Our Blessed Lord, Jesus Christ, son of the living God, second person of the Trinity, eternal Word of the Father, gave us the one way to know and judge and that is “you shall know a tree by its fruit.” The problem most have with this is that they do not know what is fruitfulness. Most people do not seem to know the difference between a spiritual fruit and a human consequence or a worldly precept.
Fruitfulness is not other people's reaction. People react out of their own sensitivities. They can react out of their specific wounds. They can perceive your intentions wrongly. They can also be deceived by a person having ulterior motives. People can be offended by many things including good deeds, truth and charity, but mostly they are offended by people doing things that to their conscience are a reproach to them. This is what happened to Jesus and it is what happens to those who seek to be faithful to Him and His example. People become envious and then angry and then hateful and try to ruin the person's reputation to discredit them in order to remove the reproach that the faithful soul is to them. They will even go so far as to lie and make up sins and spread calumny, anything to stop the voice of reproach they hear in their own minds. Therefore you can't take people's reaction to something as criteria for discernment and/or fruitfulness. People have their issues and tendencies and predispositions and none of these are objective enough, but actually sway the person to believe according to their own humanity. But since authentic discernment is objective gospel principles, it is shining the light of God onto a matter and showing it to be what it is in the eyes of God.
In order to discern properly, a soul has to be free from all preconceived notions and not be willful about wanting it to turn out a certain way, for any reason whatsoever! In other words they must be completely detached from the outcome. If this is not the case the person should not even bother discerning, because they will be swayed by their humanity and instead of shining the Light of God on the matter they will shine the obscured view of self onto the matter, and of course that does not give God's view but a badly distorted one indeed. Unfortunately this is the case with most people, even those in the Church and in position of authority to make judgments on these matters.
It must be clear that while the Church has the authority to judge these matters, those who have this office and duty must do their duty faithfully according to the criteria given them to do so. And they must be detached from the outcome as well or else their humanity will sway them as well and great will be the disservice done to the faithful who depend on and have the right to have the Church give them what the Church intends, and that is a truthful rendering of an impartial verdict based on gospel principles and not an erroneous judgment based on human thinking and personal agendas. They have the grace of the office they hold and are obligated by their duty to the vows they took upon taking office to keep their humanity out of the equation.
While it is not just to criticize bishops, it is the right of the faithful to correct bishops when they are misleading the faithful by error which scandalizes the faithful or leads them to an erroneous judgment of the truth on a matter that affects their faith. Bishops do not have the grace of infallibility. They must adhere to Church teaching as well as the faithful, and even more so due to their teaching office in the Church. Correction of bishops, done with the right intention of preserving the faithful from error, as well as the bishop himself, is an act of charity on the part of the faithful and is not mere criticism. Bishops do not have the right to impose their own views on the faithful while disregarding the truth and authentic Church teaching. Any bishop who intentionally does this is a betrayer of Christ and His Church and can not dare to say that he is in communion with the Pope, where his authority to act as an inheritor of the office of the Apostles comes from. If a bishop acts outside of union with the successor of Peter he does not speak and act for Christ and His Church. For example, it is Church teaching that Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament. If a bishop says that it is only a symbol, he speaks not for the Church and does not have to be obeyed by the faithful and no one has to adhere to this in an ascent of faith. If a priest tells a congregation from the altar that everyone must stand during the Consecration of the sacred species, no one has to obey him. Why? Because it is not an act of obedience to God to obey a priest who is asking you to disobey the Church! That is convoluted!! He can not make you hold hands during the Our Father and he can not make you go up to the altar during the Consecration. Our obedience to Jesus is obedience to the Church as the Church intends it, not when it is misrepresented by someone who has their own reasons for telling the faithful something that is contrary to what the Church teaches. They do not have the right to interpret it in their own way and give this misinterpretation to the faithful as it if it were from the Church. And no one has the right, even if he be a priest or bishop, to tell us to obey them in disobeying the Church because they do not have the right to tell us to disobey Jesus and Our Father and the Holy Spirit who reveals all truth.
There are 3 spirits that a matter may come from. God (the good spirit), satan (the bad spirit), and self. One might say there is also the spirit of the world, but Our Lord said that the world has been seduced by the devil, and therefore it speaks not on its own behalf but for the devil and so it is the same as the bad spirit and will always be contrary to the good spirit which is God. If one wants to discern a spirit that he himself is experiencing, he would do well to first gain a true knowledge of self. This way discernment has been made easier by 1/3 since if he knows himself he then has only to discern from the good or bad spirit. The simplest way is a complete honesty with the self. What do I think, what do I want, what do I believe, what are my preferences. It may be that this is difficult for some people, there are often tendencies to repress, to hide, or to exaggerate, or to be self deprecating. None of these are helpful. True humility is honest and does not stretch the truth one way or another. It does not bend more toward exaggerating faults any more than it does exaggerating virtue. That is a false humility.
If one expresses a desire or belief and it is the truth of that person, it will give a natural satisfaction to the person. If a person believes he is being moved by God and finds that these movements always match up with his own preferences, he is either in union and his inspirations flow from his relationship with God since by being in union he is already detached from preferences and therefore from the self that always seeks his own ego; or he is obviously experiencing the spirit of self.
The Spirit of Self
If a person can not be completely honest with himself for any reason, he then needs to know in what the spirit of self consists. Firstly, as one may assume, the self is always concerned with the self. This is not a pun, the self is ego-centric, so it’s primary concern is itself. In other words the inspirations that come from the self are ordered to the self, and reflect the self-will. They do not seek the Glory of God, nor do they seek the good of others, unless they are in line with the desires of the self, but that is not charity, it is the spirit of self hiding behind what appears to be charity but is still self motivated. Inspirations of the self, acted on as if they were from God, ultimately will lead to self glorification. They lead to base means and ends. They lead to pride, vanity, avoidance of the cross, seeking one's own safety and security forsaking God's honor, they follow the counsel of human respect, avoidance of persecution. They lead to putting one's feelings above virtue, a sick kind of self love that leads away from dependency on God and toward dependency on self. While they may start out as good ideas and actually seeking a good, because they are from the self they are susceptible to being led astray. When a person is outside of God's will and pursuing a self motivated endeavor the endeavor does not have God's protection. By that I do not mean primarily protection for success and not failure, but protection of soul, of virtue. And since he has not His protection the adversary of our souls will find a way to get him to sin, in fact he will use the fact that it is not His inspiration to worm his way into the work itself with the aim of trying to destroy the soul. While he may be in a state of grace the endeavor has not the grace of state. It is kind of like being given a task without the proper tools to accomplish it. God will still support the soul but the work only in as much as it is good for the soul itself. God will try to work with whatever good will the person has but He will not support it if the person loses sight of the good intention and focuses on the self centered motivation. Just because something is a good in itself does not mean it is good for you or something that is within God's will for you. God likes that we desire to and seek to do things for Him, but not if it leads us away from Him and decreases our love for Him by increasing a disordered love of self. He would first try to purify the intention, but if a person persisted in disordered self love He would no longer support the endeavor and may simply put a stop to it in order to keep the soul from going astray or simply let it die by not supporting it. One thing is certain though, if it is of the spirit of self it will not have the signs of fruitfulness as if it were of the Good Spirit. If a person stubbornly persisted in it anyway He may choose to let the person have his way in order to show the person the effects of choosing the self over God and His will.
So how does one keep the self will from guiding the soul to places where the devil can easily tempt and lead astray? By having good will, upright intentions, by seeking to not be willful; by being honest with oneself and with God. This is hard for most people, especially in a culture that glorifies it as the best way to achieve success in everything you do. The more overbearing you can be the bigger the monument made in your honor and the more things will be named after you and the bigger the legacy you leave behind in the world. Ah, the worldly surely worship the worldly. The truth is that, “if the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor.” For an endeavor done for God to prosper, what it needs most is that the idea be from Him in the first place.
What if one week I watch a movie on Mother Teresa and feel inspired to serve the poor, then the next week I watch a movie on St. John Bosco and I feel inspired to work with children, then the next week St. Pio and I feel inspired to be a pure contemplative and to suffer for souls, and next St Francis of Assisi, and to be poor and preach. Can these all be my mission? They are all good in themselves and very worthy vocations, but what is my calling.
Seeking to do something that is supposed to be for God and actually doing it for oneself is not a virtuous motivation. And you run the risk of being deceived and what is worse becoming an instrument of the devil.
If a person is honest, following his good will inclinations will lead him to God and His will. God does not always manifest His will supernaturally, in fact that is why we call it supernatural, because it is above our nature and comes form outside our nature. But since He dwells in our souls by grace He acts in us and works in us and through us to accomplish His will for us. Again, if we are honest and of good will, we can follow our inclinations as a sure path to God and his will and he will transform our natural desires into supernatural ones and our good will into His will.
The signs of the spirit of self
Self promotion for human glory. Does the person seek vain glory? Are they doing it for attention and recognition? Do they seek publicity or fame? The spirit of self will draw more attention to the person receiving the supposed messages than to the messages themselves or to what God is doing in giving the messages.
Money. Do they receive a lot of wealth that they do not spend on their mission but on personal gain? Do they simply make their needs known or do they pressure people inordinately? Do they make grandiose promises of God rewarding them in this life and the next for those who give to their cause? Do they spend more time on fund raising than on their mission?
Imitation. Do they imitate other well known private revelations? Do they have the exact same pattern of revelation as other well known revelations? Does the person have much knowledge of the well known revelations that they are patterned after? Often it happens that a person admires a particular private revelation or person who is receiving a private revelation and they subconsciously desire to have the same experiences in order to be more like them. They identify too closely with them and subconsciously will to be like them and therefore desire to have these same experiences. They then subconsciously use their imagination to copy the form of the well known revelations and have their own experiences that mimic them. And not knowing the difference they believe falsely that they are the same and therefore authentic private revelations.
Focus of messages. Do the messages focus mostly on what we (people) are to do rather than on what He intends to do and is doing through these revelations. The emphasis on human undertakings shows that the endeavor in itself is a human one. A person can do a good human work and there is nothing wrong with that but if it is not from the Holy Spirit it is not right to promote it as such.
Errors. There are often errors in doctrine in messages that are from the spirit of self. People often think they know Church teaching well enough to expound on it in their messages but often get things wrong since they are not proficient in Church teaching.
No supernatural graces. God will not testify to His presence by any supernatural graces. If He is not the author of this movement then He will not grant supernatural graces through it.
The Good Spirit
The good spirit produces good fruit because it is from God. Therefore good fruit is a product of the Holy Spirit. Since Our Lord said that a good tree produces good fruit we then know that the Holy Spirit is working in the tree that produces good fruit.
Erroneous good fruit
Like I said before it is rare that people know what is good fruit, so I shall enumerate the most common errors I have come across. I differentiate between worldly ideas of success and true success. True success is to do God’s will since it is God who provides the fruitfulness.
Good reputation. This is the biggest error of all of them. It is plain that the gospel shows us that if we are true followers of Christ we will be treated as He was. That means persecutions, calumnies, false accusations, more enemies than friends, the wrath of the devil against your work, false friends and betrayals, possible sanctions from the Church, and even attempts on your life and possibly death. This means martyrdom one way or the other. I know that protestant prosperity preaching has made huge inroads in the Catholic Church but it is not from the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ promises union with Him and eternal life for those who are faithful to Him and the carrying of the cross is the means. He will prosper His work that stems from Him but it does not necessarily mean material prosperity. It does however mean spiritual prosperity. Those who do His will, will grow in virtue, but not necessarily prosper monetarily or in good reputation or any kind of worldly success. And the truth is if the worldly world loves you it is because it finds you simpatico, that is certainly not a testimony of holiness since Jesus says that “the world has been seduced by the devil.” Christ said, "I have come not to bring peace but the sword." So when I hear phrases like, "everybody loved him", "no one had anything bad to say about him ever"; I have to think that he must not have been a saint because if he was he would have been a sword as well and people would be very divided about him as they were about Christ.
Large amount of followers. God does not promise that many people will join us in our endeavors for Him, so having a large following is not necessarily part of true success even though the world seems to think so. In fact as a founder one must desire that all people want to join in the work but be willing to go it alone.
Financially well off. A lot of people look at this as a proof of God backing a movement; whether or not it is financially successful. The gospel says that a worker is worth his wage; which means that he should have his needs met by the faithful, especially those who benefit from the said person or movement. But it does not guarantee that those who work for Him will be wealthy. The fact that they are poor should be a testimony in their favor not against it. No one should work for God and expect riches, and certainly if one were to make it a focus of their work, namely to get money, again it should be a testimony that the work is not of God. Being taken care of by God by those who see it as a good work is a byproduct of doing His will. Getting rich off of doing His will is using the work given by God for a profane purpose. It is not right to use the fact that there are many people who want to give to a good work, in order to pursue money or what money can buy. Christ was poor, His apostles were poor; He said "Blessed are the poor." And He said that it was hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. How can anyone then assert that it is a gospel principle to have material prosperity in order to be of God?
Other’s approval. Here is another popular means of judgment that is erroneous; whether or not it has the approval of other people you know. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the “many orthodox catholics think this way” defense of discernment, or non-discernment I should say. I would call this the lazy man’s method of discernment. Which means; I do not want to bother seeking to find the fruits of this so I will go with the most popular thought on the topic within the circle of friends I have. The problem with this method is that it is not a true method of discernment; it is a way to not feel obligated to judge for yourself what the fruits are. If you do not know how to judge fruit then do not make a judgment until you learn how, for it is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit to call something not of God that is of God, and if you try to convince others of it as well that is another sin of persecution and calumny. Orthodoxy does not give one infallibility of discernment. In fact most people I have ever met who consider themselves orthodox seem to be so afraid of of making a mistake that they stay away from all private revelation altogether in order to ensure that they do not err. But there is at least a touch of Pharisaism in them. They do not truly want truth above all else they simply want to protect themselves. They are more concerned with appearance of inappropriate behavior than about committing bad behavior. They are afraid of tainting their reputation more than they are afraid of rejecting the word of God. They do not seek holiness through union with God (which is the only authentic holiness there is), but by following rules regardless of the spirit and intent of the rules. They do not understand what Christ said, that "the sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath."
Increase of virtue. Increase of humility, obedience, faith, hope and charity. This requires real knowledge through observation by a person well versed in the spiritual life. This can not be known through hearsay or gossip.
Humility. Gifts of God make one humble. It is always humbling when God gives because it is impossible to not know that He does so without it being merited. The soul that receives extraordinary graces also receives the knowledge of his own unworthiness and God our Father’s own humility in choosing to use a soul so incapable of what is asked of him. But this is part of the providence of it all. It is necessary for the soul to be dependent on God in his work for Him, and so He gives the soul true self knowledge in order to keep it that way. When God communicates with His children He always communicates some of Himself in that communication. In this infusion of Himself into a soul the soul knows that he is a child in need of a Father and a servant in need of a Master. Humility is also a true knowledge of self, it is not self deprecation, that is a false humility. Humility says with Mary, “He is who is mighty has done great things to me”, it acknowledges all He has done and is grateful to Him who has done it. It is truthful without being boastful, honest but modest, and does give away the secrets of the King lightly. It is to God who gives these supernatural graces to make them known, and those who receive them do not do so without good reason, namely to further whatever mission He has given them in these graces. In other words the soul will not do so unless it becomes necessary to fulfill whatever mission He has given them.
Obedience. Obedience is often misunderstood. Who do we obey and why. We obey legitimate superiors who are in obedience to the Pope. We do not have to obey those who are telling us to disobey true authority. That is not obedience but complicity with sin. I was once at a parish in which the pastor told everyone at mass that they had to stand during the consecration. No priest or even a bishop has the right to tell people to obey a directive that in itself is against Church teaching. True obedience in this situation was to kneel.
Faith. Faith is to believe without seeing, and it is to believe all of what Christ has revealed to us through His Church. So fidelity to revealed truths is a mark of authenticity of the Holy Spirit at work in a soul. No matter where a soul is at when God begins to speak to the soul in a supernatural way we should see an increase of faith in the soul.
Hope. Hope is the certainty of receiving what has been promised. This is crucial to a soul who has authentically received a revelation or an inspiration for a founding. This is why they persevere against persecutions and critics and doubters and naysayers. They are firm in their hope that what He says is true as it was communicated to them. Hope is not I wish, or it would be great if, or I really want it badly; it is a certainty that something is because He said so.
Charity. Charity is love of God first and love of neighbor second. Does the communication with God in question increase a soul’s love for Him, his desire to know Him, serve Him. Is it greater after than before? If it is then it will increase the soul’s desire for prayer, for union with Him. It will cause him to want to be more faithful. It will also cause him to love his neighbor more by causing him to love their souls primarily which is supernatural, rather than just with the love of affection and desiring to be loved with affection. This increase in charity will cause the soul to want to live the gospel more radically and not settle for the lukewarm mediocre way of living the gospel that he is accustomed to seeing in his culture which has accepted a worldly influence in its practice of living the gospel.
Living the gospel. If God communicates to a soul, that soul will conform more and more to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Infused grace creates a greater hunger for God which makes the soul desire and will to become more like Him. Therefore the soul seeks to be conformed to the mind of Christ and leave all that is not. This includes ideas, ways of thinking and behaving that they find are the spirit of the world and leaving them behind in order to embrace the gospel more fully even in the face of friends and family disapproving of it and pressuring them to “be like everybody else” and to not change the “status quo.” The gospel says we are to love our enemies. At the heart of love of enemies is forgiveness. If a person forgives those who persecute him he shows he wants to be forgiven of his own sins and if he prays for his persecutors he shows he is a child of the Father.
Miracles/conversions. Make no mistake, miracles are a proof of God’s presence for only God can work miracles. What is a miracle? A miracle is a good action that is above and beyond the scope of the natural law, which means it is supernatural. I qualify that it is a good action since also demons can perform supernatural acts only they do so for an evil purpose and to deceive. The greatest miracles are moral not physical even though most people are awed by the physical ones. Physical ones spur people to greater faith and even convert non believers, so they are mostly for people who need their faith strengthened, or those who struggle with faith or are non believers; they are for people who need a sign to believe or be assisted in their faith. Moral miracles are conversions of the heart without the use of a material cause. Whether it is a conversion from non belief to belief or from belief to greater belief, from sinner to repentant or from good to holy or holy to saintly. To be able to forgive when a soul has just found it impossible to let go their anger, to finally let go of a vice, or to be moved to go to confession when one hasn’t gone in so many years. To feel love after years of closing one’s heart because of a deep hurt. Only God can cause this in a soul, so if it happened it is proof of God at work in the soul. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life are also a supernatural calling. They are not just practical, good decisions about what to do with one’s talents and gifts in a career occupation. Healings, conversions, vocations, returning to the church and sacramental life are all proofs of the action of the Holy Spirit, and if these things are fruits of a supposed apparition it is authentically from God.
Resignation in suffering. There are few signs of holiness greater than this one. It is supernatural to have this as the very nature of suffering and its natural effects tend us toward wanting relief from it. Therefore it is a proof of God’s presence in a soul and His close union with him when a soul is resigned to suffering. I do not mean this in a passive way as one who does not care to live and is suicidal, or like one who has falsely identified himself as a victim soul due to identifying with traumatic abuse; but one who actively chooses to allow himself to suffer what God Himself sends as an act of love and a desire for a greater union with Him and to cooperate in saving souls by being on the cross. He does this allowing himself to feel the full effects of his suffering and not repress his emotions and feelings in order to accept it; but to choose to accept it in spite of it how it feels and receiving the peace that surpasses understanding because of it.
Steadfastness. To persevere in trials/hold fast to one’s belief of authenticity in the face of persecution. To persevere in the face of persecution is also a supernatural thing. Persecution naturally causes a soul to be afraid since the consequences seem naturally harmful to the person as a whole. To hold onto the belief that God is communicating or has communicated to the soul when one is persecuted is a sign that the person’s ego is not involved because the ego has a natural aversion to being persecuted. It shows that the person’s fidelity to what they believe is stronger than their aversion to being persecuted and therefore their love for God is greater than their love for self. Humanly speaking a soul has nothing to gain by enduring persecution for something they know is not from God, and if it is not from God it won’t make them stronger in faith but weaker and it will be mentally harmful. Therefore if a soul is able to persevere and they are not mentally ill (delusional) then it is a sign of authenticity.
Erroneous bad fruit
Persecution. It is a sign of God’s blessing according to Jesus Christ. When a soul is following Christ and living the gospel in an extraordinarily faithful way they will be persecuted. Why? Jesus tells us that the world has been seduced by the devil. The devil wants all souls to go to hell. Therefore if a soul is leading other souls to God then he is a threat according to the devil. The devil knows when there is good fruit, he knows when a movement is from the Holy Spirit, so he attacks it. He makes use of other souls who are more bound to the ways of the world because the faithful soul is always a reproach to them. There is spiritual envy, and envy leads to hatred, and hatred to persecution. This is the pattern of the Pharisees with Jesus and it follows the followers of Jesus Christ. They do not want their hypocrisy exposed by the authentic gospel living of the true follower of Christ. So it is not then difficult for the devil to instigate a persecution which is devised to throw off any scrutiny from the “Pharisees”, and try to discredit the faithful follower in other’s eyes so that other souls will not follow the example of the persecuted soul who is a faithful disciple of Christ. I want to make it clear that all persecution is from the devil and is hatred toward God Himself. Since he can not attack God directly, he persecutes Him in those who belong to Him. This is why when Saul was persecuting the early Christians and Jesus spoke to him on his way to Damascus, He said “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me”, instead of why do you persecute My children or my followers. If persecution is a sign that God’s blessing is on a soul, then it follows that it is not a sign of bad fruit. Then why do so many seem to believe that when a soul is persecuted there must be something wrong with him or there wouldn’t be so many people who dislike him? At the heart of it is the erroneous belief that people only say something bad about you if you have done something wrong, that if you are disliked by so many there must be a good reason. There is also the desire deep down to be well thought of, to be liked, to not be persecuted. But then reputation becomes more important than righteousness, and appearing good in other’s eyes more important than being good in itself. The important thing is to make sure one doesn’t sin in the eyes of God, not in the eyes of men who judge mostly by appearance, whereas God judges the heart, which men can not see into and therefore judge badly. If only people could tell the difference between being personally hurt or offended and someone actually committing a sin. A person can be hurt or offended or seemingly scandalized simply because their own issues are triggered by someone else’s behavior that is actually just and righteous in God’s eyes. A few examples:
I receive Holy Communion in the mouth, and someone who receives in the hand is offended because they believe I am judging them personally and all who receive in the hand. That is most likely their own guilt projecting that I judge them and in fact they are judging me falsely as I have not said anything or done anything that tells them I believe they are a sinner for receiving in the hand.
Someone I know asks me to go to their wedding and I subsequently learn, that although they are getting married in the Church, that they have no intention of raising their children as Catholics and have no intention of practicing their catholic faith; they are only getting married in the Church to get married in a church because their parents want them to. I politely tell them that the vows they will be taking are vows to God Himself and that the intention of the vows is to be a practicing Catholic and to raise their children as such and that to take the vows anyway is a sacrilege and a lie to Him and all the people who will be there and will hear you take these vows. They tell me that that is what they are going to do regardless, and I tell them I will not go to the wedding. They say they feel betrayed and are scandalized that I am judging them and call me a hypocrite because they say I lack love of neighbor and that Jesus wouldn’t do what I did. In this case they say they are scandalized but this is erroneous because I have done nothing wrong, and it is I who have cause to be scandalized by them since it is they who are acting in a way that is not truly catholic, although I am not scandalized because I know their conscience has been formed badly.
A priest at daily mass asks everyone to go up onto the altar for the liturgy of the Eucharist. Most everyone goes up. The ones who go up are scandalized by those few who did not obey the priest.
Poverty. Some people believe that it is a sign of not being of God if there are financial difficulties or poverty or even just plain not enough money coming in to support the mission or members or whatever the case may be because they believe that it means that God Himself is not supporting it if there is financial instability. This is erroneous as well and is obviously not how God thinks but men. Jesus and His Apostles lived off of the charity of others they did not support themselves. Many times they did not have a place to sleep or were not given hospitality in a town and had little or no food in a given day. If men are not moved to pity or have a hard heart or are afraid to give because they are afraid they will not then have enough or for whatever reason just do not like whoever has a need and do not want to give, this does not mean that God is abandoning them and therefore they must have done something wrong to deserve the punishment of no one giving to them. Jesus says to give to those who ask of you even if they are your enemies. Therefore if people who know of persons in need do not give when they are asked of or stop giving to those in need, what else can we say except that they are not doing what Jesus says explicitly in the Gospel. And it is convoluted reasoning to say, “I will not give unless I see that others are giving as well or until it has certain ecclesial status.” People have their own reasoning, but to pass them off as somehow defending orthodoxy or truth when all the while there is no church teaching or scripture to defend their actions is deceitful and hypocritical. If someone does not want to give for their own human reasons they should be honest and simply say so and not give pretense to excuses for not living the gospel of Jesus Christ. For appearance sake? It is not like God doesn’t know. To think one is getting away with something because he has hidden it from men under appearance of a good and valid reason to men is a false notion and just plain silly. It is God’s judgment and not men’s we should be concerned about. Unlikely as it may seem to some, poverty is most often a sign of God’s presence in a relationship that keeps those who belong to Him in a dependent relationship of Father to child. And He never said whatever you do to the wealthy you do to me, but to the least.
The truth is that many people want to believe that it is part of the gospel to be self sufficient, to control your life, to be so called self-made; in other words to not have to trust in anything or anyone other than yourself. The problem is that this includes God for those who believe this. So when they see a person or movement that is in need they immediately think that they are not doing enough since it is not God’s place or theirs to help them but the person or movement’s own responsibility to ensure their own means for themselves. This is the old saying of "God helps those who help themselves", which is not scripture but from Poor Richard’s Almanac which was Ben Franklin’s attempt at a book of proverbs. Ben Franklin was an atheist and it was his way of saying that God does not help anyone since he does not exist, so you better help yourself. Therefore those who believe this error judge falsely that those who don’t are not of God.
Bad reputation. How does one get a bad reputation? Well, either from doing many bad things publicly, or from people spreading unsubstantiated rumors, which is gossip, or from calumny which is a form of persecution. All are because of sin, the first from the person’s own sins and the other two are from sins against the person. So is having a bad reputation a sin itself? Only if it is caused by the person, by sinning publicly, consistently over a long period of time. This is the person causing his own bad reputation and then it is deserved. If someone has a bad reputation simply because other people can’t seem to exercise a little discretion in not repeating what they have heard but have no first hand knowledge of then it is undeserved and the person is innocent and maligned. If the person has a bad reputation because people have purposely spread lies about him then he is not only innocent but obviously of the good spirit to be persecuted since as we have stated earlier persecution is a sign of being in God’s will and grace and that the Holy Spirit is with him. It is important to note here that St. Ignatius says that to gossip about a venial sin is a venial sin, and to do so about a mortal sin is a mortal sin.
Non ecclesial standing/approval. Here we must distinguish between religious foundings and apparitions since they are treated very differently by the Church. First the foundings. All foundings start out not approved. This is normal and in no way says that the Church has found them to be not of God. Until they have some form of approval they are in the preparatory stage of development. According to the late Fr. Gambari, the foremost canonical expert in religious foundings, it is the Church’s responsibility to give these movements of the Holy Spirit a canonical status in order to allow them to prove their charism. To not do so is to shut the door on the possibility of a work of the Holy Spirit. The bishop’s obligation here is to discern the authenticity of the inspiration by testing the spirit of it by giving them the opportunity to live the charism they propose to live. It is the movement’s obligation to live the life they aspire to as much as is possible in order to grow in the experiential knowledge of how to best live it out in a practical way. Too often a bishop will decide whether or not the proposed charism fits in well with the plan he already has in mind for his diocese. For example, he is well disposed to teaching orders if his plan involves expanding religious education or more catholic schools, but he is not disposed to contemplative orders. I understand that bishops have an agenda for their own diocese, but they are stewards and not masters and should always be open to God’s agenda first and foremost above their own and that means being open to what the Holy Spirit may be asking of them through these movements. They have nothing to lose by being willing to test the spirit of these movements and everything to gain. Therefore being in a preparatory stage because of not having found a bishop who will give canonical status is not the same as being found to be not of God by the church. How long it takes is not a sign of that either, or else one would have to assume that the ones who take less time are more of God and the ones who take a long time are less of God and that makes no sense at all. A thing either is or isn’t of God because it is or isn’t of God. It is for the church to test it’s spirit by giving it the opportunity to fulfill its mission within the church. If the church by means of its stewards does not give it the opportunity they are accountable to God for that and not the movements who have done their part by approaching bishops. Therefore to say a movement is not of God simply because it does not yet have ecclesial status is to be misguided and have an erroneous idea about the preparatory stage in which there is no level of approval and yet is still a valid and necessary stage of development.
As with religious orders and movements every apparition that has ever been approved at one time was not yet approved. And every apparition that has ever been given approval had its persecution before it was approved. An apparition being approved gives us the assurance that it is from God. But the contrary can not be said to be true that every apparition that has received a negative verdict or no verdict by the church is not from God. There have been many cases in which as a result of persecution an apparition has been given a negative verdict only to be overruled later and be approved. Again, a thing is either of God or not, simply because it is of God or not, and no human judgment can alter that. The Pope being infallible, can rule on whether it is contrary to any teaching of the church or not and that judgment will be infallible because it is within the grace given his office by Christ Himself. A bishop, however, must follow the teachings of the church by his own free will and is not assured infallibility on the matter. It is possible for a bishop to get it wrong and it has happened often. If in his will he has the intention of following the teachings of the church and being obedient to the Pope and exercising his office with integrity and not using it for his own personal agenda, then the Holy Spirit will help him to reach the proper verdict, if not then he will get it wrong. The writings of St. Faustina are a great example, they were on a banned list for a long time until then Bishop Karol Wojtilja had them examined by an eminent theologian and got the decision reversed. They were simply persecuted. St. Padre Pio, who was persecuted by a Cardinal at the Vatican, was prohibited from hearing confessions or saying a public mass for many years. Should the people who believed that they were of God stopped believing when the negative judgments and restrictions were put on them and their work? Is it possible that they were of God, then weren’t, then were again once the negative judgments were reversed? Nonsense! What about the people who believed in spite of the negative judgments. They were right weren’t they? Is it wrong for people to put faith in an apparition or movement that is under some negative scrutiny or judgment? It is certainly wrong to disobey the church. And it is wrong to not consent with faith to its dogmas and official teachings. But this is a case of the church exercising its power of discernment and that is not infallible. All people including bishops and cardinals must exercise valid discernment principles and render impartial judgments, and when they don’t, are the faithful compelled to give an assent of faith to their decisions, particularly when they know it wasn’t done? I say no. And I say this is not disobedience to the church. It can not be that the fruits of abuse of an office of power in the church have to be given the assent of faith to when the faithful have true knowledge of this dissent on the part of a bishop or cardinal or pastor or whoever holds the office. This goes back to what obedience really is; it is obedience to the Pope and those Bishops who are in union with him and to church teaching. Why? Because they authentically represent Jesus on earth. When they part from that of their own free will, they are no longer in union with the Pope and no longer speak for Christ or represent Him in His explicit will, even though He may still use them in His permissive will as He uses all evil for His own purposes to bring about some good. And they have no right to mandate that the faithful commit a sin. To attempt to force the faithful to give assent with faith to something they know is not church teaching is just that. To tell the faithful they are not allowed to believe that an apparition is authentic when there are obvious good fruit and nothing is contrary to church teaching and an authentic ecstasy has been confirmed by a competent medical examination team which proves that it is, is deceitful and a betrayal of the trust that the faithful give their shepherds. God made man to naturally give assent to truth and when we do so it is not possible to then unassent to what we know is true. We can not disbelieve what we already believe through faith. It is not the same as when we have an error and we correct it with the truth, this is how God made man, but it does not work the other way around, we can not correct a truth with an error, this would make a human being insane. If I already believe through faith that Jesus is in the Blessed Sacrament I can not then disbelieve it because a bishop says otherwise. I realize that private revelation is different from the deposit of faith but it is the same faith in God who reveals His Self to us that tells us to assent to what is true. It begs the question. Can consenting to what is true ever be considered dissent? I say no. Because man is ordered to truth, and dissent by it’s very definition is to deny, refute or knowingly disobey the teachings of the Church, which is the revealed truth of God. So if God reveals Himself through private revelation and it can be proved via authentic discernment principles, how can it be considered dissent? If there is nothing contrary to the teachings of the Church in private revelation messages then no one can legitimately call it dissent to believe in them even if a bishop chooses to ignore them or dissuade people from believing in them. It would be disobedience to disobey clear restrictions given the seer regarding the apparitions. But to disagree with the bishop when there is reasonable evidence to the contrary is neither dissent nor disobedience. Since private revelation is outside the scope of public revelation and one need not give the assent of faith to authentic ones, then one also does not need give the assent of faith to those decrees which state they are not authentic when there is nothing contrary to Church teaching and there is evidence of them being from God through authentic discernment principles. Discernment gives us reasons for human faith, not divine faith for which there is no discernment only adherence to that which is revealed truth. Therefore in a matter of human faith which necessitates discernment and prudence there is no sin of dissent or disobedience to disagree if one has good reasons such as medical proof of ecstasy, sound theology, and good fruits. When a bishop seeks to dissuade the faithful with means that are deceptive not to mention immoral, it is reprehensible. I am referring to not publishing the medical team’s evidence of authentic ecstasy, slandering the seer without giving facts of wrongdoing, censuring the messages due to “apocalyptic tones” without stating clearly what is not in accord with Church teaching and overall giving false impressions without specific charges or evidence of error or wrongdoing on the part of the seer. That can not be said to be anything but persecution.
Unity. True unity is found when people are one in mind and heart in the truth. There is no true unity in falsehood, falsehood causes division. A soul that consents to truth unites himself to God who is Truth, when many souls unite to the same truth there is unity among them. Therefore, true unity among the people of God consists in those who are united to God in fidelity to the Pope and the teachings of the Church. Disunity and division begins as soon as someone believes a lie. This is the original cause of division in the scriptures when Eve believed the serpent; this caused disunity between her and God. And when malice entered her heart to give it to Adam as well it caused division between her and Adam before he ate of it. Eve’s belief of the serpent made her disbelieve God and this choice of hers created disunity as she allowed malice into her heart toward God. This caused her to disobey and then with even more malice desire for Adam to sin as well. It is always true that to hold onto anger towards someone is to separate ourselves from them in our hearts, which is disunity.
Peace. Peace is not lack of conflict. Peace is also not an intellectual agreement or an emotional connection. Peace is a spiritual fruit of a clear conscience brought about by being in union with God in faith and in the will. It is also a gift of God to those who are in His grace. The stronger the union with God, the deeper the peace within. In fact when a soul is in divine union with God his peace is virtually continual.
Peace is an interior freedom, freedom from sin and guilt, a trusting serenity that allows a soul to have the perspective of faith and see with the eyes of the soul. Too often I have heard people speak of peace as simply a lack of conflict. They do everything to avoid arguments and try to make sure that they do everything in order to not allow anyone to ever get angry at them. And if anyone does they immediately consent to the other person in order to not have an argument. Then they pat themselves on the back for being a peacemaker and brand themselves the more virtuous one. But the truth is that they do this by way of repressing their emotions, rejecting the truth or at least the pursuit of the truth, patronizing the other person and sometimes betraying their conscience and even consenting to lies and sin, and all this in the name of keeping the peace. This is not peace, not even close.
Arguments often arise from misunderstandings where two people simply see things from a different perspective based on different life experiences or different callings in life or being at different levels of maturity or spirituality or even being of a different sex or culture. And if there is no malice there is no sin and no evil committed, and patience is required to understand what the other person is trying to say. It is not something to try to avoid but simply something to work through with virtue.
Some arguments arise when there is a difference of opinion about what is true and then it is the pursuit of truth that should be the focus while still remaining virtuous. If truth is attacked then it becomes a matter of justice and it is normal for someone to get angry as anger is proportionate to one’s sense of justice. Temperance is then needed to not receive malice into one’s heart so that it remains a pursuit of truth and not become about something else, such as defending one’s own ego or simply wanting to be right. Yet as long as the truth is attacked it is to be expected that a just person defend what is true, especially when he has come to know Jesus as the Truth and sees Truth as the person of Jesus, as then he is defending the person of Jesus in defending the truth.
I have often heard the saying that whoever gets angry first must have been wrong. This is ridiculous. Many people, far too many, repress their emotions in order to not show anger outwardly while interiorly raging so they can appear calm and therefore appear the winner to themselves and all those who believe in the ridiculous error. What’s true is true because it is true not because of how it is represented or packaged like a shrewd marketing technique in a commercial. Lies need embellishments in order to persuade people but truth stands on its own merit for those who are just and seek the truth. Peace in this circumstance is achieved by consenting to the truth and this resolves the conflict.
Conflict is created by disorder and sin, not necessarily by the person who disagrees or speaks up or contradicts what is going on. Without these, done in a right ordered way, there could never be justice in the face of corruption or abuse or any injustice that is committed. If avoidance of conflict is the path to peace then it would be right to never speak up about any injustice or abuse and how could this be right?
Conflict resolution is the path to peace, not conflict avoidance. If there are those who refuse to accept the truth then they are rejecting peace and unity. Those who accept the truth can have the peace of a clear conscience. Some conflicts are worth getting into for the sake of justice and truth and peace, true peace, not just a lack of external conflict when all the while there is a true conflict being lived out in the person who is holding on to malice, anger, error, all on the inside and perhaps just repressing it all, which allows it to control their behavior instead of the person controlling it.
A peacemaker is someone who assists all parties to seek and accept the truth, even at his own expense, as it often happens that they are accused of simply defending themselves or of not being able to admit they are wrong. A peacemaker forgives and even loves and prays for those who persecute them.
Bad fruits are pride, disobedience, vainglory, disturbance, anxiety, fear, doubt, despair, hatred, division, confusion, apathy.
Pride. An increase of pride is a sure sign of the bad spirit. Pride is a confidence in self as opposed to confidence in God. All works of God in a soul leave humility in the soul because the soul can not help but know it is God at work in the soul acting on the soul. It experiences that something is happening to the soul that the soul itself is not causing. Later the soul can be tempted to ascribe the fruits of the act of God to itself or more likely to believe that it somehow merited the grace by its own goodness and virtue. But the act itself is unmistakably God and not the self and this causes an increase of humility. Confidence in God may appear like self confidence on the outside simply because the soul trusts God and trusts that it is God who has acted on the soul. And he trusts that the God who has acted will also protect his soul and defend him if need be. This gives the soul peace and a certainty that he has God’s help. It is God who the soul puts his faith and trust in and therefore is not worried or confused or troubled at what may be the future consequences such as persecution or trials or other sufferings due to having God communicate to the soul. It believes that if God has initiated something, He Himself will give all possible help to see it through to its fulfillment. Pride is an “I can make all things happen with my ability and will”, rather than the humility that says, “all things are possible with God.”
Disobedience is to disobey legitimate authority. If someone who allegedly receives an inspiration from God or a communication from God begins to disobey their legitimate authority when it hadn’t before, or proclaims that the inspiration or communication from God told him to, then it is obviously not from God. Many times in this day and age there is apparent disobedience but not actual. Such as when a priest tells you to disobey the church and you don’t and are pointed out as one of the only people who are not doing what the priest said, like kneeling during the consecration when you are told to stand by the priest who is saying mass. Or when a bishop says something derogatory about an apparition or seer that leads people to believe that it has been judged as not authentic but it actually hasn’t. When a Bishop makes a public statement without making a canonical judgment, it is simply done in order to persuade the public without having to authentically use his office in an official capacity to pronounce a judgment, and therefore his judgment is not held up to scrutiny by Rome. Rome can only reverse an official declaration. Therefore, those who are obeying the Church are often actually persecuted by those who accuse them of disobedience and are in fact not disobedient but obedient and are being martyred in for their faith.
Vainglory is when a person does things not for God’s glory and the salvation of souls but in order to receive glory himself from men. Now just because people are often wowed by the extraordinary and tend to worship other men for their achievements, doesn’t mean that the person who is being lauded asked to be given idolatry or sought it. It must be discerned that a person has sought it from his works not just that others of their own free will have given it. Those who seek vainglory are trying to gain attention and praise for their good deeds. Scripture says to not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing and therefore one who is truly humble will not pay attention to others’ reactions to their works. Nor will they seek to defend themselves when accused. Often times this “silence” is seen as an acknowledgment of guilt, but that is how the world thinks and not God. Jesus did not defend Himself and knew that those of good will would not make false judgments easily and would eventually see the truth; and those of bad will could not receive the Holy Spirit and therefore could not be converted to the truth. It is a sign of the good spirit, not the bad, when those who are falsely accused do not defend themselves. And those who want to judge are culpable for their own judgments and not the person who is accused. When a person chooses to judge without knowing all the facts, they do so of their own free will and risk making a false judgment and therefore persecuting an innocent. If they later find out that there were facts unknown to them that would have shed light on the matter and would have proved the accused innocent, they can not blame the accused of not fully disclosing the facts as if it were the accused person’s fault for being accused unjustly! No, the lesson is to not judge without all the facts and ask the accused if it is true first before making a judgment, if you must make a judgment that is. But it is better to avoid judging if at all possible.
Disturbance. The presence of the bad spirit causes disturbance to the soul in a state of grace and who has no attachments to grave sins. The presence of the good spirit causes peace and joy and spiritual consolation to the soul in the state of grace or of good will. The converse is true of a person in mortal sin or attached to a grave sin or of a bad will; the good spirit causes perturbation, agitation, anger, and accuses the conscience, and the bad spirit causes: a false peace which is only non conflict (like a smoker having a nicotine fit and having that first inhale of a cigarette), a sensual satisfaction toward evil inclinations, and pleasure at evil thoughts.
Disunity and division. We must again reiterate the difference between cause and decision. If a priest preaches from the pulpit the truths of our faith and many parishioners are hurt, upset and want to leave the parish or start a petition to the bishop to have him removed, this does not mean that the priest caused disunity and division. It is the parishioners who reacted badly because of their bad faith and belief in errors who caused division and disunity. Division is caused by belief in what is not true or a bad will. Eve caused division between herself and God and between herself and Adam by believing the serpent and consequently having a bad will toward God and Adam. It was not God's fault that she sinned. Her decision was not caused by God's prohibition of eating of the fruit in the center of the garden; it was caused by her belief in the lie of the devil. God told her the truth and she chose to believe the lie. If she had held on to the truth she would not have sinned. If she had sought the truth when tempted, she would have been defended by God and her resolve to not sin would have been strengthened and she would have seen clearly that the serpent was lying and she would have been reconciled to God. After she sinned she only needed to repent to be reconciled with God and God can not force her to repent, repentance is the means to reconciliation. She was ashamed and did not seek it and therefore suffered the loss of the relationship even though God would have forgiven her. But staying in her shame and not having the humility to seek God she could not see that God still loved her and wanted to restore the relationship. It is up to the sinner to repent or to seek the renewal of a relationship. The person who blames the innocent for their own sins does not believe in the love of the person who was sinned against and it is their disposition toward the innocent that keeps the relationship non-reconciled. And if the person who sinned holds on to anger against the innocent, it is that very anger itself that causes division. Anger causes mistrust, ad mistrust causes separation in the heart of the person who mistrusts. It wasn't until Adam and Eve experienced the effects of their punishment did they truly repent and experience God's friendship again, even though He had already forgiven them. They were punished so they could expiate their sins; they expiated to be purified of their sins so that they could once again have hearts that were receptive to God's love. In other words, it was for their good. Therefore, one who does what is right and good and who speaks the truth does not cause division, those who believe what is false, sin and react badly to truth and good are the ones who cause division and disunity. For it can not be that a heart full of charity is the cause of division, but the heart that rebels against truth, rejects love, is bitter from past wounds, has repressed anger and withholds forgiveness, has disordered passions from sins, is unrepentant, has malice in his heart, or pride elevated from past hurts; this is the heart that causes division. It is not a heart that is filled with God’s peace that causes disunity but the heart that is agitated, restless, irascible, vengeful, envious, jealous or covetous that causes disunity. It is not the heart that is united to the mind of Christ that causes division, but the heart that is united to the spirit of the world, which breaks faith with Christ, that causes division. It is always the person who has accepted in his heart something he should not have by his own free will that causes division and disunity.
Fear. The presence of God causes a loving confidence in God. Fear, as Jesus says in the gospel, has to do with punishment. Fear of punishment has to do with guilt. True guilt has to do with having done something wrong. All this is part of the natural order of how God made us so that we might repent when having done something wrong. The devil uses intimidation instead of love to get people to obey him; he wants us to be afraid of him so that we might do his bidding in order to not receive the fulfillment of his threats. Therefore, fear is always of the spirit of self or the devil, but never from God, God will not cause fear.
Hatred comes from envy. When envy is nurtured it inevitably turns into hatred. We have this example in Lucifer's sin and Eve's and Cain's. Anger is not hatred since anger is an opposition to an injustice and if it is fostered, turns into bitterness. Anger that comes from being hurt can turn into unforgiveness and bitterness, but this shows a person still cares. People hold onto hurt because they care, whereas hatred is the desiring of evil towards another, as it is the opposite of charity which is the desire for another's good.
Despair is the opposite of hope. If one experiences despair it shows a disproportionate trust in oneself and the realization that oneself is not capable of extraordinary acts. Therefore it is a sign of the spirit of self or of the devil causing a soul to rely on oneself. God acting on a soul causes the soul to have confidence in God and not the self and therefore can't experience despair because it does not rely on the self but on God.
Doubt is opposed to faith. Faith is to believe all that God has revealed to us. Doubt is to no longer believe with certainty one or more of these truths. Therefore if a supposed message from heaven calls into question a truth of the faith, it is not from God. If it imposes something that is not a truth of the faith as if it is, then it is not from God. For example if a message states that there is no purgatory or that marriage is not valid or that the Pope is not infallible, it is not from God. If it states that Jesus will come and live on the earth again and rule over His Kingdom on earth, then it is not from God. And if any message, correctly understood, makes us disbelieve any truth that God Himself has revealed, it is not from God.
Apathy is when one does not care or is disinterested. If a message makes one not care about doing God's will or disinterested in his faith whereas previously he was very engaged in his faith and serving God then it is not from God.
Confusion is the opposite of clarity and order. If a message causes a soul to be confused about his life in relation to God it is not from God. The word of God brings clarity and purpose to our lives and right orders it. It helps us to understand our place in His plan for mankind. It is lifegiving as it opens us to His love for us and how much He wants us to be in His will so as to benefit from His grace and receive his blessings.
In all these fruits it is understood that the message is correctly understood in its intent and meaning.
At the heart of discernment is union with God. The more one is united to Him the more he knows Him. And the more he knows Him, the greater will be his ability to recognize the person of God in His actions with men. Ultimately discernment is an instinctive intuition of a person whom one knows very well, it just happens to be the person of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
What I have written here is not an exhaustive treatment of discernment, but only what seemed to me to be most necessary for souls to know.
Br. Mariamartin de la Cruz SDBV General Steward