YEAC helps  to keep homes safe
March 20, 2024
Make sure to spend time with God,  Archbishop tells new priest
March 20, 2024

Opening up our spiritual ‘toolkit’

Q: Archbishop J, what toolkit will we need for this new OS upgrade?

We have seen in the past weeks the upgrade that Pope Francis has proposed for the Church—synodality. Many fear that this is a sneaky way to change the Church’s fundamentals—its doctrine, rules, and morals. In fact, the operating system (OS) upgrade does not touch those directly, rather it gives us another way to be what Vatican II has asked us to be, in a much better way.

Once we agree that the whole people of God are on pilgrimage together towards the Kingdom, the course is set. This course, as we have seen, has several implications.

The first is that the People of God have the capacity to discern God’s will in the little and big. This is spelled out in the Vatican document of the International Theological Commission, Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church (2014):

By the gift of the Holy Spirit … the faithful have an instinct for the truth of the Gospel, which enables them to recognise and endorse authentic Christian doctrine and practice, and to reject what is false. That supernatural instinct, intrinsically linked to the gift of faith received in the communion of the Church, is called the sensus fidei, and it enables Christians to fulfil their prophetic calling (1, 2).

With this foundation, we need to see the Holy Spirit as the protagonist for the Church as a whole, working through each member. Because of free will, the work of the Holy Spirit is not automatic in us. Thus, to listen to the Holy Spirit in a more consistent and deeper way is the first and most important tool in our kit.


Top level of the toolkit

At the top level of the toolkit are the daily tools for sustaining our spiritual life. The early Church condensed this in four devotions. Acts 2:42 states: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

These four devotions formed the Church to be missionary. “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (2:47). The life of the early Christian was so attractive that people were drawn to them in great numbers.

What is much more intriguing is the high quality of fellowship that the Church had: “Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people” (Acts 2:43–47). This was a highly relational church.

It seems that the early experience of church fellowship was a given and part of the devotion. The Greek term Koinonia captures the sense of fellowship—a combination of community, communion, joint participation, sharing and intimacy. In the early Church, this was a given because the society placed a high value on community. Today, however, with the rise of individualism, we need tools for building fellowship.

So, included in the toolkit, at the top level, must be growing people in relationship, friendship, and bonds of love, through their common identity as disciples and members of the Body of Christ.

At this level of the toolkit, we should find the Rosary, the Morning and Evening Prayer of the Church, Christian Meditation, Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, the Examination of Conscience, and other prayers of the Church.

Here too we should find, a site for formation and great Catholic content (every Catholic of our Archdiocese has free access). The schools we run in July/August—Bible, Evangelisation, Communications, Liturgy, and Prayer must also find their place here.


Second level of the toolkit

Once people have the four devotions, at the next level are the tools of discernment. Communal discernment is founded on a deep prayer life and openness to the Holy Spirit.

As the first letter of St John says: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

Speaking about discernment, Fr Peter McIsaac SJ says:

All processes of communal discernment are grounded in basic spiritual principles and these are related to various forms of personal discernment as well. So, the Examen is a form of daily discernment; the review of prayer is a form of discernment after a method of prayer; I often ask people to do a review of a retreat, or even a life review; In all of these exercises there is a discernment going on: there is an attentiveness to the presence of the Spirit, an awareness of how that presence had an interior effect on me (consolation or desolation), and an interpretation of what these interior movements might mean. The “examen of consciousness” creates an ongoing habit of discerning the presence and activity of the Spirit.

At this second level ought to be Lectio Divina, listening to Christ in Scripture and the Examen of Consciousness — to consciously reflect on the movements of the good and bad spirits during that day and how they shaped our response. When we become aware of the movements of spirits in our daily life, we will become aware of it in group conversation generally and in a Conversation in the Spirit, specifically.

Regularly using tools of discernment move us from the rung of a mere Christian to a disciple seeking God’s will in things little and big. This is why I have asked every Catholic school, altar servers’ group, Confirmation class, and youth group to practise Christian Meditation and the Examen every day together with a daily sacrifice.


Third level of the toolkit

A good toolkit has three levels. The big tools are at the bottom. Here we have the Conversation in the Spirit which was outlined in my last column. It is the biggest and most formal tool in the kit. It is pulled out when there is need for a formal discernment of a group on a specific matter. There are other tools in the third level.

Parish councils or groups may use a simple conversation on a matter on the agenda. The priest or coordinator of the meeting may realise there is more energy in this item than first realised. Here, there can be a pause, an invitation to participants to seek wisdom from the Holy Spirit on the matter.

This may lead to new insights and perspectives that may resolve the matter. If not this matter could be tabled for a formal discernment using Conversation in the Holy Spirit.

The informal conversation uses the same second level skills of discernment—interior movements, consolation, and desolation of the group, prompting of the Holy Spirit and sensing communion in the group. It should be prepared for with a one-page document on the matter for discernment and formal prayer of participants beforehand.

But all of our meetings need Lectio Divina, or similar, integrated into our meetings so that the Bible animates the pastoral life of the Church. At this level, the tool must suit the task.

Families may be stuck on a specific point and use the formal Conversation in the Spirit. Or, around the dining room table, may employ a more fluid listening to each other and to the Holy Spirit about a matter at hand.

Or they could pause and decide that each person take the matter to prayer and use the Examen each day for a week to see what the Holy Spirit is speaking to each member of the family. At the end of the week, they come together, pray, and share on the fruit of each person’s discernment.

Think of a toolkit not as just a single tool. Remember, for a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail.

Over the next few years, we need to help all disciples and leaders to build out their toolkit and become comfortable using the tools appropriately.


Photo by Anuja Tilj on Unsplash