Discernment in a Catholic sense is to judge the will of God in your life. It is not as simple as open your bible randomly and just read what it says, though God could work through this way, but it must not be expected. Growth in discernment is part of our growth in our relationship with Jesus. But there we can learn some principles that will really help us discern God's will for us. An analogy from the movie 'The Dish' will help set the framework to understand discernment.
In the movie ‘The Dish’, scientists were maintaining the Radio Telescope at Parkes in Australia which was going to receive the signal from the lunar Lander for the first ever moon walk, 1969. The scientists lost the signal and couldn’t calculate where they needed to point the telescope to pick up the signal. They eventually realized if they pointed it at the moon, it would be close enough to pick up the signal sufficiently for the guidance system to zero in on the Lander. It worked.
This is an analogy of the relationship between us, Jesus, morality, spirituality and discernment. The signal we are trying to pick up is God's will, what does God want me to do? On our own, we can’t work out God's personal will for us. The moon is like God’s moral law, it is sufficiently close for us to pick up the signal of the Holy Spirit. If the signal we zero in on leads us away from the moon, we know we are off track (it is a false signal) and we must start again. Once we have picked up the signal of the Holy Spirit we can truly follow God’s promptings and come into deep friendship with God by doing his will.
Morality is about doing what is right, what we ought to do. One principle of discernment is that we must never choose to sin, even if we think it is God's will. God would never contradict himself. He would never want us to break a commandment.
God does want us to pray. Through prayer we are able to start to pick up the signal of the Holy Spirit. This signal could just be our own imagination of what we think God is calling us to. It could also be a temptation from Satan. Though it is always better to presume it is our own sinfulness at work since it is impossible to discern if a sinful thought comes from Satan or us. Also Satan could pretend to give us a good suggestion with the purpose of overloading us or to gradually lead us astray. So, how can we tell if a particular thought is from God or not? If the thought does not break the moral law and teaching of the Catholic Church, that is a good start. If it is a good action that is reasonable for me to do that is also good. If it is something that would lead me closer to God and is good for others than generally we should do it. As long as it doesn't overload us it is good to do.
St. Ignatius is the expert in the Catholic Church on discernment. In the next course we will learn a more detailed and comprehensive approach to discernment based on St. Ignatius' method. For now the most important thing is to build up a daily prayer life.