19 January 2010. Tuesday of the 2nd Week in Ordinary Time
1 Samuel 16, 1-13; Psalm 89; Mark 2, 23-28
What course in college should I take? After graduation, should I pursue a Master’s degree or accept a job offer? Is this person the right one to marry? Should I help another who is not related to me, or should I help my family first. And the most relevant this year, who should I vote? Decisions always perplex us because many of our options are not about good and evil. If it is between darkness and light, the decision is clear: we choose what is good. But the harder is choosing between two good things — though to some, three or four good things. Choosing a degree in college can be a daunting task. A student once said, “Economics or Business Administration or Management is good for the family business. But I will be happy if I take BS Biology because I want to be a doctor.”
We can take from the readings today how to discern. Making choices is a skill that is learned. It is an art, in which we discover the best possible way to respond to God in our life. St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Rules for Discernment help many people make wise choices and sound decisions. When God instructed the prophet Samuel to choose another king, other than King Saul, He continually reminded Samuel that “Not as man sees does God see, because he sees the appearance, but the LORD looks into the heart.”
St. Ignatius of Loyola reminds us that “our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me.” And therefore, the first principle is to choose what is good. Among all the options, what leads me towards a deeper service to God? It is hard for Samuel to accept the fact that God has now rejected King Saul whom he has anointed. Samuel is particularly attached to Saul, and the more painful truth is that God is determined to seek a replacement. But Samuel obeys God, because obedience deepens his relationship with Him.
Moreover, the rules of St. Ignatius helps us make choices from among equally viable options. It tells us that in order to make decisions with regards attractive alternatives, we must be sensitive to the inner movements of our spirit. Ignatius gives us a disciplined system to reflect on our feelings as we respond to God with each alternative. Take for example the anointing of David. Before David came to the scene of the banquet, Jesse, his father, presented all of his sons to Samuel. Each son, whose appearance were attractive, were all rejected. The reading says, “Do not judge from his appearance or his lofty stature.” This suggests that every single son of Jesse has those qualities, and Samuel is inclined to choose any of them. But in Samuel’s heart, Yahweh responds in the negative.
Look when David arrives. God affirms the choice, and Samuel anoints him with his horn of oil. David also has a pleasing personality: “He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold and making a splendid appearance.” But what made David different from the rest? David was God’s chosen.
The same thing when we look at the Gospel. The real servant of God is the one with a great heart, who chooses charity above the law. The disciples are hungry. And despite the Pharisaic Sabbath laws that prohibit them from taking from a field of grain, Jesus disregards the law in favor of feeding his disciples. Just as David has been a good shepherd, Jesus too feeds his hungry flock above all else. He knows which is important; which is more important; which is the most important.
God can speak to us directly. But we have to learn how to pray in silence. It is in praying that we become sensitive to God in our lives. It is in quiet prayer that we develop the eyes to see and ears to hear the voice of God. The prophet Elijah said that God speaks in the gentle wind. St. Ignatius will ask every person who discerns: What do you feel? Why do you feel that feeling? What are the patterns of consolation and desolation? Are you at peace? Are you moved towards loving God more than anyone else? These questions need answers in order for one to discover the best way to respond to God’s will.
It is just sad that many do not know how to maintain silence in prayer. We have become noisy both exteriorly and interiorly. That is why it is harder for many to discern genuinely. Reflect on many retreats and recollections. Parish recollections are talks, not strictly recollections. A recollection will give you time for quiet reflection and prayer. It will give you time to “collect” or to gather your experiences, so that we re-experience them in prayer with more sensitivity to God’s presence. In these so-called retreats or recollections, we try to “fill in” the gaps or call the animators to prevent people from getting bored. Or in some cases, the retreat participants socialize because they reason that the retreat time is their only time to update each other. This is my personal opinion: then don’t call the event a retreat or a recollection when it’s not. You’re just fooling yourselves.
My point is this: if we do not train ourselves to be quiet in prayer, how can we even choose rightly the person who will some day be our president? Case in point: the alternatives are attractive enough for us to be star-struck with tons of ‘stars’ or mesmerized when the person starts giving a house. When we are in “high spirits” it is always prudent not to decide. We might choose the wrong king; because we will never hear the voice of God saying “not him” — because the noise is already overpowering.