Dan Burke is an award-winning author, writer, and speaker on Catholic spirituality. He has written and/or edited nine books on faithful Catholic spirituality and is the Executive Director and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register. Dan is the president of the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and the creator of Divine Intimacy Radio and SpiritualDirection.com.
We are in a particularly important time as faithful Catholics as the election cacophony swirls around us. Which voices do we listen to? How do we know who’s telling the truth? And what version of what’s supposedly true do we follow? How do we sort out the many decisions we have to make and the parameters we should be using to make them?
The process we use could be one of quick judgment, of liking X or Z, of being in line with Y or Q. We might let someone else make the decision for us and just tow a party line. In fact, there are many approaches, but which among our defaults is a truly Catholic approach, one that will bring us closer to God’s will for our lives and our country?
So often, we are quick to complain that God’s not listening to us and not sending us the help we need when and how we need it. Maybe the problem isn’t God. Maybe the problem is us. Father Mitch Pacwa’s recent book, How to Listen When God Is Speaking (Word Among Us Press), points us to the Ignatian model of discernment and spirituality. Father Mitch maintains that listening to God requires a set of skills that we need to learn. There’s not a switch to flip, as there is on our mp3 players and smartphones.
Consider what Ignatius termed consolations. Father Mitch explains, “Consolation is experienced with tears of sorrow as a person meditates on the depths of God’s love manifested in the sufferings of Christ.” He maintains that without being “aflame with love of [our] Creator and Lord” we will not fully be able to experience the movement of the Holy Spirit in their lives. This love affects our attitude toward everything else in our lives, including the possession of things or the pleasure derived from them, instead of the love of them for their own sake.
Experiencing consolation leads us to a change in attitude and also a “strong emotional response to the realities of the spiritual life.” You don’t cry over your sins when you think they’re no big deal, but when you see their consequence and the way they separate you from God, you can’t help but be moved. “Consolation is experienced with tears of sorrow as a person meditates on the depths of God’s love manifested in the sufferings of Christ.”
Ignatius describes desolation, on the other hand, as the opposite of consolation. “The soul feels sluggish, slothful, sad, and separated from God. The spiritual life is tepid or lukewarm and does not bring joy or peace.”
Using the rules of discernment is a great help for listening to God and determining if what we hear is, in fact, really God’s voice. Father Mitch takes you on a journey through them and teaches you to use them in every area of your life. After reading this book, you should be equipped to not only sift through the clamor of election voices, but also to determine whether the voice you hear is your own or actually God’s.