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Discernment separates the holy from the unholy

Cheryl Dickow

Bl. John Paul II

Like most Catholics, discernment is very much a part of my earthly journey.  Certainly, some things require more discernment than others; but, for the most part I have found that time in prayer and contemplation allow me to make better decisions in all facets of my life: as a wife, mother, friend, writer and speaker.

Well, sometimes I seem to make better decisions.

Lately it seems as if my discernment seems a bit faulty. What I believed to have been a “right” or “good” choice doesn’t end well—or certainly not like I believed it should!  In those situations—again, like most Catholics—I do my best to learn and grow in one virtue or another. After all, I understand that the good Lord intends for all the experiences of my life to somehow benefit me in the long run.

Recently, after a rash of what seemed like far too many “bad” decisions, I began trying to discern the best way to discern.

I readily admit that I’m just feeling the pangs of age and recognize that I have less time to remedy the things that I get wrong; thus, I’ve earnestly begun to try to do a better job of discerning right out the gate, so to speak.

I share that brief explanation to now say that on my road to discern discernment, I came across an idea that at first I discarded but have recently revisited with a better, more thorough understanding.

Discernment, I read, is the time spent separating the holy from the unholy.

Unholy is the sort of expression that has as many meanings as there are users of the word. My first impression led me to see the word in a very “spiritual warfare” sort of way. For me, then, I discarded the definition because while I strive to be the sort of woman who, upon getting up in the morning, elicits from the devil “Darn! She’s up!” I don’t like to get carried away and give too much credit to the darker side of life.

So when I read that discernment was separating the holy from the unholy I couldn’t see how that applied to me.

Then one day, I suppose while staring out my window and looking for answers, I caught a glimpse of that discarded definition and it didn’t seem quite as worthless as I had first imagined.

From a safe distance, “unholy” took on a whole new meaning to me. “Unholy” I could now see included feelings that were very much a part of the decision making process that I was undertaking.

Let me explain. Part of me was fearful and apprehensive about a new project. Upon a closer examination I found that the fear and apprehension were “unholy” ways to look at the opportunity before me. Yes, fear is part of an instinct that can keep us safe—in any number of ways: financially, emotionally, and physically—but it can also be a detriment to our moving on, forward, or ahead.

Admittedly we all get a bit fearful when approaching new and uncharted territory, but if we’ve spent time in prayer and have the right sense of fairness, humility, and wisdom when approaching something, fear should be removed. Fear, when it blocks us from doing something that we ought to do, or something that is meant for our good or for the good of God’s kingdom, becomes unholy.

I am reminded of the great and powerful words of our beloved John Paul II spoken in 1978: “Do not be afraid! Open. Open wide the doors for Christ!”

John Paul II seemed to understand how fear could be unholy in that it has a way of stopping us dead in our tracks.

We fear sharing our love of Christ because we don’t want to be labeled at “right wing fanatics.”

We fear working for Christ because we worry that our own needs will go unfilled.

We fear speaking out against abortion because we do not want to offend others.

We fear taking a leap of faith because we aren’t sure if a safety net is fully in place.

We fear making a wrong decision and so make no decision at all.

When fear becomes a factor in our decision making process, when it becomes a means to keep doors closed that Christ means for us to open, then fear truly is unholy; and, as such, discernment should be a time to separate the holy from the unholy—the fear that stops us from opening wide the doors for Christ!

What new and wonderful thing is Christ calling you to do but fear is stopping you?

In what ways is Christ trying to bless you but you aren’t having any of it because fear is in the way?

How might your life be better, right now, if only fear did not keep you from fulfilling what God wants you to?

As you discern the things of life, remember what John Paul II proclaimed to all of us more than 30 years ago: “Do not be afraid!”

Topics: Faith

Cheryl Dickow is a Catholic wife, mother, author and speaker. She co-authored and published the best-selling All Things Girl books and co-hosted the EWTN 13 part televison series of the same name. Her company is Bezalel Books (Bezalel is Hebrew and means "in the shadow of God") where her goal is to publish great Catholic books for families and classrooms that entertain while uplifting the Catholic faith. Her website is www.BezalelBooks.com where parents, teachers and catechists are invited to browse through titles.  

View all articles by Cheryl Dickow

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Gospel of the Day

Jn 13:1-15

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First Reading:: Ex 12:1-8, 11-14
Second Reading:: 1 Cor 11:23-26
Gospel:: Jn 13:1-15

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Jn 13:1-15

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