A trigonometry in your life that includes peace and joy: discernment according to Peter Kreeft

On August 31, Pope Francis began a series of catechesis on discernment, which should extend into several sessions of his public audiences on Wednesdays.

For the Jesuits -the congregation of Jorge Mario Bergoglio- The theme of discernment has always been very important, based on the experience and writings of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

But all Christians in history, and before them the Jews, have met the same challenge: How do you know what God wants you to do?

Evidently, God wants men to do good and avoid evil. But when making concrete decisions, what to decide? Getting married and having children is fine, entering religious life too. One can be an entrepreneur and create jobs, or become a hermit and pray for everyone. What does God specifically ask of each one?

Pope Francis began by pointing out the joy that moves the Magi or the characters who sell everything in the parables to buy your precious pearl or buried treasure: joy is a criterion.

And there is more: “In a good, correct decision, the will of God meets our will, the current path meets the eternal. To make a correct decision after a path of discernment is to make this encounter. Time with the eternal. Therefore, knowledge, experience, affection, will: they are some indispensable elements of discernment,” the Pope said.

Discernment according to Peter Kreeft: joy and some common sense

A modern and popular author who has written on discernment is the American Peter Kreeft. Born 1937, American Catholic apologist, philosopher, and writer, considered by many to be heir to the charisma of CS Lewis or GK Chesterton to talk about complicated things in a simple way.

From a Protestant family, in his youth became a Catholic by studying the ancient Church and the Eucharist, the saints, devotion to Mary and Christ’s call to visible unity. He was influenced by the texts of Saint John of the Cross and the beauty of the cathedrals. Kreeft is popular for his “Handbook of Christian Apologetics” or his book “Forty Reasons I’m a Catholic.”

On his website, he has published a article on discernment (in English) which can give us many clues.

“When there are two or more different paths open before us and we have to choose, Does God always want one of those paths for us? And if so, how do we discern it?”poses.

Remember that, according to the saints, “God not only knows and loves us in general, but he is interested in every detail of our lives, and that we should seek to follow his will in all things, great and small.” But on the other hand, “He has given us free will and reason why He wants us to use them. for taking decisions”.

“In other words, if you really love God and his will, then doing what you want will, in fact, be doing what God wants,” he details.

A compass helps guide us but… where does God want us to go? (Photo by Tim Graf for Unsplash).

Kreeft points out 5 general principles “for discerning the will of God”:

1. Always start from the data, with what we already know for sure. Judge the unknown with the known, the uncertain with the certain. Adam and Eve disregarded this principle in Eden and ignored the clear command that God gave them, following the empty promises of the devil.

two. Let your heart educate your mind. May your love for God educate your reason to discern his will. Jesus teaches this principle in John 7:17 to the Pharisees. Would that certain scholars of Scripture today would heed it. They asked him how they could interpret his words and he gave them the first principle of hermeneutics (the science of interpreting): “If your will were to do the will of my Father, you would understand my teaching.” Saints understand the Bible better than theologians, because they understand its primary author, God, loving it with all their hearts and all their minds.

3. Have a tender heart but a firm head. We should be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves”, sharp as a fox in thought, but loyal as a dog in deed and will. A soft heart is no excuse for a soft head, and a firm head is no excuse for a hard heart. In our hearts we should be “soft-hearted liberals” and in our heads “steadfast conservatives.”

4. TAll signs from God should line up, like some kind of trigonometry. There are at least 7 such signs:

1) Scripture,
2) the teachings of the Church,
3) human reason, which God created,
4) the appropriate situation, or circumstances (which He controls through His providence),
5) conscience, our innate sense of right and wrong,
6) our personal inclination, or desires or instincts,
7) and prayer.

Put the election to the test by lifting it up before the face of God. If one of these 7 voices says “no”, then don’t do it. If no one says no, do it.

5. Look for the fruits of the Spirit, especially the first three: joy, love, and peace.. If we are angry and anxious and worried, without love, without peace, without joy, we have no right to say that we are sure to follow the will of God.

Discernment itself should not be something rigid, brittle, anxious, but – since it is also part of God’s will for our lives – something joyful, full of love and peace, more like a game than a war, more like writing love letters that like facing final exams.

For the most conservative: “enjoy what God gives you”

Peter Kreft defines himself as conservative and orthodoxand points out that, like many Christians with that profile that he knows, “often we allow ourselves to be deformed by our desire – in itself very good – to find God’s perfect will for us. We give a very bad witness to non-Christians: we seem incapable of relaxing, of stopping to smell the roses of God, to enjoy the life that God gives us. We often seem frightened, restless, terribly serious, humorless and brittle. In short, the kind of people who do not look very good announcing our faith.”

“I’m not suggesting that we lower even the dot of an ‘i’ from our faith to appeal to unbelievers. I’m simply proposing that we be human. Go watch a soccer game. enjoy a drink (only one) unless you are at risk of alcoholism. Goof around a bit from time to time. Tickle your children and your wife. Learn to tell a good joke. Read the novel “Portofino” by Frank Schaeffer, it’s fun. Go live in Italy for a while.

All have to discern… with their normal uncertainties

Discernment is something that all Christians should do, it is part of the normal Christian life, and rarely, if ever, will it be some kind of very clear supernatural guidance, Kreeft warns.

Even in the Bible, the characters decide by praying and thinking, but they rarely receive concrete miraculous instructions. When it happens, it is pointed out because it is miraculous.

Nor does the Bible teach that we should find, Kreeft details, “a single correct answer to every practical problem. The Gospel frees us from sin and its consequences, but not from suffering and uncertainties. Darkness and uncertainty are as common in the lives of the saints, in Scripture and beyond, as are poverty and pain. The only thing common to all humanity that the Gospel guarantees that it will take away from us is sin (and its consequences, death, guilt and fear), not suffering and not uncertainties. If God had wanted us to know clear and infallible paths for sure he would have told us clearly and infallibly.”

God gives freedom to choose between various goods

Kreeft notes that God gave man free will, “for example, so that love might be infinitely more valuable than unfree, instinctive animal affection.” And he too – he suspects as a teacher – so that men “learn how to exercise their own judgment by finding answers themselves.”

Reason and free will always go together. God created both in us as part of his image. He gives us supernatural revelations for both: dogmas for our reason and commandments for our will. But just like did not give us all the answers, not even in theology, when applying the dogmas or pointing out their consequences, he did not give us all the answers in moral or practical guidance, when applying the commandments and pointing out their consequences,” he adds.

So, he says, “I think God wants us to follow our hearts. Probably, if John loves Mary more than Susan, he will have more reason to think that God is leading him. If your heart loves God, he is worth following. If not, well, then you’re not interested in the issue of discernment either.”

Gaining peace of mind is another criteria

“When we follow the advice of Saint Augustine to “love God and do what you want”, we usually experience great peace and relief. Peace is a sign of the Holy Spirit. I already know quite a few people who have abandoned Christianity altogether because they lacked that peace. They tried to be super Christian in everything and the pressure was unbearable. They should have read Galatians.”

And being picky about every choice doesn’t make sense either. “If God has only one right choice in everything you do, where would you draw the line? That would mean God wants you to know which room to clean first, the kitchen or the bedroom; and what cutlery to choose first, the plates or the sauce boat. You see? If you follow the implications of this logic, it seems to be ridiculous, something impossible to live, and not the kind of life that God wants for us, the kind described in the Bible and the lives of the saints.”

“Many very different things are good; good is plural. Even for the same person, there are often two or more options, and both are good. God is kaleidoscopic,” he says.

To write different stories, God gives us freedom

Kreeft compares decisions in life to “writing the story of your own life and of your own being, because you shape your person with your choices, like a statue that was its own sculptor. But God uses different human means to achieve different results.” He is the primary author of every book of the Bible, too, but the personality of each human author is no less clear than in secular literature.”

God is the universal storyteller. He wants many different stories. And he wants you to thank him for the unique story that is going to come out of your own free will and choices. Because your free will and his eternal plan are not two competing things, but two sides of the same coin. We cannot fully understand this great mystery in this life, because we see the tapestry only from below. But in Heaven, I think, one of the things we’ll praise God for and thank him for is the crazy and wonderful and dangerous way he put the steering wheel of our lives in our hands, like a parent teaching a young child to drive,” he adds.

“God, in giving us free will, told us: ‘Thy will be done’. Some of us give it back and We say, “My will is that your will be done.” That is obedience to the first and greatest commandment. So when we do that, He turns to us and says, “and now, your will will be done.” Y He writes the story of our lives with the pencil of our free choices“.

Here, Peter Kreeft explains why reincarnation is illogical.

Here, Christopher Kaczor explains why Peter Kreeft is a teacher for this generation.

A Jesuit video on how Saint Ignatius reflected on discernment lying wounded in bed; the lasting joy that was felt in his heart was a criterion for his vocation (but it is not only discerned about the vocation).

A trigonometry in your life that includes peace and joy: discernment according to Peter Kreeft