169-189. Arriving to a Decision

Around this time in the Exercises the companions arrive to make a decision whose basic theme probably already emerged during the precedent meditations. Taking a look at the road already made from the beginning of the Exercises the companions can see the progress toward the decision-making and how as it gets closer in “The Kingdom of Christ” [91-98], the “Two Standards” [136-148], the “Three Types of Attitudes” [149-157], and the “Three Degrees of the Love of God” [165-168] meditations. With these exercises the companions enter into a “decision situation” characterized by more or less strong emotional upheaval, conflicting impulses and desires. In this situation one might feel to become a “battleground of different spirits”[1] and needs to decide which of these are to be followed. As the exercises go ahead, the perspective to see the questions of life changes and the conforming to Christ becomes the fundamental principle of discernment. This principle is very clearly present in the “Guidelines for Discernment for the Second Phase” [328-336] whose understanding and application as we told earlier are crucial for this part of the Exercises. Although we can say that the decision has a central place in the Exercises it should not be over-emphasized as an effort of our will or to pinpoint it as a single gauge of the success of this process. Such understanding of it would put too much pressure on the companions and on their own performance instead of letting God to guide them. The decision in the exercises is a complex and free human act and in the same time a gift of the Holy Spirit. There is no specific meditation in the Exercises where the subject matter to think and pray over would be the question about our particular decision. Instead, we continue to focus on the life of Jesus and repeatedly pray for the unconditional acceptance of his way, thus the contemplations form the supportive basis for our decision and create the right climate for it. In this perspective the need for specific decisions are flowing from the conforming to Christ and particular choices emerge as the concretization of this process in our lives. The following reflections will help the companions by specifying the circumstances and the methods of deciding and inconsequence how to proceed with the rest of the Second Phase of the Exercises.

The subject matter of the decision

First of all we need to clarify which kind of decisions are we dealing with. Here we don’t speak of choosing between good and evil, healthy and unhealthy ways of living [2]. We are deciding which of the alternative courses of action are “the will of God”, and since God never wants evil all options should be morally acceptable [3]. For example we can never discern as if to commit an act we think to be a sin. Of course, we need to get informed about if our notion of sin is correct. St. Ignatius says in [170] that it is necessary that all matters on which we make a choice should be, morally good or at least “indifferent” and in consonance with our faith and Church. Of course, it is a question if really indifferent matters do exist or rather all our actions are morally colored - including eating an ice cream. Sometimes it is also difficult to determine if our alternatives are morally good or not, and in itself needs discernment on our part to see if really these are valid options. This will involve prayer and sometimes gathering further information about the doubtful matters. Some might think abortion is morally acceptable in certain situations, others might be convinced that abortion is morally bad it is not clear if a particular action is indirectly an abortion or not. Another example can be a job where there is a doubt that it involves harming people in some way or otherwise it is not in consonance with one’s conscience. There could be many of such doubtful situations that require a preliminary discernment if in fact the possibility of choice is there.

In the light of the “Principle and Foundation” [23] we should choose what is more adequate for the achievement of our goal, for fulfillment of the meaning of our existence, or with other words for the end for which we are created. The “matter” for the decision arises from the question what should we do for this goal and can be very different depending on the concrete life situation of the companions.

For people not committed in marriage or other permanent vocation (as priest or religious) the question might be exactly which “state of life” they are called to live. This might be for example the question that a couple of fiancées might face when they decide to marry. It is important not to confuse the end with the means. From the perspective of the final goal of one’s existence even marriage or other vocations are means to achieve the fulfillment of this end. With other words, the inner logic of our choices is that the first, or fundamental choice is for God and his service and secondly the particular vocation in which to realize it.

If a choice was validly and honestly made, “properly and with due order” [173], there is no reason to re-examine and change it, even if we see now in retrospective that objectively it might not be the “best” decision. Most of the times when we make a step in faith we cannot get an assurance that our decision is perfect. It seems that the urge to question such choices is rather a sort of temptation. Instead of worrying about our former decisions we need to live with them as well as it is possible.

There is a desire in our hearts for finality, for definite decisions in our historical existence to which our irrevocable commitments answer. St. Ignatius speaks of “unchangeable” choices which and mentions marriage and priesthood as examples. He and says that these “cannot be undone” even if made improperly, but “one should be sorry for this, and take care to live well in the life he [or she] has chosen” [172]. Of course, the definition of what is “unchangeable” varies with the historical situation, as today a marriage can be annulled, and one can get dispensation from priestly vows much more easily than earlier. Ignatius however states also what seems to prove the present practice when says, “Since such a choice was inordinate and awry, it does not seem to be a vocation from God, as many erroneously believe. They make a divine call out of a perverse and wicked choice” [172]. If one discovers that a decision has not been made properly in the past and see that it can be changed, he or she should remake it in a proper way “if one desires to bring forth fruit that is worthwhile and most pleasing in the sight of God our Lord ” [174].

If we have already a commitment to a way of life and if this decision was validly made we do not need to remake it. Still sometimes we can enter again in our original decision-situation and examine how full our choice was. It is always possibility to deepen our commitment to the original choice (let us think of the custom to celebrate anniversaries of marriages). In our finiteness and lack of ability to perceive the whole reality, we cannot grasp in one single act the totality, all the potencies hidden in our choice of life. During the Exercises we discover new possibilities under the layers of everyday life calling for new decisions about our lifestyle and to deepen our commitment to our spouse and to our choices made earlier. This is one type of “choice” we can do during the Exercises.

When a choice of vocation is already made, for example for a married couple there are other sorts of decisions to make in order of the renewal of life. The companions might be helped to arrive to concrete topics of decision through reflecting on the following questions or similar:

-“What it means for us to be in our present life style and vocation?”

-“What fixed habits or tendencies of this lifestyle we feel as obstacle or limitation to live our vocation in a fuller, freer, better, simpler and healthier way?”

-“What can we do concretely now to better our life in its material, spiritual, marital, financial and so on aspects?”

-“What is that conforms us more to Christ in the sense we understood in these Exercises?”

The decision emerging here is not forced or external and does not come like a vision in a dramatic or spectacular way, but constitutes a very rich and complex human act. We believe that through prayer and from the concrete situations of life the Holy Spirit reveals to everyone and every couple the points where they can make a change. If some cannot find a question to make a decision, it could be a sign that they did not enter the Exercises process yet and the whole retreat needs to be revised. We could say that the experiences of Exercises begin to be realized right when we discover these points, which might seem even small or not too important. We should not minimize small decisions; even in a small choice our freedom and the grace of the Holy Spirit works together and it can be a place to meet God. From this point of view there is no insignificant decision, but with this we don’t want to put every decision on the same level; there are more spontaneous choices where the person is not involved fully, while others are more important. The companions need to make this distinction to find balance and not put too much weight on ordinary situations, while remain open that a small event might take on great significance. What really matters is to be realistic in understanding what is possible so that the “results” of these Exercises could be lasting and effective in our everyday life. Important to note also that the companions have to discover the points where they want to make a decision, nobody else from outside can show them where they can find their way to God. Even if they speak with a spiritual “director”, the role of the guide should be only to help them to clarify what they really want and not to tell them the concrete choices to make. We have faith that the Holy Spirit shows the way to all who seeks it, but it depends on God’s sovereign will when and how. For us it remains to be ready and to prepare for this revelation, an effort which in itself is always worthwhile to do. With time events of everyday life gradually will become matters for conscious spiritual decision without falling in putting everything on the same level of importance. The Exercises in everyday life are the place of preparation for the art of discerning life where mature and responsible decisions become habitual. We can see in this the importance of this type of retreat for the formation and life of lay people who need a spirituality of their own helping them finding their way while bearing responsibilities in the world and in the Church.

The methods of decision

We can distinguish three basic methods to make a choice during the Exercises depending upon the situation in which the companions find themselves at the time of the decision. These methods are interconnected with each other and are further colored by other factors as if the decision is about their life vocation or the renewal of it, or if it is a secluded retreat or made in the everyday life. We will discuss these variations when presenting the basic methods, which are applicable not only in the course of the exercises but outside of it as well when the companions enter a decision-situation.

The fact that the companions make the decision together in this retreat and probably on a common matter makes it necessary that they understand in which of the three situations are they as a couple, as a unique actor of the decision-making process. It might happen that they experience the matter quite differently, to which case the general rule might be expressed so that if they are in different situations they need to follow the method with the “higher number”. We will return to this question in more detail after explaining the three main methods.

We named these methods “revelation” (or “breakthrough of the Spirit”), “discernment” and “reasoning”, but we will see how these three elements are present and together are the constituents in all three methods, differing only which element is more in the foreground as characteristic.

The first situation and method: the case of “revelation”

It can happen that the companions understand with clarity and without doubt what they need to do. This can be a genuine experience of God, of a “breakthrough of the Spirit” and a revelation of what is right for us in that moment, as a task to do or a way of life to follow. This revelation itself is characterized by the complete passivity of the person who receives it and the clear and definite experience of the presence of God. In the first situation the companions perceive the “breakthrough of the Spirit” itself while in the others as we will see later, the divine impulse is experienced through its effects [4]. As in this case the companions don’t need to distinguish between alternatives, the discernment is a short process. They cannot doubt that God gave the experience, so the recognition and authentication of the right choice is immediate as they see the evidence. The revelation might be preceded by a long prayerful preparation or it can come as a “surprise” grace from God. We might not say that this is the common way to make our choices but it is not really so rare as we might suspect first and it does not need to be a dramatic vision-like experience, but what distinguishes it is the clarity of the insight. We can have some Scriptural examples of such decisions as the call of the first disciples of Jesus (Mk 1:16-20) or the call of Levi (Mk 2:13-14) where the common element of the description is that the new disciples immediately begin to follow Jesus, without any sign of hesitation. Maybe also the companions can find similar moments of revelation in their lives or of their knowledge.

The first method involves a point where caution is necessary. One needs to distinguish between the moment of the revelation and the time that immediately follows it, which we can call the “afterglow” of the peak experience. While we cannot doubt that the revelation came from God, right after it our own ideas and influence of other “spirits” enter the scene, and the impulses to do something that originates in this afterglow need to be discerned carefully. It happens sometimes when young people have a strong experience of God’s personal love they interpret with enthusiasm this experience as a call to become priest, monk or nun. They might have mistaken the meaning of this “being-chosen” experience - as it happened with somebody whom we know -, and only later discover that the call for consecrated life was not included in the experience or not in that form. God loves all his (or her) children with a strong, unique and very personal love, and “chooses” all of us for a special life task, and sometimes gives to whom he (or she) think needs it to feel this predilection, which can be very healing experience. The guidelines how to deal with this phenomenon is described in the Appendix C in chapters “Consolation without Proportionate Cause” [330] and “The Hermeneutic Circle of Discernment” [336]. The companions need to read these guidelines in order to be able to use this first method.

The distinction between the revelation itself and its afterglow shows the connection between the methods of decision. When the first situation stops, as the moment of revelation ends, we need to refer to the second method or to go on to the third depending on the situation we enter. We will return to the interconnectedness of these methods later to see the how they overlap and refer to each other.

This case might mean also that the Second Phase of the Exercises can be shortened somewhat. After we made the decision we offer it in prayer to God and move to the conclusion of this Phase.

The second situation and method: the case of “discernment”

The companions find themselves in this situation when the alternatives of the subject matter of their decision arise various emotional movements, or “spirits” when thinking of the choice which need to be discerned. For this discernment process the companions need to follow closely the Guidelines in [331]-[336] in Appendix C. The Exercises process prepared them for openness toward choosing what is best for the goal of their existence, with other words choosing God’s will when they arrive to consider a decision. Although along with the meditations they might have found an alternative attractive as solution, but don’t have enough certainty about it. In this case the companions need to consider this as a hypothetic choice and imagine themselves in it, while continuing with the contemplations on the life of Jesus that gives the climate to these reflections[5]. Then they need to enter the other alternative in a similar manner and observe the various movements it causes. When they do this, practically follow consciously and prayerfully what spontaneously occurs when somebody considers different solutions. The more simple and calm this process, the better it is for the discernment. Probably the companions will need to repeat the consideration of the alternatives several times and maybe consider new ideas until they can make a choice. As the Guidelines in [333]-[335] explain it in we always need to consider the whole course of the experience when hypothetically enter an alternative and this should be oriented toward good entirely before we could accept it as our choice. First, the companions should be aware of ideas that seem attractive but cause a certain excitement when enter their mind. On the other hand they need to recognize if these ideas little by little could turn into misleading ways, bringing them to things that are not in consonance with their conscience and faith. As Alex Lefrank explains it[6], our inner life is like a river, carrying various feelings and strivings and only from its movement we see the direction where a particular stimulus goes. When doing discernment the companions need to consider the course of their choice both intellectually as the content of it, both affectively as the feelings it arises. The criterion for deciding is that from both view their choice should be going in good direction, conforming us to Christ in the sense we saw it all the way in the Second Phase.

The process of the decision will take somewhat different forms in a secluded retreat and in the Exercises in everyday life. While in a secluded retreat the exercitants have limited time for the discernment, in the everyday life form it can extend to several weeks or months until they arrive to a decision. In both cases the companions will need a certain amount of time for testing their choices and the Second Phase might be prolonged with added contemplations.

In a secluded retreat it is possible to interrupt the decision-making process until after the Exercises the companions can continue it maybe with new information from their daily life. As they arrive to authenticate their decision in a certain degree the companions can consider it as temporary choice, which they will develop further in their everyday life. The companions then end discernment process in the Exercises and offer in prayer to God this temporary decision and go on to concluding the Second Phase.

In the Exercises in everyday life, the reality of life with its events and developments play a very important role in the decision-making itself [7]. In decision-situations outside of the Exercises as well, and in particular after a secluded retreat of which we have come out with a temporary choice, we can enter a prayerful decision-making process similar to the Exercises in everyday life.

Events and contacts with people instead of presenting distraction as in a secluded retreat form the core and context of the Exercises in everyday life. This type of retreat reveals the fact that in life everything is “spiritual”, that our activities are in fact always “spiritual exercises”. Often the companions enter the Exercises with a vague feeling that something needs to be changed, and life itself will present matters for choice during this time when prayer, reflections and growing self-knowledge renders them even more sensible for the need of conscious and free decisions. From these vague feelings and choices a particular decision of greater importance might emerge, for example the question if change the direction of one’s life, vocation, occupation, or not. The matter for choice will be very different depending on the concrete situation of the companions. The Exercises in everyday life provides the companions enough time for the decision, during which the daily contemplation of the life of Jesus will continue. Given the duration of this type of retreat, almost sure that consolations and desolation will occur along with reasoning about the alternatives and careful discernment will be necessary. The interaction of life with the exercises will take a new form when as a result of the discernment the companions make decisions that in fact immediately affect their future, for example announce their decision to marry, to have a child, make steps to move somewhere, to volunteer, to retire, begin to seek an other job and similar. The concrete reality of the companion’s life not only confronts them with choices, but alongside with prayer the events and circumstances of the everyday life also provide answers for the emerging questions. When the companions are reflecting on their decision they need to consider all the aspects of their existence, take account of their family, work, friends, the poor and suffering and in general people with whom they are connected somehow or care for. They need to see that which alternatives are more compatible with their freely chosen life-style and values.

Maurice Giuliani underlines three further characteristics of the decision-making during a retreat in everyday life: the meaning of what is “possible”, the weight of the “present moment” and the reality of “humiliations” [8]. Seems like that these elements are three facets of the risk the companions are willing to take with the supporting grace of God. From the direct confrontation with reality that the exercises in everyday life brings with it the companions can perceive what is possible for them from their desires and dreams. Sometimes it might be very sobering and saving from illusions if they face the reality of what they can achieve and accept it with the limitations. Of course, it is possible to pass over human limitations as examples of it abound in history. However the companions need to consider and pray on factors like their physical and psychological health, their affective life their capacity of bearing sacrifices without tensions and finally how much risk they are ready to accept. The acceptance of risk brings us also to the role of the present moment in this type of Exercises. As the companions advance with the contemplations and reflections they will gain a new vision of their present where they arrived also through the grace of God. They will see it more in perspective as an organic whole, a complex configuration of various elements, which will be changed by their decision, maybe in a way that they cannot predict. With this vision of reality they can make their decision freely taking this risk under the action of God’s grace. Finally, their decision inspired by the Spirit might bring immediate adverse reactions from the ambient as we saw it in the meditation on the third degree of the love of God. When the companions accept “to be regarded as fool for Christ”, they need to consider the risk they can take in terms of maintaining the life they already have, their psychic health, social relations and of earning a living.

Since the decision-making extends to a long time in the everyday life form of the Exercises the companions usually will experience several times the alternating states of consolation and desolation as peace and disturbance, joy and sadness, hope and anxiety and so on. The process should not be hastened in any way, but let it go ahead with a “natural” pace so that the decision is not made under pressure of time. This period is not taken out of the life of the companions but integral part of it and the decision only will profit of the time given to it. The companions individually will have different periods of consolation and desolation which interact with each other, with the events of their life, and actually become moments of understanding and liberation for them. It might happen that the alternation of consolation and desolation comes to a halt for one or for both of them before reaching the decision. If this occurs, they find themselves in the third situation and they should go on with the method of reasoning presented below after this.

Each stage of consolation and desolation leaves a mark on the companions, becomes part of their history of salvation and gives them an experience of deeper understanding, guidance to find their way. Generally deep desolations take on the form of trial or crisis, which can be a time to learn to live with our wounded existence, and it provides a strong healing experience [9]. The greatest personal crisis that I (Kris) have yet passed was such a liberating and healing experience of which I could come out with greater capacity of trusting God and standing up for what I feel authentic for example, even if I am far from being completely free. Our view of crisis situations as a place for healing is somewhat analog to the process of “positive disintegration”, a model of personal development of which Bernard Tyrrell makes use in Christotherapy. Positive disintegration means that sometimes even certain symptoms that seem like as neurotic or even psychotic are not pathologic but signs that the person is passing from a lower level of development to a higher one. The symptoms such as feelings of anxiety, fear, dissatisfaction or guilt accompany the process in which the person frees oneself of the lower level of personality structure and ingrained old habits that are becoming inadequate so that a higher level could be born. Such might be the example if one has a habit of dominant angry reaction, which needs to be broken so that one could achieve a more mature form of responding reality [10].

None of these of consolations and desolations are vain or lost experiences but bring understanding of the truth of who the companions are. While passing through the alternating states of consolation and desolation the companions will see which things give them more life, which others discourage them, where their resistances and wounds are and so these experiences also show the limits of their humanly prudent possibilities. Even if the wounds and difficulties remain with them these are no more mere obstacles but gain meaning and importance as indications of the road made, as parts of personal history and the companions learn to be free notwithstanding the presence of past hurt and present suffering since they can bring everything in their dialog with God. The alternation of different states gradually leads to a point when the companions recognize the direction where they go and that they can make a decision freely. This “moment of truth” will bring to an end the alternating states. The perception of different movements maybe remains present on the psychological level, but they loose spiritual significance for the companions.

Maurice Giuliani points out in particular that contrary to the belief that decision is taken during consolation, in time of joy, peace and strength, in reality the moment for decision arrives when the companions are able to go beyond the alternating states [11]. When in consolation that seems to give a certainty about the decision, we know that this will be followed by desolation that raises doubt. Only when through the succession of alternating states our faith grown enough to commit ourselves freely in respect of all these movements we can take the decision. The companions will see that they arrived to what they wanted and know that the decision is theirs, they can live with the trust that the future depends on them, on their interpretation of the facts of life, on their initiatives and readiness to take risks. When they make decisions in this way it becomes clear that the will of God is not something exterior respect to their own will inspired by the Holy Spirit and they can act upon their decision knowing also that God is the master of everything in final analysis. The freedom of the human person and the grace of God work together in a complex and wonderful way in this method of decision and view of spiritual life.

When very soon consolation and desolation begin to alternate again, this will be part of a new process and with this the companions will enter the preparation for new choices. Maybe a new decision will lead to modification of some earlier one, but the new process will never put in doubt the authenticity and validity of the choice made in the earlier period of alternating states.

When the companions made the decision, they offer it to God in prayer and go on to conclude the Second Phase. Even if it was lengthened quite a while, at the end the companions need to stay and live for a while with their decision before continuing with the next Phase of the Exercises.


The third situation and method: the case of “reasoning”

The companions find themselves in the third situation if there is no clear evidence of what to choose, they don’t experience alternating states, and also they are not in desolation, fear or other disturbance which would be not the time for any decision according [318]. This case is a time of inner peace or “tranquility” as St. Ignatius calls it, when the companions are able to focus on the decision freely and prayerfully. Here tranquility and lack of emotional movements do not mean lack of involvement as it would be maybe in case of tepidity, the companions are ready for deciding, they just came out of very demanding meditations, are contemplating the gospels and want to make this decision freely under the grace of God. Sometimes there are emotions about the alternatives but not sufficiently clear for discerning or they cease and the companions need to turn to the method of reasoning. It is not always easy to distinguish the second and the third situation as it depends on personal sensitivity to emotional changes and to inclination toward reasoning. Further, when it comes to “weighing” the pros and contras this process itself can be a complex one where not only the intellect is involved but also emotions might emerge.

It seems like that the third situation is more typical of the secluded retreat when there is limited time, but the method can be useful in the exercises in everyday life since there is enough time also to consider rational motives as far as to confirm the discernment process and vice versa [12]. The method Ignatius gave consists mainly of rational weighing the arguments for and against the possible alternatives, but the “breakthrough of the Spirit” is present, although hidden in the assignment of weight through reasons. This method is also a prayerful process, where the companions continue the contemplations of the life of Jesus, ask the guidance of the Holy Spirit that they would be able to examine the right alternatives, could see them from a correct viewpoint and at the end they offer their choice to God in prayer. Rational reflection upon alternatives is not less “spiritual” and grace-filled then the other methods, since the use of the faculty of reasoning is a grace from God and everything in human existence is a spiritual reality. We cannot directly feel he Holy Spirit but the effects of his action, and every experience of the grace depend on God who gives it when he wants. The third method presupposes that the best choice is understandable and can be recognized by logical process. On the part of the companions it requires faith in the assistance of grace to their intelligence and in the Holy Spirit who can speak through rational motives. Faith is present at the end too, when the companions present their choice to God in prayer. Laying the choice before God for confirmation or authentication inevitably brings the companions through discernment. Through the authentication the result of their reasoning will become as strongly the “will of God” as if achieved in the first or second method. In fact a moment of revelation is present when at the end of this offering the companions recognize their choice as “God’s will”. There is not difference in certitude of the decision depending on by which of the three methods we achieve it.

The third method is useful also outside of the context of exercises, whenever a decision should be made in a limited timeframe which does not allow to wait for the psychological movements. St. Ignatius described a concrete example of the application of the third method of decision in the “Rules for the distribution of alms” [337-344] of which we present a contemporary adaptation in the Appendix C with the title “Guidelines to deal with material goods”.


The method to use in the third situation involves the following steps:

- The companions first focus on the matter of which they wish to decide and maybe write it down for major clarity.

- Then they recall from the Principle and Foundation [23] the goal of their life and the meaning of their existence: God creates every man and woman out of love and for the same human vocation: to love and praise God with their existence and serve him with reverence. Living this way they will find the fulfillment of their life and collaborate in their salvation and that of all humankind”. While keeping in mind this goal when making the decision, they need to be free in their relationship to “all other things” (to which they are not obliged by commitments already), so that they are not inclined to accept or reject the alternatives because of previous attachments, prejudices or bias. St. Ignatius describes this attitude with the image of a scale: “I should be like a balance at equilibrium, without leaning to either side, that I might be ready to follow whatever I perceive is more for the glory and praise of God our Lord and for the salvation of my soul” [179]. The companions will weigh the arguments for and against each possible alternative on this well-balanced scale.

- Besides of the companion’s efforts to be balanced they need to pray for it constantly. Each can pray with his or her own words asking the grace of clarity when deciding.

- Then they begin to weigh the matter to decide and write down the advantages and disadvantages for choosing a particular alternative. They repeat it for each possible alternative and at the end choose that one with the weightier reasons for it [13]. Through prayer and reasoning the companions attempt to arrive to a decision that is not based on a priori likes and dislikes, attachments, wishful thinking and similar bias or prejudices.

- After choosing the best alternative the companions turn to God in prayer, offer him their choice so that he might confirm it for them and help them to realize if it is for his glory and for the good of them. The confirmation leads them to the need of discernment about it, since it inevitably involves feelings.

If the companions need more light on their decision, they can include also the following considerations in their search.

1.                 They should think of another person or couple whom they never saw before but to whom they wish the fullness of life. What would we advise to this person or couple if asking for help in the same matter for decision? The companions should follow the advice they propose to others. This perspective helps them to create a certain distance from the problem and gain more objectivity about the matter.

2.                 The companions now turn their fantasy to the moment of their death and imagine what they would think and feel about their life then with the choice they are about to make. They need to act according to the choice that would make them glad at the end.

This exercise is paralleled in a Logodrama used by Viktor Frankl in a therapeutic setting [14]. The case description is of a woman whose eleven year old boy died and she remained alone with her other son, crippled from infantile paralysis. The woman attempted suicide together with him, but the boy prevented it. Dr. Frankl invited the woman to imagine herself to be eighty years old on her deathbed, looking beck on her life. In this review she discovered that even if her son died, the other one needs her, since without her he would be in an institute, but she can make a fuller life possible for him. Then she continues by realizing that her life was full of meaning, including her sufferings and also that a short life as her dead boy’s could be so rich in love and joy that it could be more meaningful as a life of eighty years. Frankl ended the session by pointing out the possibility of another dimension, a world beyond our human world, in which the question of an ultimate meaning of suffering would find an answer.

With this call to the moment of death the companions have another perspective to see better which alternative would bring them more meaningful life. Remembering our death brings us in touch with the finiteness of our life and this gives a special weight to each minute we live and each choice we make. This perspective recalls the practice of the monks who keep the thought of death in their mind by the greeting “Memento mori”, “Remember death”. We can refer also to the prayer “Hail Mary” in which we ask Our Lady’s help “at the hour of our death” which is a particularly important moment of life.

3.        This is a consideration somewhat similar to the previous one, a sort of repetition of it, which serves to deepen the perspective obtained before. Now the companions should imagine themselves before God in judgment and decide which choice they would wish then they had made?

The moment of judgment brings eternity into the perspective. Viktor Frankl pointed out several times in logotherapy that although in human life everything, our works, love and posterity is transitory, everything becomes eternal as part of the past, it is saved there. Consoling fact that it cannot be lost but a warning one that it cannot even be changed or corrected [15]. This brings to the responsibility what we choose to do, what we select in the present to become part of the past. As we are constantly questioned by life and give our answers, we are “dictating” our story living our responsibility for our life.

“In death everything that has passed congeals in the past. Nothing can be changed any more. The person has nothing at his disposal: no mind, no body; he has lost his psychophysical ego. What is left, and what remains, is the self, the spiritual self. Many people believe that a dying person sees his whole life flash by within a fraction of a second. To pursue this comparison, we may say that in death man becomes the movie itself. He now ‘is’ his life, he has become the history of his life – as good or as bad as it might have been. He has become his own heaven or his own hell” [16]. We are facing two paradoxes here. The first is that a person’s own past is one’s true future, since once dead the person “is” his or her past; life is completed in a literal “past perfect”. The second paradox is that when we do thing we “create” also ourselves and in consequence we become fully reality at our death. Our self is in the making and becoming in all our life and becomes fully itself when death completes our life.

If the companions take into consideration this perspective, it will not only show them death as an “awakening call” to the true reality of their selves, but it will be helpful also to find the response to life’s question in the decision they are about to make and desire to be in line with the life they desire to create.


Choosing the decision-making method for couples

Which method to follow will depend on if the companions find themselves in the same or in different situations of the above described cases. The general rule that if they are in different situations or otherwise a method is not applicable, they need to follow the method with the “higher number”. Let us go through the possible combinations.

A.                 If both of them are in the first situation, have a clear evidence of what to choose and they agree on the decision to make, this is excellent, they can proceed according to it.

B.                  If both of them have clear evidence of the decision but their choices are different then they should examine their feelings about these alternatives and follow or with the method of discernment or that of reasoning until they can agree on one choice.

C.                 If both the companions experience consolations and desolations then they need to follow the method of the so-called communal discernment. Since it is not too different from the personal discernment, he companions will be able to set for themselves the rules for themselves based on that. Here we give some general insights on how to do a communal discernment.


Communal discernment for companions

1.                    To engage in the discernment process, the companions need to consider themselves as “we”, a single acting agent. It means to live in commitment and communion which in the case of a married couple is a given situation. This point brings up the question if there is necessity to achieve unanimity. It seems like evident that two people need to agree to act together. But unanimity never should be a simple submission of one partner to the other (or others if we speak of a group). Unanimity is not the tyranny of the stronger or of the majority winning over the weaker, but a harmony of hearts and minds that is hard to define and maybe escapes exact definition. If the agreement is not spontaneous, it requires time, patience and maybe compromise on both sides to achieve it. In any case, before beginning the discernment process proper, the companions need to examine themselves if they constitute a living “we” and are open enough to accept new ideas, compromise and patiently wait for each other.

2.                    The companions need to express in a clear and simple form the matter of which they discern, so that they can answer about it with “yes” or “no”. For example instead of putting the question “What would be the best for us to do in the following year?” they should ask, “Should we buy this property?” “Should we move to California?”, “Should we join this religious movement?”, “Should one of us accept a certain job?”.

3.                    When the companions formulate the questions to discern they rely on their living experience, their common ideals, habits, expressions, language, and similar. Certainly they have shared values, ideals and goals, which unify and organize their life. During the Exercises the preparation for this decision renders this orientation explicit and reveals the obstacles and limitations on the way of the companions toward their ideal. When they understand their basic options, they will see if the alternative they consider is in harmony with the chosen existential attitude and lifestyle, if it simplifies and renders more free their life or not. This being in line with the innermost orientation is an important criterion for deciding.

4.                    The companions need to agree that they will put in practice the decision once it is made. (Unless, of course, they discover, that they need to change it because the discernment was not made properly, or because new conditions arose.)


D.                 If both of them are in the third situation of “tranquility”, they should use the third method of deciding applied to the necessities of the companions.

E.                  Remains the case when the companions are in different situations, for example one has clear evidence and the other no or one has emotional movement while the other companion experiences “tranquility”. If it is so they need to turn usually to the method with the “higher number” applicable. If at least lone of them experiences alternating consolations and desolations they can use this as basis for discernment and also take in consideration the reasons to be used in the third method. If none of them has alternating emotional movements, but one receives a “revelation”, than they need to submit this to the test of reasons pro and contra. They need to go on discerning and reasoning until they find a common choice confirmed in prayer.

F.                  In most of the cases presented above it might be necessary to repeat the process of choice - that is the companions need to alternate periods of prayer with sharing over the matter of decision - until an agreement is achieved.


Concluding the Second Phase

As we told earlier, after the decision is made, the companions bring it in prayer to God for confirmation and then they spend some time in quiet and grateful thanksgiving for the graces received. This might be also a bit longer period, as of trying in prayer to live with the choice before going toward the Third Phase of the Exercises. During this transition period the psychological movements will return, but these should not disturb the decision and the peace of finding it, since it was done in faith, beyond the influence of consolations and desolations. This time serves also as a rest after the high intensity of the decision, cherish the decision achieved, see the difference between the act of faith involved in it and the normal ebb and flow of feelings.

The companions continue also the contemplations of the public life of Jesus, of which they can take more or omit some, depending on the method of the decision. In any case, if possible it is preferable to end the Phase with the contemplation of “Palm Sunday” in [288] since it can be a transition to the theme of the Passion in the Third Phase.


[1] Cf. Lefrank – Giuliani, “Freedom for Service”, p. 102.

[2] We referred already to the analogous relation between the role of decisions in the Exercises and in the healing of neuroses and addiction in connection with the “Three Types” meditation [149-157] when presented the gospel story of Zacchaeus.

[3] When discussing the matters for decision we refer in part to Thomas H. Green, Weeds Among the Wheat, (Note Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1984) pp. 81-83.

[4] Cf. Lefrank – Giuliani, “Freedom for Service”, pp. 104-105.

[5] We can find an interesting presentation of the role of imagination in our life and the creative use of it with several practical insights and case descriptions in the little book of Maxwell Maltz, M. D., F.I.C.S., Psychocybernetics (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960).

[6] Lefrank – Giuliani, “Freedom for Service”, p. 107.

[7] See “The Election” in Lefrank – Giuliani, “Freedom for Service”, pp 215-234. This chapter of the study of Maurice Giuliani S.J. “The Exercises in Daily Life” presents the specifics of decision process in the everyday life retreat we refer to in this description.

[8] Ibid., pp.221-223.

[9] Note that the English “crisis” derives from the Greek word “krinein” meaning to decide; it is a time that decides the direction of one’s future if falls back or finds the way forward.

[10] See a presentation of “positive disintegration” and how this model of growth provides a parallel to the stages of ongoing conversion in Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II”, pp.19-20.

[11] See Lefrank – Giuliani, “Freedom for Service”, pp. 224-225 and pp. 226-228.

[12] Cf. Ibid., pp. 232-233.

[13] We can give a numerical weight to the alternatives and draw a chart with the alternatives on the first axe, on the second “advantage” and “disadvantage” and finally on the third the weight of each. The following chart shows the case when there is the question to accept or reject something. This graphic representation can be helpful for some people, but of course it is not necessary part the decision, and we mention it only for illustrating the method.


[14] Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” pp. 184-187.

[15] See for example “Temporality and Mortality: An Ontological essay” in Frankl, “The Unheard Cry for Meaning,” pp102-113.

[16] Ibid., p. 112.