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Publisher's Summary

St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, is one of the most influential spiritual leaders of all time, yet many people find his Rules for Discernment hard to understand. What can Ignatius teach us about the discernment of spirits that lies at the very heart of Christian life? In The Discernment of Spirits, Fr. Timothy Gallagher, a talented teacher, retreat leader, and scholar, helps us understand the rules and how their insights are essential for our spiritual growth today. By integrating the rules and the experience of contemporary people, Gallagher shows the precision, clarity, and insight of Ignatius' rules, as well as the relevance of his thought for spiritual life today. When we learn to understand Ignatius correctly, we discover in his remarkable words our own struggles, joys, and triumphs. This book is for all who desire greater awareness of God's action in their daily spiritual lives, and is essential listening for retreat directors, spiritual directors, priests, and counselors.

©2005 Timothy M. Gallagher, O.M.V. (P)2017 Timothy M. Gallagher, O.M.V.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Extremely Friendly to the Lay Person

I am new to the spirituality of St. Ignatius. I found this book very easy to follow and to understand. Sometimes books on spirituality can be too lofty or complicated for someone like me who has only a casual background in theology. The first chapter was a bit dense, but the rest was exactly what I was hoping to get. These lessons and their presentation were immediately applicable and helpful to me both because of the simplicity of the presentation and the clear, illuminating examples given. I've already purchased The Examen book by the same author. I'll listen to it next.

2 people found this helpful

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An overview of the first 14 ‘rules’ of discernment

Regular readers will know of my posts know that I am working on a training program to become a spiritual director. I intentionally choose a Catholic program because while the Evangelical and broader Protestant world has been rediscovering Spiritual Direction over the past 10 to 20 years, the Catholic stream of Christianity has never lost access to this tool of discipleship. Ignatius (late 15th and early 16th century) wrote the Spiritual Exercises as a guide for spiritual directors to give a 30-day retreat.

One part of that guide was two sets of ‘rules’ for discernment. These rules (guides) to help people in their discernment are split into ‘first’ and ‘second’ week rules, or the types of rules that were most helpful for people early in their retreat or people later in their retreat. You can roughly think of these as a type of spiritual maturity. However, Ignatius would not have assumed straight-line growth (in other words, once you are in the second week, you will not always be in the second week.)

Gallagher is only talking about the first set of 14 rules in this book. It took a while for me to start to make sense of the rules of discernment. I started by listening to the book, which gave me an overview. I then read the book a second time, mostly in print, but a little bit of listening. But just as important is that toward the end of my second reading. I downloaded a PDF of the rules and made it a part of my morning reading. And for a week, I read them every morning and highlighted or made notes about how they related to one another or rewrote some of them in my own language. I am far from an expert, and I do not think of them as the ‘be all, end all’ of discernment. But the process of getting them deeper into my brain by reading them regularly (I think I still need to probably read the about once a week for the next couple of months) and think about how they related to one another and try to use them in my own life does matter.

I am even more convinced that Spiritual Direction is an important component to revitalizing discipleship in the American Evangelical Church. But there are clearly other discipleship methods that can do similar things as what Spiritual Direction is trying to accomplish. But regardless of the method of discipleship, one component of discipleship is the teaching of discernment. I am not sure that Ignatius’ rules are the right way to start teaching this to an Evangelical world because the rules’ traditional language is a barrier. One of my classmates did a presentation introducing the rules as if she were presenting them to her AME church using her own language, but communicating the broad concepts of the first two rules, and that type of presentation I think would be very helpful.

We have to look no further than the broad impact of conspiracy theories and the distrust of expertise to understand how a lack of focus on discernment has become harmful. Ignatius is not talking about media literacy or understanding science, but about discerning whether a message is from God or a spirit/satan. By this, Ignatius did not mean only literal demonic attack, although he did include that. More broadly, for our purposes, when he talks about discernment of the spirits, he would include temptation, our psychological inclinations and sin, and the more rudimentary character issues that come up regularly in our daily interactions, as well as direct guidance from the Holy Spirit and temptations from Satan.

There are some books and teaching in the Evangelical world that talks about discernment. Hannah Anderson’s All That Is Good is one of the better ones I have read, and I would probably start there if you want a good introduction to Evangelical discernment. But two of the weaknesses of most Evangelical discernment teaching has is that it tends to rely on utilitarian decision-making too strongly (if it works, it is probably of God or at least a good idea) and that it is too focused on individual discernment. Thomas Green’s book Weeds Among the Wheat presents discernment as something that never should be undertaken alone. Green teaches spiritual directors how to teach discernment, but that assumption, that discernment should be undertaken in the context of a relationship, is an assumption that I think we need to cultivate intentionally. Too often, we do not talk to others about our decision-making because we do not want to hear others’ input. That reluctance is the first sign of a potential problem.

Recently I was talking to a friend that had made a major life decision. It was a big deal, both professionally and personally. He and his wife gathered together a group of about 10 people. Including their bosses, several that would be impacted by the decision, several outside of the impact of the decision, and hired someone who had convened groups like this before as a facilitator. They meet a couple of times, were very open about the process and issues to everyone in the group, and took the group’s comments and advice seriously. It wasn’t that the group made the decision, but there was an openness to the group that the decision needed to be made and a clear openness to seeking God’s will. At the end of the process, there was a clear direction that the group sensed. And there was significant buy-in by not just my friends but the whole group that participated in the process. Because my friends are in the senior leadership of a Christian ministry, they will try to encourage this type of collaborative discernment in many other situations as well. Because it went so well in this case, it does not mean that it will go equally as well in all cases. But in a culture that is so oriented toward individual decision making, I think this type of intentional cooperative work can help push back against some of the negative individualistic aspects of our culture and communicate our trust in both God and the church community around us.

As I hope I have communicated, I am not sure that Ignatius’ rules are the best path forward in teaching Evangelical discernment, but they are one path. Because they are one of the most well-known teachings around discernment in the Christian world, I think it is worth gaining some familiarity with them if you try to teach or learn about discernment.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Spiritual Growth

I found the book extremely useful in my spiritual growth. More than once, it touched on experiences that I’d had but didn’t understand. Content in this book allowed me to put things into a better perspective and use them for greater spiritual growth.

1 person found this helpful

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Bad sound

The recording is very raspy and unpleasant to listen to. Please advise. I am listening with an IPhone 6. Thank you

5 people found this helpful

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Not ideal for an audiobook

Due to the nature of this book, it’s better to have a hard copy of this book, especially for continual review.
I also found the narration to be almost painfully slow and listened to the book at 1.4x speed.
Great material, but I recommend an Ignatian retreat and only using this for review.

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Good read, with practical help.

Good read. Rather listen, with practical help in discerning our state of mind in joy and in times of trial or desolation.

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An Essential Read (Listen) for all Christians

An excellent introduction to St. Ignatius Loyala's spiritual rules for discernment. This is an excellent resource for all Christians, not just Catholics. Fr. Gallagher uses concrete, everyday examples to illustrate St. Ignatius' rules for people of all States of life, men and women, single or married, secular or religious. This is also a must read (listen) for anyone who is discerning whether they are called to be a spiritual director, as the examples used in the book are timeless.

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Opening my eyes just a little

This book overflowed into into many different areas of my life and I was about to put into practice what I was learning as I was reading. This book has really changed the I way I think of things because I discern them now so they don’t snow ball.

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Very helpful book

This book helps greatly in knowing myself and recognizing consolations and desolations.

Thanks so much to Fr. Gallagher -- I also read Discerning the Will of God, another awesome book. God bless!

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  • 06-21-18

Excellent Book

This book is great for those undergoing spiritual desolation and uncertainty in discerning what is coming from God or the enemy of our souls. I highly recommend. God bless.

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  • Catherine Cruz
  • 08-17-21

Useful and thorough

This book is very useful and clear about consolation and desolation. I think he makes some very helpful definitions and explanations. It does get a bit repetitive in places. But then I suppose helps to remember the important content!

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  • Anonymous User
  • 07-30-21

Makes St Ignatius’ ‘Spiritual Exercises’ more accessible

I found this book immensely helpful. I previously had not had the courage (or great interest) in reading St Ignatius’ ‘Spiritual Exercises’, thinking it was something one should only complete on retreats. But this book by Fr Timothy Gallagher was recommended to me by a good priest, and I was at the stage where I wanted to learn more about spiritual discernment, and so I bought it.

What I found particularly helpful in this book are that the 14 rules are expounded upon using examples from the lives of various Saints and holy people: St Julian of Norwich, St Therese of Lisieux, St Francis of Assisi, St Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton just to name a few. It helps to know that such holy people were also challenged and tempted, and how they overcame it through application of one or more of the 14 rules (whether or not they specifically intended to apply St Ignatius’ rules per se). But equally as helpful were the many case studies of contemporary and relatable people: the lady active in her parish, the person who felt dryness during their retreat, the seminarian on the cusp of his ordination to the diaconate attacked by thoughts he wasn’t meant to have a vocation etc.

I found the reading of this audio book a little bit humdrum at first, but as the book progressed, the lack of too much emotion in the reading allowed me to focus on the words and not on the narration style, so it proved to be helpful at the end.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in growing in their spiritual life! It should be recommended reading for many people, actually; it would help many avoid the many pitfalls and challenges they will encounter in life.