Always Discerning

by Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ.

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.


Jesuits I know, are excellent scholars! The first thing they do in their book is to agree upon a definition of the words that are prominent. For example, Tetlow, allows us to relish the definition of discernment that he will follow in his text. He is gentle and inclusive. He is careful to allow the definition to take root. He believes that discernment is a gift offered to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ. He indicates that Pope Francis has certainly heard this. He is showing the world how a discerning mind and heart light up everything a follower of Jesus Christ does. Each evening I listen to the podcast of James Martin, S.J. when he gives us an Examen for the day. It helps us go back and think how Christ was with us in the day. Tetlow, along the same line, states that discernment in the real world of everyday life is not a computer game. The mature follower of Jesus Christ recognizes that sin has a role in this—my own sin, sin in us, and sin abroad in the world. We must look into what sin’s consequences have wreaked: suffering, violence, and death. That will bring us to ponder how the Way is now the only one people follow, and how we must shake our way free from the other ways—of the world, the flesh, and the devil. We live in joy as the Holy Spirit gives us the gifts of wisdom, understanding, and gentle self-control, and these give us a discerning heart.

The author reveals to the reader some wonderful touchstones that will assist our all day discernment. Mature disciples, he states, are aware that what we think, feel, and do are tightly linked in our mindset and our heartset; we discern about what is sin and what is not, as well as what is good, loving and holy; our ability to discern and our exercise of it grow and develop with prayer and practice; we stressed the discernment of spirits before the Second Vatican Council, but that changed with the mandate to ‘read the signs of the times’. These touchstones make sense during this time of pandemic in a way that startles us into complete and hopeful transformation. The author offers us his own discernment and the joy that becomes part of who he is and what he does.

Tetlow continues with this accessible text by stating that some who believe in Jesus Christ seem to be called to live a simple religion following the commandments and enacting Christ’s reign in our lifeworld, for example, the parable of the sower illustrates different levels of discernment and what makes enduring holiness. Tetlow illustrates that discernment asks that we perceive every person as God’s work of art. It asks that we live aware of God’s care for us in every instant. Next, our values shape what we can perceive and also what we can desire. Thus, we Christians value all things in the light of the son of God’s emptying himself to embrace our humanity.

In the section near the end of the book, Tetlow talks about passionate detachment which means putting God first and being able to do the little things and look to the great things with magnanimity. My granddaughter who is six has a delightful way of detaching. She does so with her toys and her food and other issues but the one that is most impressive she told me as we walked this morning. She said, “Grandmother, when anyone asks me for something I have I feel it is just a little difficult to give it away but when it is about me and what I want to do, I ask God to help me not to be so selfish and to choose what they want.

As Tetlow continues, the world’s sin is handed on to us and becomes sin-in-me, which we carry all our lives and must be saved from; sin is a tremendous negative force in the world, but it will not obliterate the good God is creating. We live in hope. No matter how far a person has gone into guilt and sin, God waits lovingly to forgive the repentant. Heart. Tetlow’s words on the Eucharist help us stop and pause: “The Eucharist is not a reward for holiness but a powerful help to love holy in Christ.” As we near the end of the text, we hear the author state, the mature disciple has developed an attitude of gratitude; we live joyfully because beyond this horizon an eternal banquet of love is prepared for us. This is a beautiful book that I would highly recommend as the author is at oneness concerning discernment with our beloved Pope, both Jesuits!

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