The importance of communal discernment

A vital aspect of this process lies in connecting
to where the Spirit is moving within the group.

 FINDING GOD IN ALL THINGS 

By Fr Rob Morris SJ, Director of JISA’s Sevenhill Spirituality Centre in South Australia 

Listening for signs of God’s presence in our lives is a fundamental characteristic of Ignatian spirituality. While focus is often given to individual discernment, communal discernment through spiritual conversation is an equally important part of the Ignatian tradition. In 1537, Ignatius and his early companions undertook a communal discernment process to decide the future name and direction of their small group. This group discernment helped clarify key features of what would become the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits. 

Spiritual conversation or conversation in the Spirit involves active listening and intentional speaking at the level of the heart, an openness to the Spirit of God being active and alive in every person. This entails accepting that the Spirit is active even in those we disagree with, allowing ourselves to be challenged and even thrown off balance (squilibrio) by the Spirit’s movements. 

Unlike other conversations and group meetings, spiritual conversation and discernment in common are grounded in prayer. They require that time is spent in prayer with God to listen to what the Spirit is saying and to recognise the different spirits moving within oneself. Another characteristic of these practices is that they require humility and vulnerability on the part of the group, an acceptance that every group is marked by sin and is called to deeper conversion. 

Discernment in common is not about the strongest argument winning the day, nor is it about finding one right answer. It is more about connecting to where the Spirit is moving within the group, where the consolations are that lead to a deeper sense of freedom and clarity. When used well, spiritual conversation and discernment in common lead to a sense of liberation, clearing blockages that impinge growth and bringing sources of desolation to light. 

As with individual discernment, these practices engage the reality of our lives. As with a single individual, groups are subject to the vicissitudes of life, periods of life and growth, as well as periods of death or decline. Communal discernment can allow a group to recognise and acknowledge these cycles, tapping into the deeper sources of communal life, identity and purpose. 

In recent times, Pope Francis has called on the Church to become more discerning at the level of governance and in other areas of ecclesial life: the Synod on Synodality, for example. We are invited to respond to this call to rediscover the art of spiritual conversation for the good of the Church and the world. 

For more details about being guided in Conversation in the Spirit, please contact Jesuit and Ignatian Spirituality Australia (JISA) at info@jisa.org.au.

The original version of this article can be seen here. 

Banner image by doidam10, Canva.

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