Discernment

Discernment - Pope Francis       

07.01.14   Holy Mass  Santa Marta        1 John 3: 22 - 4: 6


Abide in the Lord, the Christian, man or woman, is one who abides in the Lord. But what does this mean? Many things.

The Christian who abides in the Lord knows what is happening in his heart. That is why the Apostle says: ‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits’; know how to
discern the spirits, to discern what you are feeling, what you are thinking, what you want, and whether it is truly to abide in the Lord or something else which distances you from the Lord. Our hearts always have desires, wants, thoughts: but are all of these from the Lord? That is why the Apostle says: test what you are thinking, what you are feeling, what you want... If it is in line with the Lord alright; but if not....

It is then necessary to test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. Not only can the prophets be false, but also their prophecies and suggestions. That is why we always need to be watchful. Indeed a Christian is precisely a man or woman who knows how to watch his or her heart.

A heart in which many things come and go is like a local market where you find everything. This is precisely the reason why the constant work of discernment is so needed, in order to understand what is truly of the Lord. But how do I know that something is of Christ? The Apostle John indicates the criteria we should follow. 'Every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already'.

It is so simple: if what you desire, or what you think travels down the road of the Incarnation of the Word, of the Lord who comes in the flesh, it means that it is of God. However, if it does not travel by that road, then it does not come from God. Essentially, it is a matter of recognizing the road travelled by God, who emptied himself, who humbled himself unto death on the Cross. Self abasement, humility and also humiliation: this is the way of road of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, if a thought or a desire leads you on the road of
humility, of self-abasement and of service to others, it is of Jesus; but if it leads you on the road of self-importance, of vanity and of pride, or on the road of abstract thought, it is not of Jesus. The temptations Jesus underwent in the desert attest to this. All three of the devil's temptations to Jesus were suggestions aimed at distancing Jesus from this path, from the path of service, from humility, from humiliation, from the act of love he made by his life.

Let us think about this today. It will do us good. First: what is going on in my heart? What am I thinking? What am I feeling? Do I pay attention to what comes and goes or do I let it go? Do I know what I want? Do I test what I desire? Or do I simply take everything? Beloved, do not believe every spirit; but test the spirits. Often our hearts are like a road that everyone takes. This is precisely why we need to test and ask ourselves if we always choose the things that come from God, if we know what comes from God, if we know the right criteria by which we should discern our desires and our thoughts. And, we must never forget that the true criteria is the Incarnation of God.



John writes that all who keep his commandments ‘abide’ in God, and God in them. This ‘abiding’ in God is like the breath and the manner of Christian life. Thus we can say that “a Christian is one who abides in God”. John also writes in his letter: “by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us”. Therefore, a Christian is one who ‘has’ the Holy Spirit and is guided by God. We abide in God and God abides in us by the Spirit which he has given us. Then the problem comes. Be mindful, ‘do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God’. This is precisely the rule for daily life which John teaches us.

Therefore, we should “
test the spirits”, but what does it mean to test the spirits? It seems as if they are ghosts.... However, that is not the case, because John tells us to “test the spirits in order to gauge where they come from: to gauge the spirit, what is happening in my heart”. Thus, “it leads us there, to the heart”, to ask ourselves “what is happening, what do I feel in my heart, what do I want to do? The root of what is happening now, where does it come from?”.

This, is testing in order to ‘gauge’. Indeed, the verb ‘gauge’ is the most appropriate verb to truly determine “whether what I feel comes from God, from the spirit that enables me to abide in God, or if it comes from the other one”. Who is the other one: “
the antichrist”. After all John’s reasoning is simple, direct, I would say circular, because it turns on the same topic: either you are of Jesus or you are of the world. John also takes up what Jesus, too, asked of the Father for all of us: not to take us from the world, but to protect us from the world. Because worldliness is the spirit which distances us from the Spirit of God that enables us to abide in the Lord.

Okay Father, yes it is all clear, but what are the criteria to truly discern what is happening in my soul? John offers only one criterion, and he presents it in these words: ‘By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit’ — every emotion, every inspiration that I feel — ‘which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God’.

In other words, the criterion is that Jesus has come in the flesh, the criterion is the incarnation. This means that I can feel many things inside, even good things, good ideas, but if these good ideas, if these feelings do not lead me to God who has come in the flesh, if they do not lead me to my neighbour, to my brother, then they are not of God. This is why John begins this passage of his letter by saying: ‘this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and
love one another’.

We can make many pastoral plans, conceive of new methods for drawing people close, but if we don’t take the path of God who has come in the flesh, of the Son of God who became man in order to walk with us, then we are not on the path of the good spirit. Instead what prevails is the antichrist, worldliness, the spirit of the world.

Yes, how many people do we find in life who seem spiritual, but who do not speak of doing
works of mercy? Yet why is this? Because the works of mercy are precisely the concrete sign of our confession that the Son of God has come in the flesh: visiting the sick, feeding those who do not have food, taking care of outcast. We must perform “works of mercy”, therefore, because each of our brothers and sisters, whom we must love, is the flesh of Christ: God has come in the flesh to identify himself with us and, and one who suffers is Christ who suffers.

Hence, if you take this path, if you feel this, you are on the right path because this is the criterion of
discernment, so as not to confuse feelings, spirits, so as not to go down a path that isn’t right.

Returning then to the words of John: ‘do not believe every spirit’ — be mindful — ‘but test the spirits to see whether they are of God’. For this reason, “
service to the neighbour, brother, sister who is in need — there are so many needs — of advice or of a listening ear: these are signs that we are on the path of the good spirit, that is, on the path of the Word of God who has come in the flesh”.

Ask the Lord for the grace to be well aware of what is happening in our hearts, what we prefer doing, that is to say, what touches me most: whether it is the Spirit of God, which leads me to the service of others, or the spirit of the world that roams within me, in my closure, in my
selfishness, in so many other things. Yes, let us ask for the grace to know what is happening in our hearts.




Pope Francis   18.09.19  General Audience, St Peter's Square, Rome    Catechesis on the Acts of the Apostles    Acts 5: 39 
Pope Francis  18.09.19  General Audience - Discernment

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

Let us continue the catechesis on the Acts of the Apostles. Before the prohibition of the Jews to teach in the name of Christ, Peter and the Apostles respond with courage that they cannot obey those who want to stop the gospel's journey around the world.

The Twelve thus show that they possess that "obedience of faith" that they would like then to arouse in all men (cf. Rm 1.5). Starting with Pentecost, in fact, they are no longer men who are alone. They experience that special synergy that makes them go out of themselves and makes them say "we and the
Holy Spirit"(Acts 5.32) or "the Holy Spirit with us"(Acts 15:28). They feel that they can't just say "I," they're men who are decentralized from themselves. Strengthened by this alliance, the Apostles are not intimidated by anyone. They were so courageous! We think they were cowards: they all ran away, they fled when Jesus was arrested. But, from cowards they have become so brave. Why? Because the Holy Spirit was with them. The same happens to us: if we have the Holy Spirit within us, we will have the courage to move forward, the courage to overcome so many battles, not by ourselves but from the Spirit that is within us. They do not go backwards in their march of intrepid witnesses to Jesus Risen, as the martyrs of all times, including our own. The martyrs give their lives, they do not hide that they are Christians. We think, a few years ago - even today there are many - but think four years ago, those Coptic Orthodox Christians, who were on the beach of Libya: all were slaughtered. But the last word they said was "Jesus, Jesus." They did not loose the faith, because the Holy Spirit was with them. These are the martyrs of today! The Apostles are the megaphones of the Holy Spirit, sent out by the Risen One to spread the Word that gives salvation promptly and without hesitation.

And indeed, this determination shakes the Jewish religious system of that time, which feels threatened and responds with violence and death sentences. The persecution of Christians is always the same: people who do not want Christianity feel threatened and so they bring death to Christians. But, in the midst of the Sanhedrin, a voice arises that is different from the Pharisees that chooses to contain the reaction of those around him: he was called Gamaliel, a prudent man, a doctor of the law, esteemed by all the people. In his school, St. Paul learned to observe "the Laws of the Father" (cf. Acts 22,3). Gamaliel takes the floor and shows his brothers how to exercise the art of discernment in the face of situations that go beyond the usual frameworks.

He shows, citing some people who had passed themselves off as the Messiah, that
every human project can first be approved and then end up shipwrecked, but everything that comes from above and bears the "signature" of God is destined to last. Human projects always fail; given time, like us. Think of so many political projects, and how they change from one side to the other, in all countries. Think of the great empires, think of the dictatorships of the last century: they felt very powerful, they thought they would dominate the world. And then they all collapsed. Think even today of the empires of today: they will collapse, if God is not with them, because the strength that men have within themselves does not last. Only God's strength lasts. Let us think of the history of Christians, also of the history of the Church, with so many sins, with so many scandals, with so many bad things in these two millennia. And why didn't it collapse? Because God is there. We are sinners, and so many times we cause scandal. But God is with us. And God saves us first, and then them; but the Lord always saves. The force is "God with us." Gamaliel proves, citing some characters who had pretended to be Messiah, that every human project can first win acclaim and then founder. Therefore Gamaliel concludes that if the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth believed in an impostor, they would be destined to disappear into thin air; but if they were following one who comes from God, it is better to stop fighting them; and warns: "You may even find yourselves fighting against God!" (Acts 5:39). It teaches us to make this discernment.

They are calm and forward-looking words, which allow us to see the Christian event in a new light and offers criteria that "know of the Gospel", because they invite us to recognize the tree by its fruits (cf. Mt 7.16). They touch hearts and achieve the desired effect: the other members of the Sanhedrin follow his opinion and renounce the intentions of death, that was, to kill the Apostles.

Let us ask the Holy Spirit to work within us so that, both personally and in the community, we can acquire this habit of discernment. Let us ask him to know how to always see the unity of the history of salvation through the signs of God's passage in our time and on the faces of those around us, so that we may learn that time and human faces are messengers of the living God.