Discernment is about finding the voice of the Spirit of God speaking to us in the ordinary and practical details of our lives. It is a key gift that St. Ignatius brought in the Spiritual Exercises. By trying always to listen to the Spirit, without being attached to our own desires and ideas, Jesuits wish to find where the Spirit of God is leading and respond with humility and joy.
In our apostolic work, the Society engages in Discernment in Common to reach decisions about important apostolic issues. Those involved pray and reflect on the decision to be made and then share together the fruits of prayer. The major superior or Director of the work then makes the final decision. A special office for Discernment in Common and Apostolic Planning at the General Curia promotes this process.
(Source: Jesuits Global)

Today’s world is one of complexity and opportunity presenting a rich variety of options. Discernment in common means a prayerful consideration of these options under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is a key part of the Society of Jesus’s history.

In 1539, when Ignatius and his companions met in Venice to reflect on their future, they deliberated in common. During the process, this culturally diverse group experienced a growing sense of unity. Since then, many instances of discernment in common have occurred.

STEP 1: Preparing the group

  • Clarify the question:

What are we deciding about?

Why did this question arise?

Agree on the one-sentence question.

  • Identify key stakeholders

Connect them with fundamental mission.

Explain spiritual conservation.

Come together in prayer.

  • Establish group objectives

What is our most important goal?

Based on mission, vision, values.

Prioritize the objectives.

  • Clarify final decision maker

Is this a deliberative or consultative discernment in common?


STEP 2: Data Gathering

  • Gather information

Consult relevant people and sources of information.

  • Analyze information

Understand the data, visualize it and place it into context.

  • Present information to the group

Make sure everyone is included.

Visualize and explain date.

Questions and clarifications.

  • Pray

Time for personal discernment and prayer.


STEP 3. Discussion and provincial decision

  • Come together to share

Listen to everyone’s response.

Look for the “deeper layer”.

Active listening, sharing inner movements. In your deepest self what impact has the information on you?

  • Pros & Cons

For each option, the whole group looks at the disadvantages compared to the objective.

They then look at the advantages.

Indifference is key in process.

  • Pray

Time for personal discernment and prayer.

  • Seek emerging consensus

Discern the spirits.

Consensus? If not: Have further prayer and dialogue. Gather more information.

  • Give time for confirmation

Discern the spirits.

Finalize the options to be presented.

STEP 4: Decision and action

  • Make final decision

The agreed authority (steep 1) makes the final decision and communicates to all stakeholders.

  • Implement

Set deadlines for action steps.

Communication is key.

Involve all stakeholders.

Vital to keep referring to the fundamental reason for the decision.

  • Evaluate

Set a date for evaluation.

Are we effectively addressing the issue?

Preparing the group: The proper disposition is key for any discernment and even more so for discernment in common.

Date Gathering: The matter must be well chosen, the people taking part should be the key stakeholders.

Provisional Decision: Discernment in common provides better information for a wider choice.

Decision & Action: Discernment can’t go on forever and even if absolute certainty is not obtained, a decision is needed.