We all have to make choices in our lives and, to do so well, we need to know how to discern. Pope Francis, in his weekly General Audiences (August 2022-January 2023) Catechesis on Discernment, offers a series of teachings on discernment which he describes as “demanding but indispensable for living."
Francis begins by asking: "What does it mean to Discern?" Then he states: "Discernment is an important act that concerns everyone because decisions are an essential part of life. Discernment involves exercising our intelligence, our skill, and our will to respond to our choices.” Francis explains:
"To learn to live, one must learn to love, and for this, it is necessary to discern. The end place of good decisions,” he continues, "always leads you to that final joy. The joy of the one who found the treasure in the field, sold everything "so great is his joy" (Mt 13:44).”
This joy is described by Pope Francis as "a very special joy that no human reality can give." Central therefore to discerning well, is an intimate relationship with God, who Francis states, "is always willing to advise us, to encourage us, to welcome us. But [God] never imposes his will. Why? Because [God] wants to be loved not feared" As an example of discernment, Francis tells how St Ignatius of Loyola helps us understand the importance of reflecting on the mind and the heart before making a decision. During his long recovery, after being wounded in battle, Ignatius asked for books on chivalry but the only ones available were The Life of Christ and The Lives of the Saints. As Ignatius reflected, he noticed that his thoughts on chivalry were attractive but left him empty and discontented. Thoughts of Christ and the lives of the Saints, on the contrary, roused an initial resistance: “But I'm not going to read this boring thing about saints” — but when welcomed, resulted in a lasting peace. Here Ignatius had his first experience of God by listening to his own heart.
Pope Francis invites each of us into the art and practice of discernment: "This is what we must learn: to listen to our own heart to know what is happening, what decision to make. To make a judgement on a situation, one must listen to one's own heart. We listen to the television, the radio, the mobile phone.
We are experts at listening, but I ask you: do you know how to listen to your heart? Do you stop to ask: "But how is my heart? Is it satisfied, is it sad, is it searching for something?" To make good decisions, one must listen to one's own heart."
In part 2, we shall deepen our understanding of listening to the heart by exploring Francis' presentations on The Elements of Discernment.
Kevin Gallagher offers the first of a three-part series on discernment on behalf of the Christchurch Diocesan Spiritual Directors Group Whakakōingo o te Ngakau: The Yearning Heart.
Published in Inform Issue 137