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Discernment

· ​Editorial ·

Discernment is a concept that has been frequently used in the Christian tradition since the most ancient times. It refers to the interior reflection which each human being is called to undertake in order to understand what God’s will is at the important decision-making moments in his or her life. It means making one’s choice together with God.

Marcello Gallian, “Pensatrice” (1956)

As Enzo Bianchi writes in his text, “discernment is a gift of the Spirit of God which is united with our spirit and as such should be desired and prayed for by Christians”, a gift we must accept and develop making use of all our human skills. This process requires a basic condition, namely freedom of conscience, asNathalie Sartou-Lajus explains, the possibility of “the restless return of the conscience to itself”, a conscience which is able to judge its own actions and to bear the burden of remorse for the evil one has done.

We wondered whether in the course of history women had been able to exercise discernment, that is, whether they had been free to make a decision following their conscience. The history of Mary Ward, who in 18th-century England wanted to apply the Ignatian practice of discernment in a women’s religious order, enables us to understand how difficult this must have been. For women life always seems to have been marked out by others, and their decisions to a large extent to have been obligatorily dependent onthe decisions of the men to whom they were subordinate.

However, if we give discernment a more intimate meaning, if we consider it as a wiser and more attentive way of living Christian life, women always entered into it fully. If, as Enzo Bianchi writes, discernment is a gift of the Spirit to all creatures, and if, in order to accept it, it suffices “to practise seeing, listening and thinking”, how indeed can women possibly be excluded?

Recognizing that women have this ability means opening ourselves to the discovery of feminine spirituality, that is, to a practice of discernment linked more closely to listening to the events of life, to small things. It means making room for a way of exercising a discernment which is different from the way men do it, but equally rich. It means stepping out of the self-centredness which Pope Francis so often chastises in ecclesiastical language in order to discover new sources of spiritual intelligence. (lucetta scaraffia)

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