By Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna ’93

A colleague and myself developed a five week discernment series when we worked together at Santa Clara University. Over the next few weeks I will share portions of this work for your own vocational discernment, this is part five of five.

Image for pray: We are called and empowered to bear fruit.

In the end of our life, our greatest hope is that we loved others, self and God. In return that we felt the love of others, self and

artist Karen Gillis Taylor

artist Karen Gillis Taylor

God. It does not matter the accolades or the prestige that you achieve in your life. It needn’t matter the home you lived in, the neighborhood, or the schools you attended or did not. It will not matter how you kept your home, or presented your children to the world perfectly groomed. What will matter is when you took the time to be with your child, to sit with your parents, to find silence for your soul. It will matter how your heart grew, how it responded to your own needs of love and compassion and others, and how you wept and responded when others were in need of your assistance. Yes in the end it is love that matters. Not money, not power, and not our sins that kept us from being in relationship with others, but how we forgave ourselves to build that bridge of love back again.

This week, we take note of the invitations in the world around us, and our responses to them based on our gifts and limitations. The point of paying attention to consolation and desolation is to notice where God is leading us toward more love and more life. As we look at the present and the future, we look for these invitations that increase love and life.

The goal of discernment is, ultimately, action. In Christian scripture and tradition, this means action that builds up the community and action on behalf of others. In other words, “becoming a person for others.” Learning how to love well and deep and real. The ultimate goal of and reason for action is love. St. Ignatius reminds us that love expresses itself more in deeds than in words. This means God’s love works through us to accomplish God’s will. Often our will and God’s are in sync if we are paying attention.

Heart Be Loving

Heart Be Loving

That’s why discernment is so important, to learn the difference between God’s will and our own. What does it look/feel like when my will and God’s will are in sync or out of sync? (Which is the point of paying attention to consolation & desolation.) We may never know enough to do this perfectly…and yet doing our best is always enough. How do we make our peace with “doing the best we can”? Martin Luther said: “Sin boldly, but believe more boldly still in God’s grace.” This attitude can get us out of the paralysis that comes from trying to do it perfectly because in the end God can use any decision—even the “wrong” one, this is illustrated in the story of Joseph, and in Gen.45:7-8, 50:18-20.

When we act:

1) we feel a pull to respond to something in the world around us (“a portion of reality asserts itself and makes a claim”)

2) we discover the courage and power to say yes to the invitation

3) we bring both our strengths and our weaknesses with us into our action—both can be used

4) we are changed by the process

The ultimate example of God’s love working through weakness is the cross. The cross is the model and standard of self-giving love and of strength through weakness. There is much continuity between giving love and receiving love. St. Ignatius’ “Contemplation to Attain Love” he asks us to contemplate all the times we have felt loved—both in terms of receiving God’s love and “loving like God.” This is why the examen is often phrased in terms of gratitude. Consider the image of holding one’s hands open: the more we are able to open our hands, the more we will be able to receive, and give what we receive. We are invited to rest in God’s love, grace, and freedom. To do this, we can reflect on situations in your life where “reality asserted itself and made a claim.” When and how did you say yes or no?

Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak wisely shares: “It took me a long time to understand that although everyone needs to be loved, I cannot be the source of that gift to everyone who asks me for it. There are some relations in which I am capable of love and others in which I am not. To pretend otherwise, to put out promissory notes I am unable to honor, is to damage my own integrity and that of the person in need—all in the name of love.”

Our closing prayer for this day is:

Last night as I was sleeping

By Antonio Machado (version by Robert Bly)

Last night as I was sleeping,

I dreamt—marvelous error!—

that a spring was breaking out in my heart.

I said: Along which secret aqueduct,

Oh water, are you coming to me,

water of a new life

that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,

I dreamt—marvelous error!—

that I had a beehive here inside my heart.

And the golden bees

honey bee beauty

honey bee beauty

were making white combs

and sweet honey

from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,

I dreamt—marvelous error!—

That a fiery sun was giving

light inside my heart.

It was fiery because I felt

warmth as from a hearth,

and sun because it gave light

and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,

I dreamt—marvelous error!—

that it was God I had

here inside my heart.

Suggested texts for further prayer:

  • Micah 6:8 What do you think God is asking of you personally?
  • Luke 1:26-38 (NRSV) What is wanting to be born in you? What impossibilities stand in the way? Are they real or stories you tell yourself to keep you from acting? When have you said YES?
  • 1 Corinthians 12:4-22 and 12:31-13:3 (NRSV) What part of the body are you? How is it a way of showing love?
  • 1 Corinthians 1:26-2:5 (NRSV), 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NRSV) What fears or weaknesses keep you from becoming your authentic self? Which ones might be drawing you closer toward God? Which ones encourage you to depend on something larger than yourself? How are your gifts and limitations connected to each other?

Previous weeks: Be Attentive, Contemplative Listening, Be Reflective and Silence & Spirit

Categories: Uncategorized


Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan is a 1993 graduate of the Mendota Heights Visitation; she currently resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with her husband and three sons. She is a freelance writer who is passionate about motherhood and sharing Salesian Spirituality . We are happy to feature her here as a guest blogger from time to time.


Francie Cutter · June 25, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Beautiful insight. So much to contemplate. I love the insight that God can use even our wrong decisions. Such freedom.

I love the poet Antonio Machado. Thank you for bringing him to our attention. For those who want to read the poem in the original, it can be found at:

Sister Karen · June 29, 2010 at 10:28 pm

My dear Beth,
I’m finally catching up with myself since returning from Salesian Leadership Camp and then a reunion followed by a visit to my family in sizzling St. Louis ! Only today did I read your blog, and it created a spring in MY heart too ! (By the way, on my family’s day long float trip, we met up with an icy cold, refreshing spring in the river ! One to complement the poem’s spring ! ( a poem that has been one of my favorites for quite a while !) SO – THANK YOU for your reflection !
How is the house search going? and other search’s ?! Hope to see you soon. peace and affection, SKaren

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