According to Jesuit tradition, discernment involves seeking God’s presence in our lives and learning to distinguish between truth and deceit. Even though we’ve traditionally been told to avoid anything “bad,” Jacqueline complicated this. As she explained, “The ‘bad’ could be startling something in you that you need to feel.” This reminded me of an in-class reflection I wrote in eighth grade about my fear of the big slide at the community center. In the margins, my teacher commented, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” There is strength in confronting the challenge, which I’ve found in my volunteer experience with the Ursuline community, pushing my comfort zone and growing in ways I hadn’t imagined.
In order to distinguish between truth and deceit, Jacqueline encouraged us to seek a deeper truth rather than the adjectives that define it. Adjectives, after all, are only one person’s perspective at one moment in time, so they don’t penetrate the surface level. As a writer, I connected this insight with William Strunk and E.B. White’s Elements of Style, which advises: “Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn't been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.” In terms of seeking our purpose and our authentic selves, we shouldn’t settle for the way that people describe us or the way that we describe ourselves, but instead go deeper—considering who we are and what we do. Likewise, when I came to the final step in the Examen, a Jesuit approach to reflection which we did that morning, I realized it ended with “Action.” It is our actions that define our purpose and give us the space to grow.
The events of the weekend went by quickly, but our Sunday morning faith sharing wrapped everything up well. We read Father George Smiga’s reflection for the Feast of the Epiphany, which explains the myth of the three wise men in terms of Christian tradition. Even though Scripture doesn’t tell us the number of wise men, it tells us that there are three gifts. There could be no more or no less than three wise men, and our belief in the nature of God’s gifts support this conclusion.
As Father Smiga also writes about the myth of the three wise men, “Christians know that gifts are spread throughout the community. No one of us has them all.” This reminded me of Sister Regina’s visit Saturday afternoon, when she shared her vocation story with us. During times of difficulty, she described how she was able to draw strength from the relationships she developed with the other sisters in community. She also recalled the time when she began teaching theology. She became friends with a priest who had a lot of knowledge in the field but didn’t know how to teach. So, he would teach her about theology and Scripture, and she would teach him how to conduct a classroom. They used their unique gifts to help each other.
As we reflected on Father Smiga’s words, a sister who joined us for faith sharing reinforced the importance of having a group you can depend on. The Biblical story does not tell of a single wise man but of a group of wise men who were seeking the fulfillment of their prayers and dreams together. Similarly, for us, it is important to find a group to be seeking with. Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer with the other young women who joined me on the retreat, and this past weekend, I felt grateful to continue my faith journey with them and grow together.