Read Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert and realize a profound but often overlooked truth: the devil can quote scripture. Let that sink in for a moment…
I maybe mistaken, but if the devil can quote scripture, he can probably also quote good ideas, saints, the natural modes of human inquiry… you name it… If the devil can quote anything and everything, then how do we put a limit on what he might use to thwart our attempts at a relationship with Jesus Christ?
Now we are starting to get at the heart of discernment. Truly recognizing the work of the Holy Spirit means that we must learn what is at the heart of faith, hope, and love.
Faith is not simply thinking the right ideas or supporting the right causes. It is a conformity between our thinking and the mind of Christ. By surrendering ourselves to Jesus Christ through the gift of the faith, we allow our intellects to be transformed.
On a practical level, faith takes place within a network of grace, a sacramental system that inserts the believer into a unity that goes beyond natural human ability. This unity is the body of Christ, the visible presence of Christ in the world. Authentic discernment means that we surrender to the Church Christ founded and to her faithful shepherds. This the practical guarantee that our interior life does not turn out to be an illusion because it is formed in the interconnectivity of grace.
Likewise, hope purifies the memory and turns the human person towards heaven. Where the fear of death resides, a subtle gravity of the evil one remains within the human heart. Of course, we are involved in a long term process of purgation, illumination and union, but the first step is learning to realize that we should long for heaven.
Finally, love indicates that surrender of the will in which the believer loses all self-centered ambitions. For discernment to be authentic, it must be housed within the warmth and tenderness of one who has learned to whisper love songs to Jesus Christ in their innermost thoughts.
All of this, of course, taking place in ways that extend far beyond words and concepts, in the very center of our being, on the level of the heart.