I am a sophomore in college at Loyola Marymount University, which is a Jesuit school in Los Angeles. For the last year and a half, I’ve been very involved with campus ministry and have learned a lot about Ignatian spirituality in the process. As a freshman, I attended the “First Year Retreat,” an annual retreat for first-year and transfer students to the university. The retreat centers on one main question: What do you want the next four years of your life to look like? Rooted in the Ignatian concept of discernment of spirits, the retreat seeks to help set new students up for a successful transition to college life.
As a sophomore, I was a leader for the First Year Retreat. Prior to the weekend, the other leaders and I spent hours in “the Cave” (home to campus ministry and a never-ending supply of otter pops), talking about discernment in our own lives and preparing to guide our retreatants.
When you’re lost in the woods of “What on Earth am I here for?,” discernment of spirits is like a map and compass. It’s a great way out of those woods, but only if you know how to use it. St. Ignatius believed that all of our plans and motives in life could be boiled down to two “spirits”: those that console and those that bring desolation.
Both spirits of consolation and desolation can pull us toward God; both spirits of consolation and desolation can push us away from Him. Discernment asks us to turn introspectively and think about the different spirits in our lives. What are they? Where are they coming from? How are they moving us? Are they bringing us closer to God or pushing us further from Him?
As we begin Lent, we have the perfect opportunity to perform this kind of introspection, which is something we never do alone but with God to guide us. Like Jesus in the desert, we are called to turn inward in preparation for Easter. As we focus on the areas for improvement in our lives, we can also turn to those big, existential questions, like the “Why am I here?” question. While we might not find all of the answers, thinking about the spirits that drive us might be a good place to start.
And, simple pro/con lists can help us out as well. When we sit to think about our lives and ask why we do the things we do, writing down the costs and benefits of all the different parts of our lives can help us identify the spirits that guide us (both rightly and wrongly). Once we’ve determined what guides us, it’s only one, much smaller step towards purpose and meaning.
If that sounds straightforward, I can assure you that it's definitely not. There’s a reason that a lot of cathartic crying takes place on the First Year Retreat. Confronting your purpose is a scary thing to do and takes time, self-compassion, and love from everyone around you. (Consider joining a small group for that community!) But God wants us to try.
And, as Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, writes, “There is no difference between what you most deeply want and what God wants for you.”
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
Father Roger Gustafson