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Discernment in Common

Steps for effective process of discernment in common

Introduction to Discernment in Common

The Early Church faces a crucial decision…together

Acts 15: 19-22.

Comment: The issue was full of emotion and tension. Would the Church include non Jews? Or would it remain a group within the Jewish community? The passage shows how there was listening involved, a willingness to hear another point of view, the ability somehow to manage the fears and tensions and, in the middle of all that, to hear the voice of the Spirit.

“Discernment is not an advertising slogan; it is not an organizational technique or a fad of this pontificate but an interior attitude rooted in an act of faith.”

Pope Francis, Youth Synod, Oct 3 2018

Discernment – A Way of Life

Discernment is becoming more and more known and practiced in the religious world; secular forms are also developing and is seen as a vital part of decision making. However, discernment, in its essence, is not about making decisions or about resolving questions or problems. It is, fundamentally, a way of being. It is about seeing how the Spirit is at work in our lives and in our world. It is about learning how to feel where the Spirit is moving and to learn how to follow that direction. If we learn to tune in like this then decisions on concrete points will follow more easily. Conversely, if we don’t know about discernment of the Spirits we can’t really decide very well in accordance with those Spirits. But tasting the Spirits is the first thing.

This separation of Decision making from the rules for Discerning spirits has its basis in the Spiritual Exercises; there the rules for discerning the Spirits are in a separate section from the guidelines for the election.

It is vital to avoid being trapped in a mechanical methodology that sees discernment as just another method. It is deeper than that. It is a whole way of being.

Situational and Decisional Discernment

There are different kinds of discernment that go on in the lives of groups and individuals.

Situational discernment could involve, for example, discerning the secular challenge in a country; the atmosphere in a community; the wider Province; or, indeed, in the whole Society of Jesus. It involves reflecting on data, basically asking “What is happening in this situation? What are our different reactions to it? What are the different movements that go on in our hearts?” Discerning these movements is important. A province or community may be in basic consolation, in which case, the thoughts, reaction and interactions are trustworthy. But a Province or a community can be in a kind of desolation with different thoughts emerging from that desolation. However, as we know from St. Ignatius, the analysis of the situation can’t be trusted when one comes from a situation of desolation.

Decisions…Decisions

Ignatius identifies three kinds of decision situations. One is where one is so clear that a particular option is from God that you just go ahead. Another is a time of rationality, where you weigh the pros and cons dispassionately. Another is where the group or individual is swayed by different ‘movements’ of heart, where prospect of that decision evokes strong reactions and movements of heart and mind and soul. If one is in desolation or if one is experiencing movements of the bad Spirit, Ignatius says “don’t change”. Try not to be influenced by those movements. Wait until consolation occurs.

3 Key elements for Discernment in Common

Apostolic Planning and Discernment

Discernment is not, in its essence, about making decisions or about resolving questions or problems. It is, fundamentally, a way of being. It is about seeing how the Spirit is at work in our lives and in our world. It is about learning how to feel where the Spirit is moving and to learn how to follow that direction. If we learn to tune in like this then decisions on concrete points will follow more easily. Conversely, if we don’t know about discernment of the Spirits we can’t really decide very well in accordance with those Spirits. But tasting the Spirits is the first thing.

This separation of Decision making from the rules for Discerning spirits has its basis in the Spiritual Exercises; there the rules for discerning the Spirits are in a separate section from the guidelines for the election.

It is vital to avoid being trapped in a mechanical methodology that sees discernment as just another method. It is deeper than that. It is a whole way of being. Because of this we can’t make a proper Apostolic Plan without discernment.

Questions for reflection

  • Recall a decision that I had to take personally? Can I identify elements of discernment that were involved?
  • Recall a decision that were taken in a group. What discernment elements, if any, were involved? Did one person dominate? Was it a free decision? How did you feel about your role in the group?

step 1

Preparing the group

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WHAT WE NEED TO DO

  1. Clarify the question or issue to be discussed.
  2. Gather key stakeholders and give them a quick formation on the process.
  3. Establish the group objectives and expectations.
  4. Clarify who is going to make the final decision, the group or a single person.
 

“Discernment in common is the prior condition for apostolic planning at all levels of the Society’s organisational structure.”

Fr. A. Sosa, Letter 27 Sep 2017

MAIN IDEAS

At the beginning of any Discernment in Common it is crucial to clarify the question, we need to understand the context, review the mission and make sure the issue requires a Discernment in Common.

Once the question/issue is clear, we can decide who should take part in the process. The people will be subject matter experts in that particular matter; they might be Jesuits, Lay, Women, and other religious orders, faith and culture. For some people it could be their first Discernment in Common and before the start, they will need to be taught (briefly 1 hour) the basics of Spiritual Conversation and Personal Freedom. The other exercises outlined in these documents can be performed step by step even for the first time. To get the group going and familiar with Discernment in Common it is suggested to perform an example/mock Discernment for a simple issue (example: where should we go for dinner), this will ensure people know the steps of the process and what awaits them. The group will become more united and comfortable the further they go in the process.

The group role and objectives need to be stated at the beginning, what is expected from the group, what follow up will be required and what involved will be needed.

Before the start of any Discernment in Common the relevant authority needs to be clarified, what is the role of the group and who is going to make the final decision, will the group decided based on consensus or will the person in charge take the group suggestion and then make the final decision. When setting up a group attention needs to be placed in any conflicts that may be present like an employee with his direct superior might not feel free to share what he feels/thinks. If conflicts can’t be avoided, some tools can be used like anonymous feedback templates.

VIDEO - How did St. Ignatius help groups or individuals to be free

HOW

“Discernment is the key to navigating a seemingly rigid world”

Pope Francis

Identify key stakeholders

 
 

Clarify the question

    • 5 why: Dig at least 5 levels deep into the issue by asking “why” to help clarify the issue.
    • Five Ws, One H: It covers the basics and helps you understand the situation and context

Gather and form key stakeholders

    • Interior freedom -> What would I advise another?
    • Listening -> Spiritual Conversation
    • Mission -> Name of Grace
    • Union of hearts -> History Line

Establish group objectives

    • SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound.
    • Identity-Vocation-Mission: Who we are? To what we are called? How to respond to the call?

Clarify final decision maker

    • Clarify relevant authority. Clarify the power of the group and its authority.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

  • Do I understand the issue correctly?
  • Does it need a Discernment in Common?
  • Am I fully capable of leading the whole process?
  • Do I need some external help, facilitators?
  • Do I need extra resources/materials?
  • Am I willing to enter all aspects of Discernment in Common?
  • Am I free to enter the process?
  • Do I have any personal preferences?

step 2

Data gathering

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WHAT WE NEED TO DO

 

1. Gather relevant information

2. Carry out analysis and reflection

3. Present the information and analysis to group members

4. Spend time in personal prayer

 
 

“ Full information, of good quality and accessible to all, about the matter to be treated is needed. Good discernment depends on having a precise knowledge about the matter to be decided and about the result that is to be expected from such a complex and demanding process. In this way we avoid banalizing “discernment,” using the word as a way to justify either major or minor decisions.”

Fr. A. Sosa, Letter 27 Sep 2017

MAIN IDEAS

Discernment requires that participants have information that is reliable and relevant to the issue at hand. This inevitably requires some effort in gathering the necessary data. Such data include not only facts and figures, or expert inputs. Just as important, it should also include viewpoints, suggestions, feedback, and even affective responses of consolation and desolation, especially among those most affected by the issue at hand. Special attention should also be given to the voices and experiences of people at the margins. Quite often, such experiences are not expressed directly and verbally. Consultation thus includes making observations with a spirit of pastoral sensitivity, and listening with the heart.

After the data gathering, some preliminary analysis should be carried out. This can include examining the implications of the data, noting the significant or surprising points, observing recurrent themes, or making comparisons and projections. The processes of gathering and analyzing the data are often iterative: insights from the analysis sometimes point to the need for other information. However, since it is not possible to arrive at complete information and analysis, a time limit needs to be set for these steps. The greater the clarity in identifying the question to be discerned as well as the objectives, the more focused would be the data gathering and analysis. Needless to say, those carrying out the data gathering and analysis should do so in a spirit of indifference, openness, and docility to God’s Spirit.

summary of the key information and main insights from the analysis should be sent to all those who have been asked to participate in the discernment. Adequate time should be given for each person to reflect on and pray with these inputs, as well as to seek clarification about the information where necessary. It is important to give these participants some guiding points for prayer, including specific questions to pray about.

VIDEO - Obstacles in Discernment in Common

HOW

“The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see.”

John Tukey, American Mathematician

Gather relevant information

  • Collation of basic facts and figures from reliable sources
  • Inputs from subject matter experts
  • Stakeholder mapping
  • 360-feedback
  • Interviews and focus groups
  • Surveys
  • Informal conversations
  • Observation

Carry out analysis and reflection

  • SWOT -> Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats
  • PESTLE -> Signs of the times: Political, Economic, Social (including religious and cultural), Technological, Legal, Environmental trends.
  • Problem Tree -> Problem, Root causes, Consequences
  • Impact analysis -> Short and long term impact of an event, and of the alternative actions
  • Historical analysis -> Understanding the historical evolution of the issue
  • Cost-benefit analysis -> Potential costs and benefits of an event or proposed action
  • Pros and cons -> Listing the positive and negative aspects of each option, relative to the objectives that were established in previous step
  • Pastoral cycle -> See, judge, act
  • Lights and shadows -> What are the lights and shadows?
  • General observation -> Examining the implications of the data, the significant or surprising points, recurrent themes, resonances and tensions; or making comparisons.

Present the information and analysis to group members

  • Summarize the data and analysis into a brief report, and disseminate to group members

Spend time in personal prayer

  • Scripture texts
  • Guidelines for discernment of spirits
  • Suggested process and questions for prayer

1) Do you feel biased about something. If so, what is the cause.

2) What brings you joy and hope here.

3) What is causing you confusion or distress

4) What do you feel as the main call from God.

  • Write down the insights or fruits from personal prayer.
  •  

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

  • What do we want to find out?
  • Where will your data come from?
  • Who are the final users of your analysis results?
  • What data visualizations should you choose?
  • Do I understand the data?
  • Do you feel biased about something? If so, what is the cause?
  • What brings you joy and hope here?
  • What is causing you confusion or distress?
  • What do you feel as the main call from God?

step 3

Discussion and provisional decision

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WHAT WE NEED TO DO

1. Gather in group and share the fruits of prayer.

2. For each option, the whole group looks at the disadvantages compared to the objective.

3. Personal prayer.

4. Seek emerging consensus.

5. Give time for confirmation.

MAIN IDEAS

When the members of the group have taken the time to pray with all the information received about the question (issue?) posed, a sharing of the fruits and of the spiritual motions will allow everyone to perceive what, for the group as a whole, appears to have more weight and importance for the decision that has to be taken.

This exercise may lead the group to want to reconsider the question posed or to rephrase it more precisely.

The moment then comes to seek the “pros” and “cons” or, as Saint Ignatius proposes in the Exercises, the “advantages” and “disadvantages” for each of the options or alternatives considered. This exercise will be done always keeping before our eyes the identity, vocation and mission of the group and, even more ultimately, the greatest service and praise of God. When sharing in common, it will be a question of inviting to a great listening and inner freedom, taking care to stand like the needle of a balance and, from there, to pay attention to the reasons and the inner motions which make it lean one way or the other.

In the personal time that follows, everyone will be invited to make his/her choice.

By expressing it, with its reasons, to the group as a whole, the group will seek to reach consensus. It will be good to remind everyone of the difference between consensus and unanimity. In consensus one seeks to perceive what moves the group, as a group, beyond personal opinions.

The decision that emerges will first be considered provisional. Time will be needed to present it to the Lord so that He may confirm it with the peace and joy it gives. The election, in the individual Exercises, is confirmed by the contemplation of the passion and resurrection of Christ. Exercises around the paschal mystery are appropriate in order to feel that Christ receives the election made as a participation in his own mission of salvation.

HOW

 

Whoever chairs the process tries to “read a consensus” and tests it against the group. If there is no clear consensus, the chair can probe for areas of consensus. At this juncture, some open debate may be useful. As a last resort, the group can decide by vote.

Come together to share

  • Spiritual Conversation

Pros and Cons

  • 4 Columns
  • Triz
  • Name of grace

Personal prayer

  • Prayer points
  • Scripture texts

Seek emerging consensus

  • Anonymous feedback
  • Straw vote

Give time for confirmation

  • Spiritual Conversation

VIDEO - 3 Key elemets of Ignatian Leadership

GUIDELINES FOR SPIRITUAL CONVERSATION

For group members

1. Choose someone to be the timekeeper. (See below)

2. When a person is speaking, the others are silent.

3. Listen with attention, devotion and reverence.

4. Welcome what is said with gratitude. Each person is the expert on his or her own experience.

5. It is ok not to agree, but this is not to be expressed until the second round of sharing.

6. Share what you can, and what you want to share.

7. Share briefly and clearly.

8. The small group is not the place to resolve problems.

9. Times of silence are appropriate and necessary. Don’t rush to fill the silence.

10. Keep what is shared confidential.

11. Use “I” when speaking; do not use “we” or “you”.

For the timekeeper

Before the group begins: Tell everyone at what time the group will stop. Say how much time, approximately, each one will have for sharing during the first round. Please keep to the allotted time so that everyone will have a chance to share.

At the start of the meeting, around 10 minutes can be allocated to introduction of the process, followed by 30 minutes to 1 hour for personal prayer and review of one’s own reflections on the Universal Apostolic Preferences. (See attached “Universal Apostolic Preferences: Questions for prayer and reflection”) After this time of personal prayer, the group can begin the three rounds of sharing.

The three rounds of sharing

First round. One at a time, each person shares the fruit of his/her prayer. The others listen attentively. During this round there are no interactions between the participants except to ask for an explanation about a word or phrase, if necessary. As you listen, be aware of how you are moved, when you feel harmony with the others, when you feel tension, what struck you as the others shared.

Silent reflection (maybe five minutes) on what has been shared, and your affective response.

Second round. Whoever wishes may share the fruits of this moment of silent reflection. This will be followed by a time of dialogue on how another person’s sharing has affected you or given you deeper insights or a new perspective.

Silent reflection (maybe five minutes) followed by sharing on any common themes or significant points that are emerging, as well as divergences of opinion if any.

Third round. Gathering the fruit of the exercise, each person, if moved, may pray aloud thanking God or asking for a specific grace.

Short evaluation (maybe five minutes) on how the group proceeded.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

  • Am I at peace with this decision?
  • Am I at ease now, especially if what I earlier regarded as the best course of action is not the one chosen by the group consensus? Or am I uneasy?

step 4

Decision and action

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WHAT WE NEED TO DO

1. Make final decision.

2. Implement some actions.

3. Evaluate ongoing progress.

MAIN IDEAS

The discerning group has prepared a decision proposal. If it has worked well, the fruit is not only an answer to a question, but also a state of indifference, that is, an openness to the will of God and a capacity to accept different good options, as discerning is usually about choosing one out several good options. It is now time for the competent authority to take the final decision. This person must take into account all the process that has been going on, but feel free about this final decision too. This person is responsible for interpreting the will of God in the process the discerning group has gone through. The decision maker needs to explain well why he takes that decision and communicate it properly.

Implementation is a very important moment. The leader, together with his leadership body, needs to decide what actions will give flesh to the decision taken and begin as soon as possible to bring them forth. Discernment takes time to reflect, it is a moment of prudence and careful consideration of information and inner feelings. Implementation is the moment for straight action. It requires a new and active attitude. This is the time of the leader. This person needs to take clear actions, at the right time, in order to achieve the established goals. When this does not happen, people may feel disoriented and discouraged.

Evaluation takes place after significant actions have already been implemented and when the group can have a clear idea of what is happening. It needs to happen at the right moment. The risk might be here to do it too soon, when we cannot yet judge the effects of the implemented actions. It looks at the established objectives and goals, but it looks also at inner goals such as commitment, hope, endurance, solidarity…, to see whether there is also growth in these areas or not. It that sense, it needs to evaluate the data the group can gather. But it again needs to go deeper into the inner movements. Evaluation involves then discernment, once again, and after considering the gathered data, it can recover the discernment atmosphere that allows to share personal inner movements.

HOW

 

Whoever chairs the process tries to “read a consensus” and tests it against the group. If there is no clear consensus, the chair can probe for areas of consensus. At this juncture, some open debate may be useful. As a last resort, the group can decide by vote.

Come together to share

  • Spiritual Conversation

Pros and Cons

  • 4 Columns
  • Triz
  • Name of grace

Personal prayer

  • Prayer points
  • Scripture texts

Seek emerging consensus

  • Anonymous feedback
  • Straw vote

Give time for confirmation

  • Spiritual Conversation

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