The Formation Weekend Program which was slated for Thursday 14th April to Saturday 16th April 2016, was piloted by Rev. Fr. Dr. Samuel Okwuidegbe, SJ. Quite remarkably, the seminary deemed it fit to help the seminarians in the area of their personal discernment by titling this weekend program DISCERNMENT. The program commenced on Thursday night where Fr. Samuel listed out the first principle of Formation, basing his source on IGNATIAN SPIRITUALITY. They are as listed below:
. God cares about our decisions.
. We can know God’s will.
. Our feelings are key to discernment.
. There is a methodology to making decisions.
. Decisions lead to more decisions.
Fr. Samuel, basing his sources principally on St. Ignatius’ spirituality, recommended that Examination of consciousness (Examen) should be practiced daily. He suggested that this would help to feel and to pay attention to the movements within. Hence he stated the steps for a proper Examen. They are thus:
. Pray for light. The light to dispel all darkness and enlighten the heart.
. Pray in thanksgiving. Appreciating God’s work in your life.
. Review the emotions of the day. The day is filled with reactions to events.
. Choose one of these moments and pray from it. Apologize to God for wrongs done. Be honest in opening up to God.
. Look forward to tomorrow. Things learnt from past experiences will help equip us for tomorrow.
. Conclude with any prayer of your choice.
Hence, he suggested that when this (Examen) becomes a daily practice, it will sharpen one’s awareness of the movements within and as well makes one confident and humble.
Progressing in his speech, Fr. Samuel enumerated three classes of people when it comes to discernment. They are as listed below:
. Those who talk and make resolves to please God but do not back it up with actions.
. Those who make efforts to please God but do so at their own condition. And equally are more attached to their gifts than to God. Hence they place themselves first before God.
. Those who put God first and in the Centre of their lives and are detached from God’s gifts to them.
He therefore suggests thus; “Of these three classes of people, the last is the class we are required to be in. In this class, a person is fully open to God’s work in His life and equally has prioritized God’s will and service in his life. We must bear in mind that God is at work and transforming everything through His spirit in Jesus. We must also note that evil is real. Both evil and good deeds emanate from our thoughts, desires, and impulses. It is through reflections that we can discover this. Again we must know that our God waits on us. He is concerned about us, about the decisions we make. He equally reveals himself to us. He is not distant from us. He is the God with us. We should therefore guard against making our gifts priority over God.”
Fr. Samuel moving forward lists out the necessary factors to be put at work whilst making decisions. They are:
. Openness: We must enter into decision making with an open mind, devoid of a pre-conceived outcome
. Generosity: We must have a generous spirit willing to let God direct us
. Courage: We must be courageous enough to do what God wants from us
. Interior freedom: We need to be internally free and not held down by anything. To make a prayerful decision prayer is of eminent importance and cannot be neglected.
. Setting our priorities right: Again, we must set our priorities straight. If serving God is the ultimate good, then every other thing in our life must be subordinated to it and equally all other things must be in consonance with our goal of serving God.
. Not confusing ends and means: We must avoid confusing ends with means. Certain times, means such as the marriage or the priesthood is erroneously considered as an end and not as a means to an end which is God.
Finally, Fr. Samuel recommended four reliable ways to go through uncertain or unclear stages in decision making, basing on St. Ignatius’ Spirituality. They are thus:
. Put before your mind what it is you want to decide about.
. Pray for grace to be at equilibrium and not to have a preference, but to keep God in mind.
. Then pray for God’s enlightenment to seek what is best for his service.
. Imagine what advice to give to a person who has this same problem and the follow it yourselves
. Use our reason to weigh the matter carefully bearing in mind our ultimate goal which is God’s service.
. Having made a decision, we should then turn to God to give us signals of confirmation. Signs such as happiness and joy can be signals of having made the right decisions while signs such as sadness and heaviness of heart could be signs of wrong decisions.
. Finally we must learn to follow our heart and what seems right to us. We need to learn to take a leap of faith and make a decision.
It was quite an enlightening weekend, all thanks to God who through the instrumentality of Fr. Samuel Okwuidegbe, SJ has guided us through the rigour of the right things to be considered in discernment and the steps in discernment. The program came to a successful end on Saturday evening.