“What Do I Do, Lord?” Gospel/Vincentian Discernment (Acts 1; John 15)
There’s what you might call a woman’s quip about the man supposedly being the one who pursues the woman. It runs, “He chased her and he chased her and he chased her – until she caught him!” You might think he’d be more aware, but…
You can hear something of that same kind of reversal in Jesus’ words “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain…” (John 15:16). This speaks to the whole process of Christian (and Vincentian) decision-making.
“In this business of discernment, I feel like it’s me doing most all the work in trying to make this weighty decision before God. But in truth, at a deeper level someone is acting on me, pursuing me – not only in responding, for instance, to a call to become a member of one of St. Vincent’s families (e.g., the Daughters of Charity), but to any calling in life.”
Can we come to some clearer awareness of what’s going on at that deeper level? And more to the point, where within us are we to look for the movement in those things that are going on?
An answer comes from the Acts of the Apostles in a situation where the disciples are much “in discernment.” Who is the right person to pick to replace Judas and fill out the number of the Apostles? The prayer they make at the time locates the spot from which the Lord’s direction is coming through, the heart. “Lord, you know the hearts of us all. (Acts 1:24)
Sounds simple, no? “Speak to us down there in the deep desires of our hearts. Whatever comes up from that spot, we’ll know is You.” Not quite. And the reason is that most folks know that not everything that comes up from their heart is golden and of God. Some things that bubble up can be anything but grace-filled.
And so there’s this further thing about listening for what of the Spirit is going on down in our hearts: they have to be hearts in tune with what’s going on in Jesus’ heart. And that is, hearts tuned into love.
The point is that it’s only out of a loving heart that the messages coming up from within it can be trusted. It’s those desires of the heart which have been shaped by the desires of God which will lead in the right direction, which will allow the authentic listening and discerning.
John’s gospel says the same thing in another way, a classic way. Where does Jesus want us to go – and then remain there? His answer: “Remain in my love.” (John 15:9) He’s instructing us, as much as we can, to live the way of love. In the concrete, this translates into things like:
- The behaviors and attitudes that go to make up “keeping His commandments,” as guides to how to live this way and remain there.
- The choices we make for the good of others in those times when it costs us to do so, as ways of remaining-in His love.
- The honesty we try to cultivate with others and within ourselves and make habitual, as a high road to remaining-in His love.
- The willingness to look beyond our present worlds and risk stepping into some new one, as a way of remaining-in that love that Jesus showed when He gave Himself into the hands of His loving Father.
So, discernment. It’s a listening for the “choosing” that Jesus is doing down in my heart. It’s a dropping of whatever it is that hems me in or freezes me up so I can come to a firmer and wider base for that listening. It’s doing the things I can to train that heart so it gets more sure of that “remaining-in” which delivers Jesus’ love.
So. We chase the Lord Jesus, and we chase Him and we chase Him – and we open our hearts to His heart so He can catch us!