Fringes of Frontiers

While everyone is called to discernment, we cannot expect everyone to discern of the same depth. Discernment is not an easy thing. It is a lifetime commitment and project. It is not merely a mental process of thinking about the pros and cons of life.

Discernment requires conscience but the latter is not formed overnight. It is correct to say that conscience is the sanctuary where the human person meets God in his total nakedness as a being. But moral theology tells us that some consciences may not be fully formed as they are scrupulous or lax. This can be explained by the relationship between conscience and the intellect.

A good conscience requires intellectual formation which is no less the human person’s correct understanding and appreciation of the realities around him. For intellect to truly guide the human person, it must be directed to the truth which is more than just the facts of life or their scientific assemblage.

Given this, I would like to go back to the premise that discernment is not easy, and it is a lifetime project. The human person needs to allow himself to psychologically grow and develop in life.

We may even consider the economic factors which are no less contributory to a person’s capacity to acquire resources that are needed to learn. This is truer in a society that is driven or dictated by capitalism where education is merely a compartment of the economic system.

I have a critique therefore of “trendy” calls to discern “especially in Catholic institutions as if doing so is as easy as closing one’s eyes.

Today, we hear such words as “circles of discernment,” “discerning our journey,” and “discerning our mission.” It’s as if discernment is a management or marketing strategy or a dietary plan to follow to achieve weight loss.

The great spiritual masters from whom we learned discernment techniques were able to develop their spiritual technology because of how they pondered “life” and “human existence” as a much broader concern than work and relationships.

I am not saying that we cannot apply discernment techniques to employment and relationships but if ever we do, we have to be ready to embrace that we may just have to fashion or choose them in light of life’s much bigger blueprint.

It would therefore be intellectually dishonest on the part of an institution (e.g. a seminary or a religious society) to ask people to discern with the hope that the fruit of discernment would be totally in their favor.

Neither is discernment as easy as “reflecting” or being on the “advantageous side” of things. The end of discernment is not merely economic gain, success, and fulfillment. Through the optics of faith, the subject is God (for those who believe in Him) or life in general (for those who subscribe to the notion of secular faith).

God being the subject of discernment makes the process more challenging. Revelation, or God’s self-communication is not in black and white. It is dynamic, progressive, or even evolutionary. We cannot immediately understand God in his entirety and more so his will for us. If we cannot even understand a human person through a singular or one-time experience, how much more is the Divine in his infinite attributes?

If only God’s self-communication is a clear-cut instruction then everything may just be carried out that easily. But imagine a world where people just live their lives based on pure and clear instructions. Such a world would render human freedom unnecessary, and without human freedom, relationships would be meaningless or even useless.*


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