APPLICATION TO CONTEMPORARY SPIRITUALITY 
Discernment as expression of transformed perception and desire
Catherine’s wisdom highlights that following God’s will occurs not just at moments when we engage in a discernment process. Living according to God’s will is ultimately a matter of how we choose and act day to day out of the depths of who we are. The more the depth of who we are is transformed away from self-centeredness and the more we become capable of seeing and choosing what is good for others in our life or for the common good, the more our spontaneous acts and choices will be congruent with God’s will. Every day we make judgment calls when we make choices about how to react to a person or situation or make one of many day-to-day decisions. These judgments are all more likely to be congruent with God’s will in an automatic manner as our heart is transformed more and more into our capacity to love.
In other words, to the extent that our deepest motivation—rooted in all of who we are—is free of self-centeredness and moved by God’s love, then we are likely to act in an ordered manner that is congruent with God’s will.
This wisdom reminds us that if we wish to follow God’s will, we must not only engage in occasional conscious discernment processes. We must also be engaged in an ongoing relationship with God that includes time to reflect on our experience so the dynamic of knowledge of God and self so well described by Catherine, can change our heart. As well, reflection on God’s action within us can facilitate our cooperating with transforming grace/love.
Catherine’s wisdom, then, highlights for us that recognition of God’s will and choosing accordingly is not just for certain conscious moments of decision making. In this emphasis her wisdom is Biblical, reflecting, for instance, Paul’s teaching in his Epistles that acting out of love-charity is the ultimate accomplishment of God’s will. Addressing the new Hebrew Christians, Paul explains that fulfillment of the law—or doing God’s will—had to do with love. Paul tells the new Hebrew followers of Christ that God’s will is living out of a transformed heart; and “fulfilling of the law” meant loving one’s neighbor and God.
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor: therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Rm 13:8-10, NRSV)
Paul’s formulation reminds us that engaging in correct outer behaviors (following the law without acting out of love-charity) is important but does not mean we are ultimately following God’s will in terms of the law of love. In this way, Paul’s teaching echoes that of Catherine: the commitment to follow God’s will must start with a commitment to a journey of transformation where we take time to connect to God in order to allow God to change our hearts. In other words, the fact that one follows certain church rules or recites certain prayers, or even adheres to good morals, does not mean one is acting out of love-charity, the ultimate criterion for God’s will. Following the law without a journey of transformation–engaging in a relationship with God and the related spiritual endeavor of knowledge of God and self—may not lead to acting out of love-charity, and, therefore, acting on a regular basis according to God’s will.
Complementarity discernment of Spirits and virtue of discernment traditions
Since the discernment of spirits tradition—such as the Ignatian tradition—is most common in the practice of spirituality today, I reflect here on the complementarity of this tradition with the virtue of discernment tradition that influenced Catherine’s wisdom.
The discernment of spirits tradition offers practical guidelines for examination and reflection on inner experience, so that one can sort out how one is being guided by the Spirit. Such practical guidelines for sorting out one’s perceptions and desires are a valuable complement to Catherine’s wisdom which implies that depending on our level of transformation, consulting our deepest desires or insights guide us to God’s will. Practical guidelines for discernment can function as a complement to consulting one’s deepest desires and insights.
For instance, in the case of major life decisions one may not want to rely only on one’s deepest desire, for none of us is fully transformed. In this case, discernment according to an intentional process would be a significant complement to consultation of one’s deepest motivation. As well, there are life situations where there may be several ordered options that we equally desire so that simply consulting our deepest motivation and desire while present to God does not clarify the choice that should be made.
On the other hand, Catherine’s wisdom offers balance to discernment of spirits. For following a process or set of guidelines, as Ignatius himself would tell us, does not necessarily lead us to discover God’s will. Ignatius would tell us that an inner attitude of detachment from our own views and desires and a transformed desire to follow Christ must be contexts for discernment. Catherine’s approach highlights transformation as essential for discernment.
Guidelines for discernment based on Catherine’s wisdom
What would Catherine advice today’s seeker who wants to follow God’s will and discern how God is guiding them? Since her wisdom on discernment highlights transformation in order to regularly act according to God’s will through ordered desire, she would advise engaging in an ongoing spiritual journey where one takes time to quiet oneself, turning awareness of one’s inner consciousness to God’s presence; she would urge us to engage in learning how God loves us and how much we need God. In the context of this process of knowledge of God and self, we can consult our deepest motivations and desires, trusting we are moving in an ordered manner (meaning according to God’s will).
Catherine would certainly advise that knowledge of God and self—foundational for discernment—are furthered by participation in the Christian community. For instance, participation in church services and Bible groups contribute to our formation and capacity to know God. For those in sacramental traditions, she would encourage participation in the sacraments, significant sources of God’s love important to our transformation. Catherine would point to the usefulness of dialoguing with wise, spiritually mature persons close to us and/or a spiritual guide that can help us know ourselves and reflect on our experience of God.
And she would advise that we regularly consult our deepest desires—when present to God and conscious of surrendering our self-centered concerns—in order to seek God’s will for our day-to-day choices and actions.
While Catherine offers no guidelines for engaging in a discernment process, I propose the following based on her wisdom.
- Examine ourselves to see to what extent we are engaged in a personal connection with God, with Jesus, with the Spirit.
- Make an honest appraisal of how much we are willing to hear what God wants to say to us.
- Make an honest assessment of our motives and a priori preferences in a particular situation.
- Engage in a prayer process asking God to order our motives and render us willing to hear God’s guidance.
- Choose to surrender to God our self-centered biases.
- When in prayer and after acts of surrender to God, observe what we desire from the bottom of our hearts and minds.
- One could also meditate using Catherine’s metaphor of light. We imagine a beam that is God’s light, shining on the issue about which we want to discern. We spend time meditating on this image and see what insights arise through the work of the Spirit within us.