Leading expert shares practical discernment of spirits advice


Photo by: Lily Fitzgibbons

The Rev. Timothy Gallagher, OMV, expert on Ignatian spirituality, enraptured students in the well-attended Living the Discerning Life workshop on Saturday, Sept. 15. Beginning at 9:30 a.m., Gallagher presented four sessions on St. Ignatius of Loyola’s life and teachings about spiritual consolation and desolation.

Gallagher holds a doctorate from Gregorian University and has written over a dozen books on Ignatian spirituality, examining topics such as discernment of spirits and the rules for the Spiritual Exercises.

Discernment of spirits aims to help an individual navigate the spiritual life. Gallagher said that the Ignatian tradition achieves this navigational help with “more clarity and practicality than anyone else,” making it imperative to study Ignatian spirituality when pursuing spiritual growth.

Ignatius prescribes 14 rules for discernment, which are practical guidelines describing certain experiences of prayer, emotions and courses of action in the spiritual life.

Gallagher said that there are three important steps in applying the rules for discernment. The first is to become aware of and be able to recognize the emotional ups and downs of the daily spiritual life. The second step is to understand whether such feelings come from good or evil spirits, and the third step is to take an appropriate action towards accepting consolation or rejecting desolation.

This three-step method is “only going to bring blessing” upon the life of a faithful Christian, said Gallagher. “The way we think has a lot to say about our spiritual lives.” Combating spiritual desolation takes self-reflection and an interior silence because all thoughts can influence whether one experiences joy or despair.

Gallagher warned against the dangers that social media and technology present to an individual striving along the path to holiness. If people become too distracted by the noise of the world, they are unable to quietly reflect on and recognize the inner workings of their emotional and spiritual lives.

After the event officially ended, Gallagher stayed to answer questions from attendees for over an hour, ending the entire day at 5 p.m., after eight hours of generous pastoral teaching. “I’ve always loved coming to Franciscan University and today has been no exception,” Gallagher said.

Freshman Concetta Leopardi, who attended the event, said, “If you want to grow closer to God it’s important to know (about the discernment of spirits),” and Gallagher wonderfully opened that discernment for the university family.

Those interested in further information on Gallagher’s teaching ministry can visit www.discerninghearts.com to listen to his Discernment of Spirits podcast.