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3. The Age of Reason (6-13 years). While the previous phase was one of action, during this phase, the child is beginning to deal with the world primarily with his or her intellect. With the growing liberation of the intellect from the passions, logical error, and dependence on authority figures, comes an increased sense of self and presence to the heart. With these psychological achievements, the child is now in a position to perfect the skills of discernment so as to make decisions informed by spiritual guidance. This ability to discern enables the child to understand his or her general vocation to praise, reverence, and serve God, as well as how to concretely apply general moral norms to the decisions of everyday life.
4. Spiritual Commitment (13-17 years). If the previous phase is the period of the intellect, this phase is the period of the will. It is one thing for the child to understand his or her general vocation, it is quite another for him or her to make a commitment to live it out. Most religious congregations regard the young adolescent as a "spiritual adult" in the sense that he or she is regarded as capable of making mature decisions with respect to participating in the faith. Once the adolescent has made a commitment to live a life guided by the Spirit, the task of parents and teachers is to help him or her identify and overcome internal and external obstacles that threaten to prevent the realization of his or her vocation.
5. Lifestyle and Occupational Discernment (17-21 years). Assuming a commitment has been made to the general vocation, during this phase, the young adult discerns his or her particular vocation. The particular vocation has two components: "lifestyle" and "occupational" vocation. With respect to lifestyle, some people are seen to be called to the "priestly" state of religious life, others to the married state, and still others to the lay celibate state. With respect to occupation, each person is believed to be called to perform a particular type of work in the world. In familial and educational settings, the young adult is given guidance and skills on how to make these crucial decisions about occupation and state of life. The thrust of these efforts is not "what do I want to do with my life?," but "what is God calling me to do with my life?"
6. Incarnational Phase (21-35 years). Assuming the identification of lifestyle and occupational vocation has taken place, during this phase, the young adult commits him or herself to living out or "incarnating" these vocations in the world.
This may involve beginning a career, taking religious vows, or getting married. As most formal education ends during this time, it is important that the young adult begin to incorporate regular periods of prayer, reflection, and conscience examination into his or her daily life to ensure ongoing access to the spiritual guidance necessary for the full and proper realization of lifestyle and occupational commitments. Such "spiritual hygiene" may also involve devotional reading, retreats, and/or professional spiritual direction.
The development of discernment within an individual depends upon the back-and-forth movement between parents, culture, and religious tradition on one hand and the innate strivings of the individual on the other. Certainly context has an important influence on the development of discernment. As such, experience in religious and/or spiritual traditions, level of participation in religious and/or spiritual practices, the community of religious and/or spiritual adherents in which one is immersed, etc., all have an impact on the development of individual discernment. St. Ignatius has left us with a framework from which to model healthy discernment. It is of little surprise that his teachings remain key guideposts to those interested in and invested in the development and practice of discernment.