A Service for Discernment in Common

March 14, 2019 — When Ignatius of Loyola and his first nine companions were prevented from fulfilling their wish to go to the Holy Land, because in that year 1539 sea travel was blocked by the threat of war between Venice and the Turks, they wondered how their shared adventure, which had begun in Paris five years earlier, could continue.

Group of people sitting in a circle, discerning

They had made themselves available to the Pope and knew that he had plans to disperse them for different missions. In these conditions, how to pursue the spiritual journey that had brought them together?

The companions then decided to meet to discuss their vocation and their way of life (pdf). Should their group be given an official structure to survive the dispersion? And if so, should it become a religious order under the authority of one of them?

The Society of Jesus was born of this initial discernment in common. At the end of a long process of prayer, reflection and conversation, the companions unanimously recognized that the foundation of a religious order, of which Ignatius of Loyola would be the superior, would be the best way to continue to live their consecration to the Lord, in service of the Pope to whom they had dedicated themselves, while remaining united.

This story may seem trivial: members of any group are periodically called upon to make decisions about their future. And creating of a new religious order was by no means an extraordinary thing at the time. The originality of their approach lies not so much in the nature of this decision as in their way of proceeding.

In their attempt to figure out the next steps, the founding fathers of the Society of Jesus were inspired by the dynamics of the Spiritual Exercises, composed by Ignatius of Loyola experienced by all of them. The purpose of the Exercises is to help people recognize their deep aspiration to love and serve God with all their being and to choose freely, under the motion of the Holy Spirit, how to direct their lives accordingly.

The first companions were searching for what would keep them in the greatest service of God. The decision-making process should therefore honour this deep aspiration, so that the option chosen would be its most faithful expression.

The companions paid attention to how the Spirit was leading the group, recognizing, through the sharing of inner movements of consolation and desolation, that a convergence of views and a shared consolation were beginning to manifest themselves when the creation of a religious order was evoked. These communal spiritual movements led them to recognize and welcome this orientation as that of the greatest service, and therefore of the greatest joy!

Discernment in common can therefore be compared to "spiritual exercises for groups", enabling group members to identify and choose in a given context the path of the greatest service of God.

This decision-making method is constructive: it makes it possible to go beyond debate by fostering mutual listening and creativity, leading up to new perspectives. It is also energizing, because it relies on and strengthens all along the way the inner freedom of group members.

Like personal discernment, common discernment is therefore an integral part of the spiritual heritage of the Society of Jesus. The 36th General Congregation reaffirmed its importance as a constitutive dimension of Jesuit identity.

In this perspective, the Province of Canada has created a Service for Discernment in Common to assist Jesuit missions and apostolates, but also other organizations, in conducting their own communal discernment processes. Feel free to contact me for more information!

Sr. Laurence Loubière profile pictureLaurence Loubières
Director of the Service for Discernment in Common
lloubieres@jesuits.org





Recent News

July 27, 2020 — The Jesuit Province of Canada has recently established a new way to be of service to the province, the apostolates, and the Jesuit communities – as well as to nonprofit organizations and the private sector – by helping them to engage in the process of discernment in common.

Brother Jacques Dubé died at the infirmary at Richelieu at 2:30 p.m. on July 16, 2020, at the age of 89, after 65 years of religious life. The provincial had once said that he knew how to "bring beauty and joy" to the communities where he lived.

July 13, 2020 — How do we reach out to people in a pandemic? How do we respond to their spiritual needs and promote a contemplative life while gatherings are banned?

Father Demetrius MICHAILIDÈS died at the Richelieu infirmary on the evening of June 25. He had joined the Jesuit community at the Richelieu residence in July 2016. He taught dogmatic theology at the Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut, as well as in Belgium and New York.

June 26, 2020 — In Canada, COVID-19 has had an impact on all aspects of our lives since March and we have already shared the changes it has brought to our work. However, as Frantz Georges S.J. reminds us, “the spiritual experience is fundamental in the lives of all Christians.”

June 22, 2020 – The Holy Cross Church in Wiikwemkoong, Ontario, founded and still run by Jesuits, was vandalized between Saturday, June 13 and the early hours of Sunday, June 14.

June 19, 2020 — The Support Group for Rural Development (GADRU) is a nonprofit organization founded by Fr. Jean-Marie Louis, SJ, not only to oversee and promote the rights of those living in rural communities but also to participate in the construction of an inclusive, fair, and democratic society.

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