk can also be the desolating voices we listen to within ourselves. Discernment about where these voices are leading us is the point of the second part of the phrase. It is important to notice the effect these voices are having on our soul. At a bible study session I went to when I was a student, the priest leading it told us that when Jesus responded to the news of Herod beheading John the Baptist, He said:

Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.

Luke 13:32

And that the modern equivalent of calling Herod a “fox” would be to call him a “bastard”. Whether that is true or not, clearly Jesus is not speaking pleasantly about Herod, and His words here certainly inspire me with strength and encouragement in speaking out. Neither is Jesus speaking pleasantly when He says to the scribes and pharisees:

You snakes, you brood of vipers!

Matthew 23:33

So, the context matters. When we use strong language to stand up to and speak out against evil, we might not be speaking pleasantly, but it does not make it “evil talk” . When the effect is to strengthen and encourage, to build up ourselves and others in facing up to temptations boldly, then perhaps it is completely appropriate. Each occasion and context requires discernment. So as far as I am concerned, my friend at church is right, perhaps sometimes my use of strong language is inappropriate, and it is something I resolve to amend.

Light in the Darkness

Light in the darkness
Light in the Darkness 1: Reading of this post.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.

Isaiah 9:2

There has been a convergence in my thoughts recently in the contrast between light and darkness as metaphors for spiritual life. I posted a guided prayer with the image above, inspired from Isaiah, and Matthew’s gospel, which we are studying in our bible study group at church, which made reference to it. Also, in writing about my mandalas, I mentioned that they were in response to one particular imaginative contemplation that I had had on a retreat and that I was still trying to process that one prayer experience. Carl Jung says of mandalas:

In such cases it is easy to see how the severe pattern imposed by a circular image of this kind compensates the disorder of the psychic state– namely through the construction of a central point to which everything is related, or by a concentric arrangement of the disordered multiplicity and of contradictory and irreconcilable elements. This is evidently an attempt at self-healing on the part of Nature, which does not spring from conscious reflection but from an instinctive impulse.

Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

In other words, according to The Mandala Book, Jung felt that mandalas represented an unconscious attempt to heal psychic disturbances. In the contemplation to which I am referring, I spent some time simply touching Jesus’ face, as if I were a blind person, and what I could see was only light: more and less light, luminosity of differing intensity, rather than a skin and bones face. I do not have the words or images to describe completely the effect it has had on me, only that I have never been the same since then and that creating mandalas is a compulsion in response to it, which surfaces regularly, even ten years on from the prayer experience itself. I would describe it as a profound disturbance that is deeper than anything I am conscious of, still.

In the Spiritual Exercises, on the way the evil one acts, when using the analogy of the false lover who whispers and urges us to secrecy, Ignatius says:

But if one manifests them to a confessor, or to some other spiritual person who understands his deceits and malicious designs, the evil one is very much vexed. For he knows that he cannot succeed in his evil undertaking, once his evident deceits have been revealed.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.

My own spiritual director uses the image of shining God’s light on things that might want to remain in the dark when helping me to discern consolation from desolation, and the direction of my path. I have found it to be very helpful and it is an image I use myself. It is as if, with God’s help and guidance, you could pick up the lantern in the featured image, and move it around the dark areas in your soul, one by one, so that with Him, you could face all of your deepest fears and shame, and He would heal you.

However, it does not feel as simple and lovely as all that. I am reminded of my prayer that no-one can see the face of God and live.

We shall surely die, for we have seen God.

Judges 13:22

And that St. Paul says:

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.

1 Corinthians 13:12

I am also moved by “The Light” from The Proclaimers:

Light in the Darkness 2: Reading of this post.

I’ve been stumbling in the dark for years, and the light just made me blind.

The Proclaimers; The Light

I am only left to concede that there is trauma associated with stepping into God’s light, to look at Him face to face is blinding and causes a death within us. We can no longer see anything good in our inordinate desires and the way we lived before is no longer possible. It can be easier, and more comfortable to cling to the darkness of our shame than to look at it in the full glare of God’s light. We are unable to bear the pain of it alone. I would put my experience of touching His face in this category. It is as if there are moments when He does not hold back so much as previously in His desire to show us Himself. In my prayer on my journey with Julian of Norwich this week, one of the phrases that stood out for me is:

God wishes to be seen, He wishes to be sought…

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, Day 1

It is almost as if His enthusiasm gets the better of Him, and the usual tender and gentle respect with which He regards our protective boundaries dissipates as He gathers us up and brings us into His heart, simply because He cannot resist us. It is God who takes the initiative. And it splits us wide open. Perhaps it is what the mystics mean when they describe union with God, and it is as searingly painful, as it is blissful and transformational.

Rather than make this happen, we should simply let it happen.

The Way of Paradox, Cyprian Smith

and in a way, is it not what we desire?

…we can pine for God, reach out to Him, yearn for Him who lies hidden in an impenetrable cloud of mystery.

The Way of Paradox, Cyprian Smith

When I look at the image featured in this post, and from my prayer with it, I notice that the light is neither glaring nor harsh. The image is mostly darkness, but the warmth of the light draws us gently out of the darkness, it invites us not to remain there. There are many places in that image where we may dwell: I least wanted to be in the bottom left hand corner, furthest away from the light: I most wanted to be protected, inside the shade, but not in the full glare of the light source. I was invited to dwell outside of the shade, in the bright spot to the bottom left of the image of the cross that is projected onto the wall. There is both pain and death in standing in this place.

The third week of The Spiritual Exercises invites us to enter into the Passion and death of Jesus: the desire we ask for is:

…sorrow, compassion and shame because the Lord is going to His suffering for my sins.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.

In my own personal experience of The Exercises, I knew that I wanted to stay, to remain with Him through it all: I could not bear to be one of those who ran away, no matter how painful it was to stay and to watch Him suffer, and to be powerless in the face of His suffering. To experience this sorrow is spiritual consolation, and is to receive the grace asked for at this point in The Exercises.

Light in the Darkness 3: Reading of this post.

So it seems to me that in terms of our spiritual journey, we exist in a darkness that is both comfortable and uncomfortable. The darkness itself is not infinite, and does not have power over the light. It is diminished by the smallest presence of light. Even as we are attracted to it, we can choose to turn our back on the light and face into the darkness, and there are times of spiritual desolation when we do. We can also face the light and choose to be drawn by its warmth and move closer to it. Such invitation and movement is spiritual consolation. Just as the light is comforting, it is also painful when we are unused to its intensity, and may even blind us. In time, our eyes adjust to our new reality.

The Writing on the Wall.

Reading of The Writing on the Wall 1

In a recent post, I put a link to the video of a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s song The Sound of Silence by Disturbed. I said it haunted me the first time I saw it, and it has been haunting me again since I posted it. The words that are playing in my head are:

And the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls; and echoed in the wells of silence.

Simon and Garfunkel: The Sound of Silence

The writing on the wall occurs in The book of Daniel, one of the apocalyptic books in the Bible, where the prophet Daniel explains it to King Nebuchadnezzer:

Your days are numbered. You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.

Daniel 5: 26-27

It is connecting with another previous post where I had commented on some things Ignatius has to say about our attitude towards the Church. It strikes me that we are living in apocalyptic times: there is the climate crisis for one, and I studied atmospheric Chemistry for my PhD: it is not to be dismissed. And it also strikes me that the writing on the wall is a righteous act of defiance against those claiming to have authority. The words from The Sound of Silence imply grafitti, and sometimes, the grafitti written on the walls in defiance of the established authority may well be prophetic. Hazel Jones, the “Grafitti Granny” was recently caught on camera making such a protest, and her activities went viral. She wrote in chalk:

Brexit is based on lies. Reject it.

Hazel Jones, chalk grafitti on walls in Wakefield.

Sometimes it may be the right thing to do to defy the established authority. I draw on the wisdom of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to illustrate my point:

Reading of The Writing on the Wall 2

In the Buffyverse, the watchers council created the slayers, and watched over and directed them. Buffy rejected their authority a few seasons back, and her watcher Giles, was sacked. In this episode, they are trying to use vital information they have about the current foe Buffy is facing, by withholding it, in order to bring the slayer back under their control. They have demanded the final showdown in the scene, imposing their own terms and conditions, and for the most part of the episode, Buffy has been downtrodden. You could say she has been experiencing turmoil of spirits, until finally we see her, claiming her identity and insisting on self determination within that. In essence, she has discerned her path, for me, for now, for good. She speaks with authority, and everyone in the room, watchers council included, recognise her authority.

And it raises the question:

Whose authority do we accept?

We read in the gospels that the people recognised that Jesus spoke with authority:

They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority.

Luke 4:32

And considering the systemic problem in the Church I wrote about earlier, how do we discern its true authority from when something else is manifesting itself as that authority? How can we tell that it is the voice of God we are hearing and not that of the imposter? I get asked this question a lot when I am listening to people, I ask it of myself, and I ask it of the people I am listening to.

How do you know it is God?

One way is to compare it to a touchstone experience of God. These are moments when we know, without any doubt, that what we are sensing has come from God. If we hold the present experience in one hand, and notice how it feels and where it is leading: and on the other hand, hold the touchstone experience and do the same; we notice the sense of each. If the present experience feels similar to the touchstone one and is leading the soul to be inflamed with the love of God, we might trust that it is of God. If however, on comparing the two, the present experience feels jarring or odd, and is leading to a disturbance, we might discern that it is not of God, or has something not of God tangled up in it perhaps; the darnel sown in with the wheat. Ignatius gives a very useful analogy to help here: if the voice feels like water dropping onto a sea sponge, where it is absorbed gently and wholly, as if the water is part of its own substance, we might trust that to be God. If the voice feels like water dropping onto a stone, and it need not necessarily be noisy like a whole bucket full of water, it could be a quiet, almost difficult to hear, splash of one drop, then that voice is likely to be the evil spirit. Sometimes I notice that both are going on at the same time. There is the noisy, obvious, bucketful of water on a very large boulder, to which I might respond:

I know who you are and I know what you are doing!

And then I try to look for the misdirection, the one drop on a small stone that has been drowned out, the quiet, desolating whisper, telling me that I’m not good enough, and asking me who do I think I am? Who am I to be doing this? It is the voice that whispers to me that I am unworthy, and it sows fear, anxiety, despair, and seeks to undermine my confidence in what I am doing with my heart fixed on the greater glory of God.

Reading of The Writing on the Wall 3

There are many loud voices in our society, claiming to have authority; that others are spreading fake news, and sometimes it can be difficult to know which way is up. We can use our reason to check our facts, to ask ourselves about the credibility of the person speaking: are they an expert in what they are talking about? how are they informed? where are they coming from? what is their bias? their hidden agenda? their history and integrity? And we can look at the effects of their words and actions: we know them by their fruits. Do they bring people together in love, peace and solidarity, or do they sow division and hatred in the world? I am thinking here of the marches from both sides in the Brexit debacle, and the extinction rebellion protests, as well as the variety of responses to these different events on social media, as just a few examples from the public sphere.

I also watched the film “Official Secrets” recently, and it resonated with me in a similar way as Red Joan did earlier in the year.

Reading of The Writing on the Wall 4

Two women in breach of the Official Secrets act, breaking the law and acting from conscience and with extraordinary courage. I do not advocate breaking the law per say, but when we discern that the established world authorities are perpetuating evil, and the legal routes to challenge it are thwarted or exhausted, the prophets speak out, and the courageous stand up, no matter what the cost to themselves. I am humbled by people like Katherine Gun, because while I know what I would like to do, you never really know until you are in that position. I only hope that I would be able to hear God’s voice through the noise and that He would give me the grace I needed to act as He desires.

Reading of The Writing on the Wall 5

Towards the end of the 2016 film Ignacio de Loyola, there is the scene showing the “vision” Ignatius received at the Cardoner River, once he has left the cave at Manresa. Jesus, in the form of a boy, talks to him about the creature he defeated in the cave. He says to Ignatius:

Now you know my voice.

We can learn to recognise the voice of God more clearly, within ourselves and in the world, by praying with scripture, by praying the examen, with the rules for discernment that Ignatius describes in The Spiritual Exercises, and by talking with a spiritual director who can help us to apply them. It helps us to be more able to respond to the true authority of God in our lives, even when it means defying the pseudo authorities of the world who would demand our obedience. Just a final thought on the authentic voice of authority:

A lion will never have to tell you it is a lion.

Dedication

I would like to dedicate this post to an amazing friend of mine who is currently standing up to, and speaking out to a corrupt authority within her own situation. I salute you, and I am praying for you. You know who you are.

Is it God’s will for us to remain in work we don’t want to do?

This was a challenging question asked during a session at Fr. Korko’s quiet day at the Christian Meditation Centre. As far as I could follow, the discussion mostly centred about how we remain in work we don’t want to do, which implies the underlying assumption that the answer to the question is “Yes”. And while I acknowledge that “Yes” is a possible answer to this question, so also is: “No”, “Maybe”. “Depends”, “For the time being anyway”, “Until such times as…”. And the answer will depend on the individual, the context, the timing and any other number of factors unique to the one asking the question. It is a question of personal discernment:

For me, for now, for good.

Considering the “for good” part, and that Ignatius is encouraging us to choose between good and what is more for the Glory of God, rather than between good and evil, and I thought as long as your job is not immoral, say killing people, because that would fall into the latter category – breaking one of the commandments. I was then brought up short by the memory of a couple of scenes from the film The Green Mile, with Tom Hanks in it. I realised that I am lucky to live in a time and a place where there is no capital punishment, but what if I didn’t? What if I were on death row, wouldn’t I prefer the executioner to soberly carry the weight of their responsibility, rather than have a lust for it? The Tom Hanks character, rather than the other younger guard? (It is on my list of “too painful to watch twice” films, so I won’t put any clips on here.) An executioner who shows compassion…an oxymoron? But I’m digressing. Suffice to say, a spiritual direction conversation around discernment with the Tom Hanks character at the height of his career might be interesting. More on that next time I think.

So, St. Ignatius to the rescue. Let us assume the job you are doing is moral and good. In the Spiritual Exercises, he outlines for us three different ways that a choice such as the one in question might be made, and some guidelines to help us to discern God’s voice and God’s will for us, and he calls them first, second and third time, but it is not that you make a choice using all three times in this order. Let me illustrate with examples from my own experience and work.

First time choice is the most infrequent. It involves a revelation, about which there is no doubt at the time, there is a desire for it and it is possible to follow through on it. I have experienced this twice in my life regarding the work I do, with respect to becoming a teacher and secondly, a spiritual director.

In the first case, I was studying for my PhD and I was at a Catholic Student Council conference on Education. We were in a discussion group about privilege and responsibility, and examining the question of what the ethos in a church school should look like. I remember feeling very lucky and grateful that I was able to engage in education to the level that I wanted to, and there came – I can only describe it as a booming voice – which said:

Be a teacher!

It was a real Damascus moment for me, since not long previously, when I had been asked, I had vehemently asserted that I would not touch teaching with a ten foot barge pole! I had no doubt about who the voice belonged to. The rest, as they say, is history, and twenty seven years later, here I am, still in the classroom four days a week. Not every day or every part of my work has been filled joyfully with a zest for it, sometimes it has been a real drag, and for periods that have lasted a long time, but I have used this example in response to the question asked in the title of this post. It is bringing to mind the original moment of consolation that set me on that particular path that has sustained me through the difficult times: I was certain about why I was there doing what I was doing. To the person asking the question in the title I would ask:

What drew you into the work you are doing in the first place?

Second time choice is more difficult to my mind, and involves much angst, a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, doubts, certainties, oscillation; what is called “turmoil of spirits”. We are arguing within and outwith ourselves at this point and it is pretty exhausting. Giving voice to a spiritual director of the push and pull, the attraction and the repulsion going on is invaluable in my experience. After my first time choice of training to be a spiritual director, I entered a period of questioning about it…it would mean going part time, less financial security as well as stability, it took two hours to travel to where the course was held…the list went on, and the decision had to be made very promptly, because of the way schools have to sort out staffing for the following academic year quite early. I felt under pressure to decide or delay making the decision for another year. My director logically, asked about making the decision to go part time now, and of applying for the course later, if I had doubts about the course. By the time I sat down on the train to go home, I realised that it was fear of going part time that was getting in the way, not my desire to do the course. This would be an example of the first rule Ignatius gives to help us with second time choice:

The love that moves and causes one to choose must descend from above, that is, from the love of God, so that before one chooses he should perceive that the greater or less attachment for the object of his choice is solely because of His Creator and Lord.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.

And so I realised that training to become a spiritual director was the attraction drawing me to God: fear of the consequences of going part time in order to do it was getting in the way, and that the fear was not of God. And when I put my MP3 player on, this was the song that played first:

Maggie Said: Natalie Merchant.

Holding back, what did I get for all of that? What did it count for? Tell me that, tell me that. Nothing, nothing, that’s a fact.

Maggie Said: Natalie Merchant,

I even wrote the chorus down. It haunted me, it was like a conversation wth an older version of myself – a very practical example of Ignatius’ third rule to help with second time choice:

This is to consider what procedure and norm of action I would wish to have followed in making the present choice if I were at the moment of death. I will guide myself by this and make my decision entirely in conformity with it.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.

And my decision was made, turmoil over. Ignatius gives another two suggestions in the first and fourth rules which involve considering what advice you would give to someone you have never met before who was struggling with the exact same decision to choose for the greater glory of God and also to picture yourself in front of God on your day of judgment and ask yourself which decision you would have wished to have made.

To the person asking the question and experiencing turmoil of spirits I would ask:

What is holding you in your current work?

And I would explore with them their fears, desires and motivations. I might ask:

What is preventing you from looking for a different job?

And I would definitely ask:

What happens when you put all this to God in prayer? How does He respond?

Third time choice is a means of making a choice when we are tranquil; when there is no push or pull, and one choice seems as another. Ignatius gives us a useful and practical tool. I used this method to decide whether to apply for a job in a different school.

I should apply for the job at School. I should NOT apply for the job at School.
Advantages Disadvantages Advantages Disadvantages

Church school – ethos  
Has a prayer room!  
Energy to pursue spiritual direction
Hassle of moving when I’m settled  
Would feel disloyal to people who have supported me  
Familiarity – established here   Good colleagues I know I work well with Have not enjoyed being here since last years stress

Notice the choice is framed as both a positive and negative, and the advantages and disadvantages of both are considered. It is more subtle than a staightforward list of pros and cons, and it is not the number of reasons in each column that is important, but the weight given to each of them. It draws out the different desires that are motivating us, even when we think we have no strong feelings about the decision. Also notice how specific the decision is – I can only discern for myself, and the only choice I had here was whether to apply for the job or not. Whether I was offered the job was someone else’s discernment, and whether I would accept it if offered it was yet another choice to be discerned. Above is only a small section of my grid but before I had finished it, I knew that I wanted to apply for the job, and I was also sure that, failing a terrible experience there, I would accept it if offered it. I have been there a year now and have not doubted the rightness of the choice for a moment.

To the person asking the question in the title, if they are tranquil (and the question itself and the way it was asked suggests not), but if they were, I would suggest trying Ignatius’ grid for themselves.

And finally, after making a choice by whatever way, Ignatius suggests that:

…the one who has made it must turn with great diligence to prayer in the presence of God our Lord, and offer Him his choice that the Divine Majesty may deign to accept and confirm it if it is for His greater service and praise.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.

Remembering that the absence of anything to contradict the decision can also be regarded as confirmation.

Answering the question in the title of this post is a very individual process. Ignatius describes ways of going about it which are helpful, and conversations with a spiritual director invaluable in helping the seeker find a way through until in the end, the choice is offered to God. In my experience, there is a deep, sustaining peace about choices made like this.

Holy Orders

Against the backdrop of reading the articles about the Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry and Women in the Priesthood in The Tablet last week (29 June 2019), I went to the Ordination service of five new priests on Saturday in St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Norwich. And I was deeply moved, especially at the point where those being ordained promised obedience to the bishop and his successors. It occurred to me that such a promise is no small thing. And it was standing room only in the cathedral, so there were a lot of witnesses!

St John the Baptist Cathedral, Norwich. The view from my spot on the floor, and symbolic of my thoughts wandering to the structures within the church.

When a new head is appointed where I work, and this has happened a few times, I get to make a decision about whether I am able to accept the authority of that person: similarly, if I attend an interview to move somewhere else, I get the same opportunity. If I am unable to respect and accept the authority of that person, I can walk away. Whose authority we submit to is a big deal, and an act of free will. I am reminded of a scene from the film Mary Magdalene:

Mary Magdalene – Preaching to the Women, A Question of Obedience

One question I get asked a lot is:

Have you ever thought of becoming a nun?

My answer is always no; however, I must think about it when people ask me the question. To be a nun is to live in community and to obey the authority of the head of that community. I’m more of a spiritual solitary, to go into my room and be alone with God; to discern from my prayer, with the help and wisdom of my spiritual director, and with the guidance of scripture, the Spiritual Exercises (the rules on discernment are very helpful) and of course, the church. The primacy of conscience is important to me, always being aware of my tendency towards pride. So, to witness five men promising their obedience and service to someone who will direct them to where they will work and for how long, and to surrender themselves in faith to God in this path, filled me with awe and moved me: goosebumps and tears. It is a huge deal. It’s easy to forget that in the storm of the current crisis in the church. There are many faithful priests and they deserve our respect and support. We should cherish them. I am grateful that I went to the ordination service; it has left me with a greater appreciation of what is given by some in praise, reverence and service to God. I think I will take it less for granted in the future.