DISCERNMENT ARTICLES

The shepherd’s voice

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Our Lord said that His sheep would know His voice; but when it comes to discerning your vocation, you’ve probably found that it’s not as simple as it sounds. How can you tell if what you’re hearing is God’s voice?

If you keep in mind a few characteristics of God’s voice, it is more likely you will be able to discern what is the voice of the good spirit (the Holy Spirit, your redeemed self, or the redeemed world) as opposed to the voice of the evil spirit (Satan, or the part of yourself and the world still in need of redemption.)

It is important to recognize that these principles apply to someone who is working for good: advancing God’s reign, working for the sanctification of souls, especially his own, doing the will of God.

  • God’s voice always urges us toward the better good. Of course, He will never urge us to do evil, and a good end never justifies a bad means, no matter how good your intention is. The difficult part is to discern the good which best leads to the extension of His Kingdom and the sanctification of souls.
  • God’s voice gives confidence and hope. He challenges us to conversion, and sometimes it is painful for us to respond, but He always does so in a loving manner. The voice of God does not give despair or self-loathing. If you are moving from bad to worse, the voice of the good spirit will cause you to be spiritually unsettled by your situation. However, a person moving from good to better will hear the voice of the good spirit giving confidence and hope.
  • God’s voice does not bring confusion; God’s voice is one of clarity, for one who is moving forward in goodness. If you suffer confusion, stay strong in the decisions you’ve made in spiritual consolation and pray. Pay attention, rather, to that voice of clarity, and do not allow yourself to be swayed by spiritual confusion.
  • God’s voice always gives peace. Even when what He asks is painful, or difficult to accomplish, following the Shepherd’s voice will always bring peace of spirit.

While it is necessary to be able to know and understand God’s voice above all, it is also important to know the other voices that you will hear.

If you have basic virtuous habits, the good spirit (your redeemed self) will incline you to desire such things as changing the world around you for good, selfless and heroic action, serving Jesus. But the evil spirit (the part of us that still needs to be redeemed) prompts you to doubt yourself and your abilities.

The voice of the evil spirit (the fallen world) tells you to trust worldly things rather than God. It urges you to value self-importance, money, power, self-determination, and things more than you should. This is a relatively simple voice to recognize, but the allure of worldly things is sometimes extremely difficult to resist, especially if you are not in the habit of identifying and resisting their attraction. The good spirit (the redeemed world) will, instead, prompt you to desire to bring about the reign of God in the world in a selfless way.

The voice of Satan can be more difficult to distinguish. He will try to directly tempt you away from listening to God’s voice; but if you are working to resist him, he will try a more clever tactic. He will appear as an “angel of light”, offering a lesser good than what God has prepared for you, making it seem as though you could be happier with that lesser good. For example, God may be prompting you to commit to a certain amount of daily prayer each day, but the evil spirit tries to convince you to play sports with your friends. After all, playing sports can be a good, and besides, the voice claims, your good influence may help your friends to convert, right?

Similarly, while it is good to be repentant for one’s sins, the evil spirit will try to use excessive feelings of guilt, shame, and self-loathing to make you despair and turn away so that it seems that you are removed from God’s mercy. But the good spirit will convince you of the abundance of God’s mercy, and prompt you to go to confession.

Take some time in prayer to consider how you hear these different voices, and what effects you let them have in your life and your discernment, and possibly bring this to spiritual direction. You will find that paying attention to these voices and influences can allow you to more clearly follow the Shepherd’s voice in an otherwise confusing situation.