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June 4, 2023
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June 6, 2023

Priests help laity understand discernment

All of the reasoning, conversations and plans of Church are geared towards: “seeking to encounter God and to know God’s Will”; discerning the presence of God, and what God desires “for me or for we,” said Fr Peter Mc Isaac SJ.

Putting his statements in context, he said, “We’re not looking for the most productive plan, although that would be nice; we’re not looking for the best argument although sometimes, it would be good for us to be intelligent and reasonable but what we are doing is an exercise I would call contemplation.”

Fr Mc Isaac, Regional Superior of the Jesuits in Guyana and Jamaica, and Fr Jason Boatswain, Principal of the Seminary St John Vianney and the Uganda Martyrs were the featured speakers at the Catholic Religious Education Development Institute (CREDI) conference ‘Leadership and Discernment’ at the Centre of Excellence, Macoya on May 30.

Discussing the ‘Principles of Discernment’, Fr Mc Isaac said the process for deliberations was a shift from the democratic model and voting, to being like the early Church whose members came together and everyone got a chance to speak “then they began to reflect on where the Spirit was moving among them.”

Being aware of God’s presence is crucial in discernment, “You must be aware of that presence and expose ourselves to that presence, so we prepare ourselves before we begin,” Fr Mc Isaac said.

Discernment also meant learning the language of love. He advised participants, “You might notice in your prayer, times you are moved by desire, you are moved with emotion, you are gifted with intuition or ideas, all of these things, may be movements, they must be discerned…. We try to determine if these are genuinely from God or something which is coming from somewhere else.”

The first movement of discernment is an encounter— prayer. In communal discernment, the community goes through spiritual conversation to identify what is “consolation” and “desolation”.

Fr Mc Isaac listed the signs of personal and communal consolation and desolation. Being in “consolation” people share divine love, through contrition, healing, gratitude, or compassion.

Divine love is a movement of self to the other, whether it is God, neigbour, community, church, creation. “It is always a movement out of myself in order to contemplate God in the other,” he said.

In the process of discernment, the community recognises itself as loved by God; faith, hope, and love increase. There is a desire for inclusivity and gratitude, new freedom for renewal and transformation.

Desolation in contrast, leads to darkness, turmoil, interior agitation, restlessness, lack of faith, hope, love. “It makes us listless, tepid, separated from God.” At the parish level, there can be exclusion of people, preoccupation with personal agendas and making sure “my little group gets to do exactly what they want”; old, familiar, and ineffectual ideas are repeated.

The group is unwilling to face suffering or heal past wounds, there is competition, dishonesty, manipulation, control, and arrogance.

After a discernment process, there may not be consensus. Fr Mc Isaac said there can be residual disagreement, but the “spirit of love” encountered in the process is greater and the communion is strengthened.

Decision-making and discernment

Presenting on ‘Obstacles to Pastoral Discernment-Seeking Holy Indifference’, Fr Boatswain outlined the difference between decision-making and discernment. “Decision-making challenges us when we come, what is the best plan, the best strategy, what is in the best interest of the parish…. discernment moves you in a different direction: What is the will of God?”

He asked: “How do we sense the movement of the Holy Spirit and is this leading me to consolation or desolation?”

He observed that secular models of decision making are often used and even the language used came from secular approach. He stopped using this word “choir” in his parish and instead “music ministry” because they were not present to put on a show but to do a ministry.

He said in meetings a prayer may be hurriedly said at the start “to dress it up to look like something Christian but the real issue is to get down to the business at heart”.

Fr Boatswain distinguished between good leadership and spiritual leadership. He stated: “The Christian community is not only seeking good leaders, we are seeking spiritual leaders, therefore the need for a pastoral conversion to understand the communal leadership we are being asked for today.”

There are many qualities for good leadership but commitment to discerning the will of God with the help of the Holy Spirit distinguishes spiritual leadership from other kinds of leadership.

Fr Boatswain said: “We are not an NGO (non-governmental organisation); we are not a conglomerate; we are not some corporation. We are primarily the Body of Christ. That does not mean that we don’t use the best science, the best methods the world has to offer, but we always stay grounded to our tradition.”

Discernment is at the heart of pastoral leadership. This is how decisions on, “where to go, what to do and how to do it”, are made.