The Craft of First Discernment

The Craft of First Discernment


Mini Discernment 1 – Feelings and spirits
What feelings in my prayer are characteristic of the good spirit? These I accept.
Characteristic of the bad spirit? These I reject.


Mini Discernment 2 – Consolations and desolations
Did I experience interior happiness, quiet, love or spiritual consolations?
Contrary disturbances in desolation?


Mini Discernment 3 – Good spirit over time
Can I see the movement of the good spirit over several exercises or longer?
In what direction am I drawn?
Contrary movement of the bad spirit?


Mini Discernment 4 – Good spirit through others
Has my Listening Book revealed deeper desires of the good spirit for me?
In my sacred listening, did I also hear the voice of the good spirit?
After my spiritual conversations, do I see the life-giving patterns of the good spirit?

Prayer to the Good Spirit


Good Spirit, inflame me with love of my Creator and Lord.

Help me to recognize you in the discernment of spirits,

to find you in the flowing of my courage and strength,

to source you in my consolations, in my tears,

and join you in your inspirations and quiet.

Open my eyes to the disturbance of the bad spirit,

to the sadness and disquiet.

Reveal the darkness of desolation for what it is,

and turn me in the contrary direction.

Please, make things easy for me,

remove all the obstacles in my life

so that I may move forward in doing good.

Direct me toward your service and praise,

increase in me your gifts of hope, faith and love,

fill me with that interior happiness

which calls and attracts to spiritual things,

and leaves my soul quiet

and at peace in her Creator and Lord. Amen.

How to Guide First Discernment


Ignatius calls his guide to discernment of spirits the rules by which to perceive and understand to some extent the various movements produced in the soul: the good that they may be accepted, and the bad, that they may be rejected. St Paul has similar advice when he say, to test everything, and hold fast to what is good .

These rules or guidelines are listed below and have been edited into the mini-discernments above so that your receiver may learn to recognize those feelings characteristic of the good and bad spirit. As taught by Jesus, your receiver learns to identify the weeds in the wheat, but stay focused on reaping the harvest.

They are called mini-discernments because they can be made simply and shortly, in three to seven minutes, after a spiritual exercise, spiritual conversation or at the end of a day. It may seem difficult at first to identify the movements in the mini-discernments but, be assured, you and your receivers will both learn with practice.

How to Guide First Discernment


In practice, it will be enough to just try the first mini-discernment above and in later weeks of the retreat, to try the others, one by one, until your receiver is confident enough identify the discernments that matter the most in his or her prayer.

The first two mini-discernments are made referring to the descriptive lists of feelings and consolations that are in italic in the four guidelines of Ignatius below. Your receiver may also experience similar feelings, not listed, that are filled with the good spirit.

Ignatian Guideline 1. Moving from bad to worse.

With people who go from one deadly sin to another, it is the usual practice of the enemy to hold out apparent pleasures; so that he makes them imagine sensual delights and satisfactions in order to maintain and reinforce them in their vices and sins. With people of this kind, the good spirit uses the opposite procedure, causing pricks of conscience and feelings of remorse by means of the natural power of rational moral judgment.

Ignatian Guideline 2.  Moving from good to better.

In the case of people who are making serious progress in the purification of their sins, and who advance from good to better in the service of God our Lord, the procedure is the contrary to that described in guideline one, for then it is characteristic of the bad spirit to harass, sadden and obstruct, and to disturb with false reasoning, so as to impede progress, while the characteristic of the good spirit is to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet, making things easy and removing all obstacles so that the person may move forward in doing good.

Ignatian Guideline 3. On spiritual consolation.

I use the word “consolation” when any interior movement is produced in the soul which leads her to become inflamed with the love of her Creator and Lord, and when as a consequence, there is no creature on the face of the earth that the person can love in itself, but they love it in the Creator and Lord of all things.

Ignatian Guideline 4. On spiritual desolation.

“Desolation” is the name I give to everything contrary to what is described in guideline three; for example, darkness and disturbance in the soul, attraction to what is low and of the earth, disquiet arising from various agitations and temptations. All this leads to a lack of confidence in which one feels oneself to be without hope and without love. One finds oneself thoroughly lazy, lukewarm, sad, and as though cut off from one’s Creator and Lord.

For just as consolation is contrary to desolation, in the same way, the thoughts that spring from consolation are contrary to the thoughts that spring from desolation.

Please note. The Golden Rules for Spiritual conversation in the FSE Cloud Community are a combination of Sacred Listening, Spiritual Comversation and First Discernment. These may suit you better in understanding or for teaching your receivers.

Please note.  For greater depth in giving the FSE and guiding Spiritual Conversation see the Manual  here.