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Discernments of Spirits in Marriage: Introduction


This is a book about discernment of spirits in daily married life.

Discernment of Spirits in MarriageFor many of us, the term "discernment of spirits" is both inviting and mysterious.  If asked to explain it, we might struggle a little.

What it means is this.  We all know that as we live our spiritual lives, we experience ups and downs.  At times, we feel God's closeness.  Our prayer is alive.  We find Mass engaging and participate willingly.  Church activities are nourishing, and we look forward to them.  Scripture speaks to our hearts and strengthens us for the day.  We willingly take new steps to grow in our vocations.

But, if we are honest, we will also recognize that at other times, and for reasons we often do not understand, our spiritual energy seems to fade.  We feel little inclination to pray, and when we do, our prayer is dry and difficult.  At such times, we may pray less or be unhappy about the quality of our prayer.  We find it harder to attend Mass during the week.  Church activities no longer attract us in the same way.  Those new steps for spiritual growth that seemed so inviting now appeal to us less, and we consider abandoning them. . . .

These ups and downs go on constantly in our spiritual lives.  Saint Ignatius of Loyola is not the only one who has described them, but no one else in our spiritual tradition has spoken of them with the clarity and practicality with which Saint Ignatius discusses them in his rules for the discernment of spirits.  These fourteen rules, applied to the daily lives of husbands and wives, are the subject of this book.

For nearly forty years, I have studied, written, and taught these rules.  I never planned this ministry!  What caused it, under God's providence, was people's response to Saint Ignatius's teaching.

I have studied these rules in some depth, but it was not primarily study that revealed their richness.  I discovered the power of these rules only when I began teaching them and found that people responded with excitement and enthusiasm.  The rules helped them understand their spiritual experiences, those confusing alternations of energy and discouragement that we all undergo in the spiritual life.  So often we experience these fluctuations without understanding them or knowing how to approach them.  I found that Ignatius's rules gave people clarity and the tools they needed to respond to this experience.

Their desire for more led to a ministry focused specifically upon the rules.  For decades now, I have seen the difference the rules make, how they set captives free, free from discouragement in the spiritual life and free to serve the God they love.  This ministry has included religious, priests, and seminarians.  Most of those, however, with whom I have shared these rules are laypeople.

A short, readable — I hope!  — book that applies these rules to the lay vocation is long overdue.  This book seeks to do that, with a specific focus on the married vocation.  I believe, however, that readers who are single or in other vocations will find that it speaks to them as well.  Ignatius's rules are universal: they apply to all, in all vocations.

In this book, I employ the methodology I use when I present the rules and which is, to my mind, the most effective: a focus on Saint Ignatius's words and their illustration through examples.  Each of the fourteen chapters corresponds to one of the fourteen rules.  Each chapter contains two parts: experience and explanation.  The chapter begins with a concrete experience in married life.  The experience is then explained in the light of the corresponding rule.

These experiences are taken from the life of "Mark" and "Anne," who, by the second chapter, are married.  Mark and Anne are not two concrete persons by that name: they are amalgams of the spiritual experiences of husbands and wives as they have shared this through these forty years.  These examples might be called "reflected examples": they are real in that they reflect what occurs when married people live the spiritual life.

Mark and Anne's story is continuous from chapter to chapter, a kind of "semi-novel."  The book's purpose is to portray the rules in daily married life and so aid readers to recognize and respond to this experience in their own lives.

This volume introduces the reader to the rules.  Those who wish to pursue them further will find additional print and digital resources at the conclusion of this book.

For the convenience of the reader, I include the complete text of the rules in the appendices.  In a first appendix, I provide my translation from the original Spanish of Saint Ignatius's text.1 In this translation, I sacrifice literary elegance in order to reproduce the original text as closely as possible.  I employ this translation in the chapters of this book.  In a second appendix, I offer a freer rendering of Ignatius's text in language accessible for today.

From my earliest days of working with Saint Ignatius's rules, I have seen in them an expression of Jesus's mission as described in Luke 4: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. . . . He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and . . . to let the oppressed go free" (v.  18).  The purpose of these rules is to set captives free: to offer a path toward freedom to love and serve the Lord in daily life.  May they guide spouses to that freedom and to the blessings that follow in their marriages and families.

First Rule of Saint Ignatius: In persons who are going from mortal sin to mortal sin, the enemy is ordinarily accustomed to propose apparent pleasures to them, leading them to imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more and make them grow in their vices and sins.  In these persons the good spirit uses a contrary method, stinging and biting their consciences through their rational power of moral judgment.



TimothyGallagherFather Timothy M. Gallagher, OMV.  "Introduction."  Discernments of Spirits in Marriage.  Sophia Institute Press (2020).

This article reprinted with permission from the publisher, Sophia Institute Press.

The Author

DiscernmentofSpiritsMarriagebioFather Timothy M. Gallagher, O.M.V. is the author of Discernment of Spirits in Marriage: Ignatian Wisdom for Husbands and WivesThe Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday LivingThe Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for Our Lives TodaySpiritual Consolation: An Ignatian Guide for the Greater Discernment of SpiritsAn Ignatian Introduction to Prayer: Scriptural Reflections According to the Spiritual Exercises, Meditation and Contemplation: An Ignatian Guide to Praying with Scripture, and Discerning the Will of God: An Ignatian Guide to Christian Decision Making.

Copyright © 2020 Sophia Institute Press
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