by Kevin Gallagher
Pope Francis defines discernment in his recent catechesis series as "listening to your heart." In part three of this series, we explore with him the key interior movements of feelings and moods, experienced as we discern God speaking to our heart.
The first interior movement of discernment outlined by Pope Francis is desolation, which he defines as: “darkness of soul, disturbance in it, without hope and Love. One finds oneself lazy, tepid, sad as if separated from God.” At times, everyone experiences desolation, an experience needing interpretation. The sadness experienced is not necessarily negative. It can be like a traffic light warning us to “Stop!” If we desire to follow the good path, we need to be prepared for temptations and moments of sadness. Approaching our desolations with openness and awareness can strengthen us and guide our choices.
“There is a price to pay with your heart for important choices in life,” writes Pope Francis. Being desolate, therefore, offers you an opportunity for growth, to deepen your relationship with Christ and with those you love. The second interior movement is consolation, which is an experience of interior joy, a felt experience of God's love that lets us see and experience God's presence in all things. It strengthens faith and hope and our ability to do good.
Pope Francis states, “When we are consoled, we want to do so much good, always, instead, when there is a moment of desolation, we feel like closing in on ourselves and doing nothing, consolation spurs us forward in service to others, society, other people.” This is the beauty of the gift of consolation. Let us be careful to distinguish well, between the consolation from God and its imitations. Pope Francis tells us that “Authentic consolation is like a drop on a sponge - it is soft and intimate - its imitations are noisier and lacking in substance, leading us to close in on ourselves and not to take care of others.”
In the end, false consolation leaves us empty, far from our centre. Authentic consolation leads us to good choices, confirmed by an interior peace that lasts.
To assist us in discerning, it is important to be accompanied by a skilled spiritual director. This is important for selfknowledge, which is an indispensable element for discerning interior movements. For Pope Francis, “Looking at oneself in the mirror, alone, does not always help, as one can adjust the image. Instead, looking at oneself in the mirror with the help of another helps a great deal.” A spiritual director who walks alongside you, listening with you to the inner voices that stir in your heart, where God speaks, is an essential aid to discerning the interior movements of the heart.
All fourteen sessions on discernment by Pope Francis are available on the Holy See website (www.vatican.va/audiences).
Kevin Gallagher offers this third of a three-part series on discernment on behalf of the Christchurch Diocesan Spiritual Directors Group, Whakakōingo o te Ngakau: The Yearning Heart.