Friday, March 1, 2019


“Guide me Lord in the way of your commands”

            This was our response to the psalm this morning.  We asked God to guide us.  But how do we know that we really are following Him?  How do we to know where He is leading us?  When He calls, how can we be sure to hear Him?  After all, His voice is so very quiet; and life is so noisy, so complicated, so full of options and temptations.  Which friends should I choose?  Which college should I choose?  Should I stay where I am or go somewhere else?  Eat what I’m served or make a pizza?  Take a low grade or cheat on the quiz?  How do we decide?
            Last term, one of my Ethics students pointed out to me that I was teaching Catholic doctrine as though he had already chosen to believe it.  And that got me thinking about decisions.  How should my student go about making a decision like that? How could I help him decide?  Well, it turns out that there has been a lot of work done recently on the psychology of decision-making. And the consensus is that there really is no good way to make a decision – especially an important decision or a difficult decision. The reasoning goes like this: if it’s an easy decision, then bully for you.  Make it and get on with your life.  But if it is a difficult decision, then it’s difficult for one of two reasons: either both options are very good (in which case it doesn’t really matter what you decide—you end up in a good spot either way) or both options are very bad (in which case it doesn’t really matter what you decide—because you end up in a bad spot either way).  Therefore, the happy person is distinguish from the unhappy person not so much by his good decisions, but merely by whether or not he commits to the result.  So.  For example, you go out to eat, and you have to decide whether to order chicken or fish. After much handwringing and agony, you decide on the chicken; then you spend the rest of your dinner wishing you had ordered fish. But a happy person chooses to be happy.  He says, basically, “I chose the chicken and I’m going to enjoy it. Period. Tonight, I’m a chicken man, and that’s all there is to it.”
            This is, in a sense, is what Jesus says about marriage in our gospel reading. You choose a wife, you stick with her. Once you’ve made that decision, you’re in.  Period.  Because, “what God has joined together, no human being must separate."  But that still begs the question, how did you make that choice to begin with? Our first reading answers this question to certain extent by framing it in terms of friendship: here’s what to look for in friend, and here’s what to avoid. But again, the mechanics of the decision-making are left to us.
            Were you listening, though, when we sang the responsorial psalm?  The entire structure of a wise decision was hidden in the words of that Psalm.  I’ll read it for you again in case you were napping:
Open my eyes, Lord, that I may consider the wonders of your law.
Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous deeds.
Give me discernment, that I may observe your law and keep it with all my heart.
Lead me in the path of your commands, for in it I delight.

Open my eyes…Make me understand…Give me discernment… Lead me.  Four steps to a good decision:

STEP 1:  REPENT--Open my eyes, Lord: The first step in a good decision is to take a fearless, objective look at your weaknesses and subject them to rigorous interrogation.  Is there anything clouding your vision? Is there anything getting in the way?  Emotions, misinformation, sin…  The sacrament of confession is very useful at this early stage.
STEP 2:  REFLECT--Make me understand, Lord:  What are your strengths?  What are your options?  Are all of them virtuous?  What does your tradition teach?  What does the Law say?  Here you do well to reflect on the Scriptures and the writings of wise men and women.
STEP 3:  REFER--Give me discernment, Lord: Has anyone made this decision before?  What were their results? How did they do it?  Now is when you refer the decision to a wise elder.
STEP 4:  RESOLVE--Lead me:  You have made the decision. But does it comply with God’s will?  Now you pray in earnest. You’ve been praying all along, of course.  Each of these steps is itself a prayer. But in the fourth and final step, you take the whole decision and resolve to move forward, laying it at the feet of our Lord.

And the process is complete. You made a searching and fearless moral inventory of your weaknesses…you considered all your options and all that your tradition has to offer. You sought out the advice of a trusted elder, and you submitted all of it to God in prayer and humility.  Decision made, right?  Now what? How do you know that it worked?

You don’t.  You can do all of this and still make the wrong decision. But here’s catch.  Here’s what ultimately distinguishes the happy, the holy, and the peaceful from the miserable, corrupt, and anxious: COMMITMENT.  Until it becomes clear that you made the wrong decision, commit to the decision you’ve made. Resolve to move forward.  The last step is the most important.  Don’t put your hand to the plow and keep looking back.  There are times when you have to quit, when you have to give up on your dreams or choose a different path. But no one—NO ONE—wants to hang out with the guy who orders chicken then spends his whole meal wishing he’d ordered fish.  Make your decision, pray your decision.  Submit it to God’s will.  Commit to the outcome:  Repent, Reflect, Refer, Resolve.

Blessed are you, O LORD;
teach me your statutes.
Open my eyes, that I may consider
the wonders of your law.
Make me understand the way of your precepts,
Give me discernment,
Lead me in the path of your commands,


  1. Godsent! I'm working on a challenge similar to the Exodus 90, but a bit more open to "pagans" and so a bit less "religious." I've been using some books for quotes and inspirations and stumbled upon yours (12 steps) but the preview is much too short, so I read reviews and the bio and found this website...
    And THIS is what I find for the latest post?

    I still haven't decided if to buy the book, but heck, have I been looking for something like this blog post indeed! Thank you, father, and thank You, Father!

    (btw, the blog is, not this blogspot one on my profile)

  2. Also, in case I end up purchasing the ebook, do you or your publisher object to have quotations (no more than 3-4 sentences in different posts) posted?
    The reason I ask, is that the blog has affiliated links, so when I give credit to the author, I link it to Amazon, both as credit and for monetization.


  3. Hi! I'm miserably bad at checking comments. Glad this helped. By all means, quote me! I'm deklighted and honored.

  4. Haha, no worries! I'm following you on Twitter, I did purchase the book, and I've quoted a few passages here and there! :) Thanks!

  5. I think that these 4 steps are very beneficial to the life of a Catholic, such as myself. I did not know that we will never be able to know if we have made the right important decision or not. Obviously, decisions such as what to eat for dinner doesn't really matter in the long run, but I will definitely use this process in the future.