Do You Know How to Listen to Your Heart? (Part 2)

by Kevin Gallagher

Understanding the fundamental elements of listening to your heart is essential for discerning the choices in our everyday lives. In his weekly General Audiences (August 2022-January 2023) Catechesis on Discernment, Pope Francis introduces the elements of discernment.

Prayer Man Hands

The primary element of a discerning heart for Pope Francis is prayer. Prayer is indispensable for discerning what is going on within us. For Francis, “True Prayer is familiarity with and confidence in God. It is not reciting prayers like a parrot, blah, blah, blah, no. True prayer is this spontaneity and affection for the Lord.” Being in prayer also means intimacy and friendship with God, “opening my Heart to Jesus, drawing close to Jesus, allowing Jesus to enter into my Heart and simply feeling his presence.” From the heart, we discern when it is Jesus and when it is us, in our thoughts and decisions. Francis continues, “Jesus lets you know his will, with all his heart he lets you know things, but he leaves you free.” Prayer with an open heart is an indispensable environment for discernment.

A discerning heart for Francis also requires the element of self-knowledge, of knowing oneself. “Discernment involves our human faculties: memory, intellect, will, and affections. Often, we do not know how to discern because we do not know ourselves well enough, and so do not know what we really want.” An aid to selfknowledge is a daily practice of prayerfully looking back over my day. “What satisfies my heart?” asks Pope Francis. “What passed by today? What made me sad? What made me joyful? Did I harm others?” This important daily prayer practice of awareness helps me know myself.

Another element of a discerning heart is desire, which Pope Francis describes as “a nostalgia for fullness that never finds complete fulfillment, and is the sign of God's presence in us.” Desire comes from the Latin term des-sidus, literally “lack of the Star.” The lack evokes a suffering; the star, an intuition to reach for the good I am missing. Francis invites us to notice how Jesus often asks people an obvious question to help focus their desire. For example, he asks Bartimaeus, who is blind, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Pope Francis waving
Reading Bible Book

Learning to read one's own life story is also an essential ingredient for discerning. When one reads this precious book, they discover what they pointlessly seek elsewhere. St Augustine discovered this as he read back into his life and wrote, “You were with me and I was not with you.” Pope Francis invites us all to read our own life story, “Return within yourself, read your life, read yourself within. Wisely it has been said, if you do not know your own past, you are condemned to repeat it.” A listening heart for Pope Francis, attends to these essential elements of discernment to make choices in our lives.

In part 3, we will deepen our understanding of listening to the heart with Pope Francis: Exploring interior movements of a discerning heart.

Kevin Gallagher offers this, the second 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 138