A Process for Group Discernment
We’ve prayed and reflected on the Gospel call to do justice. We’ve reached out to encounter others. We’ve gained new understanding of a problem or issue that community members care deeply about. We’ve brought the issue to prayer and studied it in the light of Catholic social teaching. We’ve gathered more information and sought to uncover root causes.
Group discernment involves prayerfully reviewing and reflecting on our experience of prayer, encounter and learning in order to gain clarity on two questions: “What is the Holy Spirit calling us to do?” and “How can we best do it?”
Start by reflecting and discussing together our experiences so far praying together, reaching out together, and learning together.
When we pray together, God transforms us both individually and as members of the Body of Christ who are sent on mission in the world. As our guide and foundation, prayer inspires all we do, and we continually engage in and return to prayer even as we reach out, learn and act. Consider these questions as we begin.
How have we experienced God’s call to respond in this particular area?
What have been the fruits of our prayer together on this issue?
Reaching out begins with encountering one another in our families and faith communities, and expands to our neighborhoods and the wider community. Reaching out acknowledges the many parts of the Body of Christ and is necessary to building a foundation from which we can learn and act together. Here are some questions to reflect on our experience in reaching out.
Who did we encounter through reaching out (to members of our faith community, the neighborhood, the wider church or community, etc.)?
What did we learn through reaching out?
How did this experience open our eyes to problems, issues and circumstances in new ways?
Who else’s voices and experiences might be important for us to listen to?
Transformed by our encounter with God and neighbor, we strive to learn more about those issues impacting us and those around us. Catholic social teaching illuminates the problems facing our local and global communities with the light of our faith and guides us as we seek to understand root causes and discern how we are called to act. Ask these questions to recall our experience learning together.
What light do Scripture and Catholic social teaching shed on this issue?
What research, fact finding, or learning did we do to explore root causes?
What did we learn about why the situation, issue or problem exists? Note especially any economic, social, cultural, political, or historical factors.
Is there any additional information still needed in order to be ready to act?
Who else might we approach or involve in order to understand this challenge?
Now we are ready to consider how the Holy Spirit might be calling us to act.
Prayer, reflection and learning necessarily lead to action. Action might occur through service and relief, community development, advocacy, ethical choices and practices, or all of the above. Here are some questions that can help as we seek to identify what action we might take.
Who else is already working to address this issue? What are they doing? What gaps are there?
What is our faith community currently doing to address this issue in the areas of service /relief, community development, advocacy, and ethical practices? What gaps are there?
What are our strengths? What skills and expertise do we have at our disposal?
Who or what is within our sphere of influence—where can we realistically make a difference?
How can action be done in a way that involves the entire faith community?
How can those most affected by the problem or issue be a part of any solutions?
Discerning how the Holy Spirit is calling us to act can be a big task. If this process seems difficult, a diocesan social concerns representative may be able to help.