Introduction to Inspired Decision-Making:
Personal and Communal Discernment

The Ignatian tradition offers many gifts, one of which is the gift of Discernment which invites us to be open to God's spirit as we consider our feelings and rational thought in order to make decisions and take action that will contribute good to our lives and the world around us.1

Ignatian discernment, first articulated by St. Ignatius Loyola, offers a paradigm for making choices, in a spiritual context, between several possibilities all of which are potentially good2. It invites us to ask the question, 'What do I desire?' in the presence of a deepening relationship with God and the common good.

Drs. Wilkie and Noreen Au describe a contemporary personal discernment process based on the Ignatian tradition. It begins by outlining the decision -- the issues, concerns and values that are at stake. Throughout the process, we are called to Ignatian indifference, a state of inner freedom, openness, and balance that allows us beforehand not to incline more toward one option than to another.3 We are invited to pray and reflect on the matter noticing the interplay of reason, affect and faithful experience in our decision-making process. We consider the head work, the pros and cons, as well as the heart work and asking ourselves do our feelings go along with what our mind has decided. When the head and heart match, when we are enlivened and generally at peace with a decision, we experience Ignatian consolation and may proceed with the decision. When the head and heart are in disharmony, when we feel uneasy, agitated, or anxious (what Ignatius would call desolation), we should keep the process open until we arrive at a decision that the head and heart can embrace. Consolation lets us know that we are in tune with The Spirit, and deciding together God's will; as has been said, Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.4 The discernment process ends with a call to share our decisions with those that will be affected and to live-out our decisions with courage, hope and trust in God.

The approach to Ignatian group decision-making, or communal discernment, mirrors the process of personal discernment. It offers a way to govern, lead, and make challenging decisions just as Ignatius and his first companions used in their deliberations in forming the Society.5 As outlined by the Jesuit Fr. Michael Sheeran SJ,it includes a weighing of the pros and cons of each option in light of shared values and mission, a call to Ignatian indifference by all members of the group, and attention to our feelings and to God's presence. Where disagreement occurs, we are to make a special effort to understand how the other views the choice. That is, to see with the other person's eyes. Deliberations continue until all are united and can own the decision. Confirmation is experienced together through a shared sense of contentment and peace - and a commitment to carrying out the decision. 6

Popular novelist, J.K. Rowling, has stated,
'It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. Ignatian spirituality is a spirituality of choice,5 and it is through the discernment process, both personal and communal, that we experience the gift of making truly inspired choices.


1. Xavier University Discernment Group I: Report to the President, 2009.
2George Traub SJ (2012 ed.) Do You Speak Ignatian: A Glossary of Terms Used in Ignatian and Jesuit Circles.
3. Wilkie and Noreen Cannon Au (2008). Refining the Acoustics of the Heart, pp 192-216. In George Traub, Editor, An Ignatian Spirituality Reader: Contemporary Writings on St Ignatius Loyola, the Spiritual Exercises, Discernment, and More.
4Attributed to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ.
5. William Byron SJ (2000). Ours is a Spirituality of Choice, Jesuit Saturdays: Sharing the Ignatian Spirit with Lay Colleagues and Friends.
6. Michael Sheeran SJ (1987). "A Tradition in Common," St Joseph's Magazine, pp. 27-30.

By Debra Mooney, PhD

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