The above insights about faith and freedom, about playfulness and expansiveness of heart, also greatly illuminate the true nature of the so-called “discernment of spirits,” in other words, the process of distinguishing the different forces at work in human life, so as to hear and respond to the voice of God, and not the voice neither of the fallen, disordered desires within us nor of the spirits of evil. Without at all disagreeing with or disparaging the traditional methods—for example Saint Ignatius’ Rules for the Discernment of Spirits—it is important to point out that, at the end of the day, discernment is meant to be a very simple matter and not a perpetually complicated affair (it is often fear that makes it complicated, or the unredeemed desires within us that blind our vision). For the path of faith leads from the periphery to the center, from multiplicity to unity, from complexity to simplicity, from long and drawn out considerations to the spontaneous seeing of the heart. And little by little, by living in the atmosphere of faith, one becomes acquainted to the sound of God’s voice, sensitized to the presence and the voice of Christ: “I know my own and my own know me,” he says, “as the Father knows me and I know the Father. I call them and they follow me, for they know my voice” (cf. Jn 10:1-18).
Our fractured desires, obscure idealizations, and dulling fears little by little release, and, by the activity of grace within us, become integrated with the deeper “voice of the heart,” the voice of our own innermost being as God has created and redeemed it. And this voice of the heart is the place in which we respond most freely and fully to the voice of Christ—it is the sanctuary of our “yes” to his own “Yes” of love to us, by which he calls us to himself and to the fullness of life. True certainty, after all, neither needs nor desires long and drawn out considerations, a multiplicity of arguments, or reliance on “proofs” to bolster itself.* Though these can be important in the beginning—after all, the Christian, Catholic faith is profoundly convincing even and also on this level, on the level of reason’s questioning and pursuit of truth—a mature faith-contact with God and his truth is supra-rational, it is unmediated fullness felt with the heart and overflowing into one’s whole being. This cannot be reduced to arguments and explanations, nor adequately expressed in speech, and leaves one stuttering on contact with the Mystery: the “I-don’t-know-what behind their stammering” of Saint John of the Cross. God’s fullness is just there, and his truth is just so alive, so viscerally real for the person who has surrender to it in faith, that no doubt is any longer possible. It becomes the really real, the truth that illumines the whole of reality in its light, so close now that it cannot be held at arms length, objectified and analyzed, but only surrendered to ever more deeply and intimately, and thus known and felt more fully.
Let us come full circle now. It is beautiful to see how all of this leads us again right to the heart of childlike playfulness, lightheartedness, and spontaneity. Yes, for (as we will see in a moment) while lightheartedness is the atmosphere in which virtue grows most freely and expansively, and in which sanctity has space to breathe and take possession of all of life, it is also true that the fullness of spiritual childhood is only possible as the fruit of mature virtue and a total surrender of one’s entire life to God. In other words, as fallen human beings lightness does not come naturally to us (rather sad and self-centered sobriety does, or flippant surface-skimming superficiality, depending on our disposition). True sanctity—which includes virtue while also transcending and holding virtue—is the begetter of true lightheartedness and the safeguard of true freedom, of the “mature spontaneity” of which John Paul II speaks. For virtue is not a self-enclosed disposition achieved merely by human effort, a kind of mere acquired habit of good action (though all of this is present on a human level); rather, virtue is the blossoming of the fullness of living relationship with reality, and above all with the Author of reality.
Full virtue is fullness of grace. It is sanctity: the ceaseless dependence of a little child on the sustaining love of the eternal Father, and participation in the filial life of the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, by the power and working of the Holy Spirit. It is to live Christ, to live in and through his own ceaseless reliance, at every moment, on the love of his Father, not only for his action but for his very identity. His whole being was, as is for all eternity, pure relationship with the Father. So too, as we enter more and more deeply into this same relationship through faith, into unmediated contact with all of reality that speaks of God, and above all with God himself, we enter into the fullness of filial existence, indeed into the fullness of nuptial existence, and find our lives fulfilled in intimacy. All of our aspirations and desires, all of the rich potentialities and capacities of our humanity are brought to blossoming and fulfillment in abiding intimacy with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in participation in their own innermost life of love. Yes, our whole being, from body to spirit, from thought to desire to action to feeling, is permeated by the presence of the Trinity, and irradiated with his life. This, too, is how the saints, those most totally and unconditionally surrendered to God, those who have been so totally grasped and transfigured by him and his grace, can see so clearly and transparently. The complexities that trip us up, confusing us and bogging us down on the surface, are often like transparent glass for them. They see right through to God. Or perhaps better: they see all things through God, in God, and with God, and thus see things as they truly are. This is authentic freedom, and the birth of joyful, lighthearted, and spontaneous confidence in response to the voice and presence of God in each and every thing, and each and every thing in God, such that love flowers freely from the human heart as a gift responding to God’s gift in every moment.
*John Henry Newman wrote profoundly of the process of coming to certainty as an “accumulation of probabilities,” in other words, the gradual coming together of innumerable proofs, numerous threads that all point in the same direction, and lead to one unescapable conclusion. G.K. Chesterton spoke of this, too, when he said that a man is truly certain of something, not when a few arguments convince him of it, but when everything convinces him of it. Little by little, as one lives in contact with the rich tapestry of life with an ardent desire for the truth, particularly religious truth, one begins to read the lines of the face of Christ inscribed in all reality, and all threads coming together to make up a world marked by the creative action of the Trinity’s love and directing our hearts to our eternal destiny in the heart of his embrace.