Discernment

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.

07.01.14

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.

07.01.16

Pope Francis

18.09.19 General Audience, St Peter's Square, Rome

Catechesis on the Acts of the Apostles

Acts 5: 39

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.

18.09.19

Pope Francis

07.01.20 Holy Mass Santa Marta (Domus Sanctae Marthae)

Tuesday after Epiphany Year A

1 John 3: 22 - 4: 6

The Christian life is to remain in God, following the Holy Spirit and not the spirit of the world, which leads to corruption, and does not distinguish good from evil. In the first reading in the liturgy St. John the Apostle takes up the advice of Jesus to his disciples: "Remain in God".

One can be in the most sinful cities, in the most atheistic societies, but if one's heart remains in God, this man and this woman bring salvation. Remember the episode narrated in the Acts of the Apostles, who arrive in a city and meet Christians baptized by John. They ask them: "Have you received the Holy Spirit?", but they didn't even know he was there. How many Christians even today identify the Holy Spirit only with a dove and do not know that what makes you remain in the Lord is the guarantee, the strength to remain in the Lord.

The spirit of the world is contrary to the Holy Spirit. Jesus, at the Last Supper, does not ask the Father to remove the disciples from the world, because Christian life is in the world; but to protect them from the spirit of the world, which is the opposite. It is even worse than committing a sin. It is an atmosphere that renders you unconscious, leads you to a point that you do not know how to recognize good from evil.

Instead, to remain in God, we must ask for this gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee. From this we know that we remain in the Lord. But how can we know if we have the Holy Spirit or the spirit of the world? Saint Paul gives us this advice: "Do not sadden the Holy Spirit. When we go towards the spirit of the world we upset the Holy Spirit and ignore him, we cast him aside and our life goes another way.

The spirit of the world is forgetting, because sin does not turn you away from God if you realize it and ask forgiveness, but the spirit of the world makes you forget what sin is everything is permissible. In recent days a priest showed him a film of Christians celebrating the New Year in a tourist city, in a Christian country. They celebrated the New Year with a terrible worldliness, wasting money and many things. The spirit of the world. Is this a sin? - No dear: this is corruption, worse than sin. The Holy Spirit leads you to God, and if you sin, the Holy Spirit protects you and helps you to rise up, but the spirit of the world leads you to corruption, to the point that you do not know what is good and what is evil: everything is the same.

There is an Argentinean song that says: "Go, go, go... everything is the same that down there in the oven we will meet". The spirit of the world leads you to the unconsciousness of not distinguishing sin. And how do I know if I am on the road to worldliness, to the spirit of the world, or if am I following the Spirit of God?

The Apostle John gives us this advice: "Dear friends, do not give faith to every spirit (i.e. to every feeling, every inspiration, every idea), but test the spirits, to test whether they really come from God (or from the world)". But what does it mean to test the Spirit? It is simply this: when you feel something, you feel like doing something, or you come up with an idea, a judgment of something, ask yourself: is this what I feel from the Spirit of God or from the spirit of the world?

And how do you do it? Ask yourself once, twice a day, or when you feel something that comes into your mind: This thing that I feel, that I want to do, where does it come from? From the spirit of the world or the Spirit of God? Will this make me good or will it throw me down the road of worldliness that is unconsciousness?

Many Christians live without knowing what goes on in their hearts. That is why St. Paul and St. John say: "Do not lend faith to every spirit", to what you feel, but put it to the test. And so we will know what happens in our hearts. Because "For many Christians their hearts are like a road and they do not know who comes and goes, they come and go, because they do not know how to examine what is going on inside".

That is why I recommend that you take some time every day before going to bed or at noon - when you want to - and ask yourself: what has happened in my heart today? What did I want to do, to think? What is the spirit that has moved in my heart? The Spirit of God, the gift of God, the Holy Spirit who always brings me forward to the encounter with the Lord or the spirit of the world who gently, slowly moves me away from the Lord; it is a slow, slow, slow slide.

Let us ask for this grace, to remain in the Lord and we pray to the Holy Spirit, that He may make us remain in the Lord and give us the grace to distinguish the spirits, that is, what moves within us. May our heart not be a road, may it be the meeting point between us and God.

07.01.20


Pope Francis

03.05.20 Regina Caeli, Apostolic Palace Library

Fourth Sunday of Easter - Year A

John 10: 1-10

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

The fourth Sunday of Easter, which we celebrate today, is dedicated to Jesus the Good Shepherd. The Gospel says, "The sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep, by name" (John 10: 3). The Lord calls us by name, calls us because he loves us. But, the Gospel then tells us, there are other voices not to be followed: those of strangers, thieves and robbers who want evil for the sheep.

These different voices resonate within us. There is the voice of God, who speaks kindly to the conscience, and there is the tempting voice that leads to evil. How can we recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd from that of the thief, how can we distinguish God's inspiration from the suggestion of the evil one?

We can learn to discern these two voices: in fact they speak two different languages, that is, they have opposite ways of knocking on our hearts. They speak different languages. As we know how to distinguish one language from another, we can also distinguish the voice of God and the voice of the evil one. The voice of God never forces us: God proposes himself, he does not impose himself. Instead, the evil voice seduces, assails, forces: it arouses dazzling illusions, tempting emotions that are fleeting. At first it flatters us, it makes us believe that we are all-powerful, but then leaves us with emptiness inside and accuses us: "You are worth nothing". God's voice, on the other hand, corrects us, with so much patience, but always encourages us, consoles us: it always nourishes hope. The voice of God is a voice that has a horizon, instead the voice of the evil one leads you to a wall, it takes you to a corner.

Another difference. The voice of the enemy distracts us from the present and wants us to focus on the fears of the future or the sadness of the past – the enemy does not want the present –: it brings back the bitterness, the memories of the wrongs suffered, of those who hurt us, so many bad memories. Instead, God's voice speaks to the present: "Now you can do good, now you can exercise the creativity of love, now you can renounce the regrets and remorse that hold your heart captive." It enlivens us, it brings us forward, but it speaks of the present: now.

In addition: the two voices raise different questions in us. What comes from God will be, "What is good for me?" Instead, the tempter will insist on another question: "What do I want to do?" What would I like: the evil voice always revolves around the self, its impulses, its needs, everything and immediately. It's like the whims of children: everything right now. The voice of God, on the other hand, never promises cheap joy. It invites us to go beyond our self to find the true good, peace. Let us remember: evil never gives us peace, it puts frenzy first and leaves bitterness after. That's the style of evil.

Finally, the voice of God and that of the tempter, speak in different "environments": the enemy prefers darkness, falsehood, gossip; the Lord loves sunlight, truth, sincere transparency. The enemy will say to us: "Close yourself in on yourself, for no one understands you and listens to you, do not trust others!". Good, on the other hand, invites us to open up, to be transparent and trusting in God and in others.

Dear brothers and sisters, in this time many thoughts and concerns lead us to turn inwards. Let us pay attention to the voices that reach our hearts. Let's ask ourselves where they come from. Let us ask for the grace to recognize and follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, who brings us out of the enclosures of selfishness and leads us to the pastures of true freedom. May Our Lady, Mother of good Counsel, guide and accompany our discernment.

03.05.20

Pope Francis

12.09.21 Holy Mass, Heroes' Square in Budapest,

Conclusion of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Mark 8: 27-35

At Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” (Mk 8:29). For the disciples, this question proves decisive; it marks a turning point in their journey with the Master. They knew Jesus; they were no longer novices. They were close to him; they had seen his many miracles, been touched by his teaching, and followed him wherever he went. Yet, they were not ready to think like him. They had to take that decisive step, from admiring Jesus to imitating Jesus. Today too, the Lord looks at each of us personally and asks: “Who am I – in fact – for you?” Who am I for you? This question, addressed to each of us, calls for more than a quick answer straight out of the catechism; it requires a vital, personal response.

That response renews us as disciples. It takes place in three steps, steps that the disciples took and that we too can take. It involves first, proclaiming Jesus; second, discerning with Jesus and third, following Jesus.

Proclaiming Jesus. The Lord asks: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter, speaking for the others, replies: “You are the Christ”. Peter said it all in these few words; his answer was correct, but then, surprisingly, Jesus “charged them to tell no one about him” (v. 30). Let us ask ourselves: Why so radical a prohibition? There was a very good reason: to call Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, is correct, but incomplete. There is always the risk of proclaiming a false messianism, one of human origins, not from God. Consequently, from that time on, Jesus gradually reveals his real identity, the “paschal” identity we find in the Eucharist. He explains that his mission will culminate in the glory of the resurrection, but only after the abasement of the cross. In other words, it would be revealed according to the wisdom of God, which, as Saint Paul tells us, “is not of this age or of the rulers of this age” (1 Cor 2:6). Jesus demands silence about his identity as the Messiah, but not about the cross that awaits him. In fact – the evangelist notes – Jesus then began to teach “openly” (Mk 8:32) that “the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (v. 31).

Before these daunting words of Jesus, we too can be dismayed, taken aback. We too would prefer a powerful Messiah rather than a crucified servant. The Eucharist is here to remind us who God is. It does not do so just in words, but in a concrete way, showing us God as bread broken, as love crucified and bestowed. We can add ritual elements, but the Lord is always there in the simplicity of Bread ready to be broken, distributed and eaten. He is there: to save us, Christ became a servant; to give us life, he accepted death. We do well to let ourselves be taken aback by those daunting words of Jesus. And whoever is open to these words is open to the second step.

Discerning with Jesus. Peter’s reaction to the Lord’s announcement is typically human: as soon as the cross, the prospect of pain, appears, we rebel. After having just confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, Peter is scandalized by the Master’s words and tries to dissuade him from following that course. Today, as in the past ever, the cross is not fashionable or attractive. Dear brothers and sisters, the cross is never in fashion. Yet it heals us from within. Standing before the crucified Lord, we experience a fruitful interior struggle, a bitter conflict between “thinking as God does” and “thinking as humans do”. On the one hand, we have God’s way of thinking, which is that of humble love. A way of thinking that shuns imposition, ostentation and every form of triumphalism, and always aims at the good of others, even to the point of self-sacrifice. On the other hand, we have our human way of thinking: this is the wisdom of the world, of worldliness, attached to honour and privileges, and grasping for prestige and success. Here the things that count are self-importance and power, whatever attracts the most attention and respect in the eyes of others.

Blinded by that way of thinking, Peter takes Jesus aside and reproaches him (cf. v. 32). Before, he had confessed him as the Messiah; now he reproaches him. We too can take the Lord “aside”, shove him into a corner of our heart and continue to think of ourselves as religious and respectable, going our own way without letting ourselves be affected by Jesus’ way of thinking. Yet here is the truth: he is ever at our side in this interior struggle, because he wants us, like the Apostles, to take his side. There is God’s side and the world’s side. The difference is not between who is religious or not, but ultimately between the true God and the god of “self”. How distant is the God who quietly reigns on the cross from the false god that we want to reign with power in order to silence our enemies! How different is Christ, who presents himself with love alone, from all the powerful and winning messiahs worshiped by the world! Jesus unsettles us; he is not satisfied with declarations of faith, but asks us to purify our religiosity before his cross, before the Eucharist. We do well to spend time in adoration before the Eucharist in order to contemplate God’s weakness. Let us make time for adoration, a way of praying too frequently forgotten. Let us make time for adoration. Let us allow Jesus the Living Bread to heal us of our self-absorption, open our hearts to self-giving, liberate us from our rigidity and self-concern, free us from the paralyzing slavery of defending our image, and inspire us to follow him wherever he would lead us, not where I want. And so, we come to the third step.

Walking behind Jesus and also walking with Jesus. “Get behind me, Satan” (v. 33). With this stern command, Jesus brings Peter back to himself. Whenever the Lord commands something, he is already there to give it. Peter thus receives the grace to step back and once more get behind Jesus. The Christian journey is not a race towards “success”; it begins by stepping back – remember this: the Christian journey begins by stepping back – finding freedom by not needing to be at the centre of everything. Peter realizes that the centre is not his Jesus, but the real Jesus. He will keep falling, but in passing from forgiveness to forgiveness, he will come to see more clearly the face of God. And he will pass from an empty admiration for Christ to an authentic imitation of Christ.

What does it mean to get behind Jesus? It is to advance through life with Jesus’ own confident trust, knowing that we are beloved children of God. It is to follow in the footsteps of the Master who came to serve and not be served (cf. Mk 10:45). It is to step out each day to an encounter with our brothers and sisters. The Eucharist impels us to this encounter, to the realization that we are one Body, to the willingness to let ourselves be broken for others. Dear brothers and sisters, let us allow our encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist to transform us, just as it transformed the great and courageous saints you venerate. I am thinking in particular of Saint Stephen and Saint Elizabeth. Like them, may we never be satisfied with little; may we never resign ourselves to a faith based on ritual and repetition, but be ever more open to the scandalous newness of the crucified and risen God, the Bread broken to give life to the world. In this way, we will be joyful ourselves and bring joy to others.

This International Eucharistic Congress marks the end of one journey, but more importantly, the beginning of another. For walking behind Jesus means always looking ahead, welcoming the turning point of grace, and being challenged every day by the Lord’s question to each of us, his disciples: Who do you say that I am?

13.09.21


Pope Francis

10.10.21 Holy Mass Opening of the Synodal Path, St Peter's Basilica

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Hebrews 4: 12-13, Mark 10: 17-30

A certain rich man came up to Jesus “as he was setting out on his journey” (Mk 10:17). The Gospels frequently show us Jesus “on a journey”; he walks alongside people and listens to the questions and concerns lurking in their hearts. He shows us that God is not found in neat and orderly places, distant from reality, but walks ever at our side. He meets us where we are, on the often rocky roads of life. Today, as we begin this synodal process, let us begin by asking ourselves – all of us, Pope, bishops, priests, religious and laity – whether we, the Christian community, embody this “style” of God, who travels the paths of history and shares in the life of humanity. Are we prepared for the adventure of this journey? Or are we fearful of the unknown, preferring to take refuge in the usual excuses: “It’s useless” or “We’ve always done it this way”?

Celebrating a Synod means walking on the same road, walking together. Let us look at Jesus. First, he encounters the rich man on the road; he then listens to his questions, and finally he helps him discern what he must do to inherit eternal life. Encounter, listen and discern. I would like to reflect on these three verbs that characterize the Synod.

The first is encounter. The Gospel passage begins by speaking of an encounter. A man comes up to Jesus and kneels down before him, asking him a crucial question: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 17). So important a question requires attention, time, willingness to encounter others and sensitivity to what troubles them. The Lord is not stand aloof; he does not appear annoyed or disturbed. Instead, he is completely present to this person. He is open to encounter. Nothing leaves Jesus indifferent; everything is of concern to him. Encountering faces, meeting eyes, sharing each individual’s history. That is the closeness that Jesus embodies. He knows that someone’s life can be changed by a single encounter. The Gospel is full of such encounters with Christ, encounters that uplift and bring healing. Jesus did not hurry along, or keep looking at his watch to get the meeting over. He was always at the service of the person he was with, listening to what he or she had to say.

As we initiate this process, we too are called to become experts in the art of encounter. Not so much by organizing events or theorizing about problems, as in taking time to encounter the Lord and one another. Time to devote to prayer and to adoration – that form of prayer that we so often neglect – devoting time to adoration, and to hearing what the Spirit wants to say to the Church. Time to look others in the eye and listen to what they have to say, to build rapport, to be sensitive to the questions of our sisters and brothers, to let ourselves be enriched by the variety of charisms, vocations and ministries. Every encounter – as we know – calls for openness, courage and a willingness to let ourselves be challenged by the presence and the stories of others. If at times we would rather take refuge in formality or presenting the proper image – the clerical and courtly spirit, where I am more Monsieur l’abbé than Father – the experience of encounter changes us; frequently it opens up new and unexpected possibilities. Following today’s Angelus, I will meet with a group of street people who came together simply because a group of people made an effort to listen to them, sometimes just to listen to them. And from that listening they succeeded in setting out on a new path. So often God points out new paths in just this way. He invites us to leave our old habits behind. Everything changes once we are capable of genuine encounters with him and with one another, without formalism or pretense, but simply as we are.

The second verb is listen. True encounter arises only from listening. Jesus listened to that man’s question and to the religious and existential concerns that lay behind it. He did not give a non-committal reply or offer a prepackaged solution; he did not pretend to respond politely, simply as a way of dismissing him and continuing on his way. Jesus simply listens, for whatever amount of time it takes; he is not rushed. Most importantly, he is not afraid to listen to him with his heart and not just with his ears. Indeed, he does more than simply answer the rich man’s question; he lets him tell his story, to speak freely about himself. Christ reminds him of the commandments, and the man starts to talk about his youth, to share his religious journey and his efforts to seek God. This happens whenever we listen with the heart: people feel that they are being heard, not judged; they feel free to recount their own experiences and their spiritual journey.

Let us ask ourselves frankly during this synodal process: Are we good at listening? How good is the “hearing” of our heart? Do we allow people to express themselves, to walk in faith even though they have had difficulties in life, and to be part of the life of the community without being hindered, rejected or judged? Participating in a Synod means placing ourselves on the same path as the Word made flesh. It means following in his footsteps, listening to his word along with the words of others. It means discovering with amazement that the Holy Spirit always surprises us, to suggest fresh paths and new ways of speaking. It is a slow and perhaps tiring exercise, this learning to listen to one another – bishops, priests, religious and laity, all the baptized – and to avoid artificial and shallow and pre-packaged responses. The Spirit asks us to listen to the questions, concerns and hopes of every Church, people and nation. And to listen to the world, to the challenges and changes that it sets before us. Let us not soundproof our hearts; let us not remain barricaded in our certainties. So often our certainties can make us closed. Let us listen to one another.

Finally, discern. Encounter and listening are not ends in themselves, leaving everything just as it was before. On the contrary, whenever we enter into dialogue, we allow ourselves to be challenged, to advance on a journey. And in the end, we are no longer the same; we are changed. We see this in today’s Gospel. Jesus senses that the person before him is a good and religious man, obedient to the commandments, but he wants to lead him beyond the mere observance of precepts. Through dialogue, he helps him to discern. Jesus encourages that man to look within, in the light of the love that the Lord himself had shown by his gaze (cf. v. 21), and to discern in that light what his heart truly treasures. And in this way to discover that he cannot attain happiness by filling his life with more religious observances, but by emptying himself, selling whatever takes up space in his heart, in order to make room for God.

Here is a valuable lesson also for us. The Synod is a process of spiritual discernment, of ecclesial discernment, that unfolds in adoration, in prayer and in dialogue with the word of God. Today’s second reading tells us that God’s word is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). That word summons us to discernment and it brings light to that process. It guides the Synod, preventing it from becoming a Church convention, a study group or a political gathering, a parliament, but rather a grace-filled event, a process of healing guided by the Spirit. In these days, Jesus calls us, as he did the rich man in the Gospel, to empty ourselves, to free ourselves from all that is worldly, including our inward-looking and outworn pastoral models; and to ask ourselves what it is that God wants to say to us in this time. And the direction in which he wants to lead us.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us have a good journey together! May we be pilgrims in love with the Gospel and open to the surprises of the Holy Spirit. Let us not miss out on the grace-filled opportunities born of encounter, listening and discernment. In the joyful conviction that, even as we seek the Lord, he always comes with his love to meet us first.

10.10.21


Pope Francis

31.08.22 General Audience, Paul VI Audience Hall

Catechesis On Discernment: 1. What does it mean to discern?

Matthew 13: 44-48

Dear brothers and sisters, good day!

Today we begin a new cycle of catechesis: we have finished the catechesis on old age, now we begin a new cycle on the theme of discernment. Discernment is an important act that concerns everyone, because choices are an essential part of life. One chooses food, clothing, a course of study, a job, a relationship. In all of these, a life project is realised, and even our relationship with God is concretized.

In the Gospel, Jesus speaks of discernment with images taken from ordinary life; for example, he describes the fisher who selects the good fish and discards the bad ones; or the merchant who knows how to identify, among many pearls, the one of greatest value. Or he who, ploughing a field, comes across something that turns out to be a treasure (cf. Mt 13:44-48).

In the light of these examples, discernment presents itself as an exercise of intelligence, of also of skill [It: ‘perizia’] and also of will, to seize the opportune moment: these are the conditions for making a good choice. It takes intelligence, skill, and also will to make a good choice. And there is also a price required for discernment to become effective. To perform his trade to the best of his ability, the fisher reckons with hard work, long nights spent at sea, and then discarding some of the catch, accepting a loss of profit for the sake of those for whom it is intended. The pearl merchant does not hesitate to spend everything to buy that pearl; and so does the person who has stumbled upon a treasure. [These are] unexpected, unplanned situations, where it is crucial to recognise the importance and urgency of a decision to be made.

Everyone has to make decisions; there is no one to make it for us. At a certain point, adults can freely ask for advice; we can reflect, but the decision is our own. We can’t say, ‘I lost this, because my husband decided, my wife decided, my brother decided.’ No. You have to decide, each of us has to decide, and for this reason it is important to know how to discern, to decide well it is necessary to know how to discern.

The Gospel suggests another important aspect of discernment: it involves the emotions. The one who has found the treasure feels no difficulty in selling everything, so great is his joy (cf. Mt 13:44). The term used by the evangelist Matthew indicates a very special joy, which no human reality can give; and indeed it recurs in very few other passages of the Gospel, all of which refer to the encounter with God. It is the joy of the Magi when, after a long and arduous journey, they see the star again (cf. Mt 2:10); the joy, it is the joy of the women who return from the empty tomb after hearing the angel’s announcement of the resurrection (cf. Mt 28:8). It is the joy of those who have found the Lord. Making a good decision, a correct decision, always leads you to that final joy; perhaps along the way you have to suffer a bit of uncertainty, thinking, seeking, but in the end the right decision blesses you with joy.

In the final judgement God will exercise discernment – the great discernment – with regard to us. The images of the farmer, the fisher, and the merchant are examples of what happens in the Kingdom of Heaven, a Kingdom that manifests itself in the ordinary actions of life, which require us to take a stand. This is why it is so important to be able to discern: great choices can arise from circumstances that at first sight seem secondary, but turn out to be decisive. For example, let us think of Andrew and John’s first encounter with Jesus, an encounter that stems from a simple question: ‘Rabbi, where do you live?’ — ‘Come and see,’ says Jesus (cf. Jn 1:38-39). A very brief exchange, but it is the beginning of a change that, step by step, will mark their whole life. Years later, the Evangelist will continue to remember that encounter that changed him forever, and he will even remember the time: ‘It was about four o’clock in the afternoon’ (v. 39). It is the hour when time and the eternal met in his life. And in a good decision, correct, there is an encounter between God’s will and our will; there is an encounter between the present path and the eternal. Making the right decision, after a path of discernment, is to make this encounter: time with eternity.

So: knowledge, experience, emotion, will: these are some of the indispensable elements of discernment. In the course of these catecheses we will see others, equally important.

Discernment — as I’ve said — involves hard work. According to the Bible, we do not find set before us, pre-packaged, the life we are to live. No! We have to decide it all the time, according to the reality that comes. God invites us to evaluate and choose: He created us free and wants us to exercise our freedom. Therefore, discerning is demanding.

We have often had this experience: choosing something that seemed good to us and yet was not. Or knowing what our true good was and not choosing it. Human beings, unlike animals, can be wrong, can be unwilling to choose correctly – freedom, no? And the Bible shows this from its very first pages. God gives man a precise instruction: if you want to live, if you want to enjoy life, remember that you are a creature, that you are not the criterion of good and evil, and that the choices you make will have a consequence, for you, for others and for the world (cf. Gen 2:16-17); you can make the earth a magnificent garden or you can make it a desert of death. A fundamental teaching: it is no coincidence that this is the first dialogue between God and man. The dialogue is: the Lord gives the mission, you have to do this and that; and every person, the step he or she takes, must discern which decision to make. Discernment is that reflection of the mind, of the heart, that we have to do before making a decision.

Discernment is demanding but indispensable for living. It requires that I know myself, that I know what is good for me here and now. Above all, it requires a filial relationship with God. God is Father and He does not leave us alone, He is always willing to advise us, to encourage us, to welcome us. But He never imposes His will. Why? Because He wants to be loved and not feared. And also, God wants children, not slaves: free children. And love can only be lived in freedom. To learn to live one must learn to love, and for this it is necessary to discern: what can I do now, faced with this alternative? Let it be a sign of greater love, of greater maturity in love. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to guide us! Let us invoke Him every day, especially when we have choices to make.

31.08.22


Pope Francis

07.09.22 General Audience, Saint Peter's Square

Catechesis On Discernment: 2. An example: Ignatius of Loyola

Sirach 6: 18-20


Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

We are continuing our reflection on discernment – in this time we will speak every Wednesday about spiritual discernment – and for this it can help us to refer to a specific witness.

One of the most instructive examples is offered to us by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, with a decisive episode in his life. Ignatius is at home convalescing, after injuring a leg in battle. To dispel the boredom, he asks for something to read. He loves tales of chivalry, but unfortunately only the lives of saints can be found at home. Somewhat reluctantly he adapts, but in the course of reading he begins to discover another world, a world that conquers him and seems to compete with that of knights. He is fascinated by the figures of Saint Francis and Saint Dominic, and feels the desire to imitate them. But the world of chivalry also continues to exert its fascination on him. And so, within himself he feels within himself this alternation of thoughts – those of chivalry and those of the saints – which seem to equate to one another.

Ignatius, however, also begins to perceive some differences. In his Autobiography - in the third person - he writes: “When he thought of worldly things” – and of chivalrous things, one understands – “it gave him great pleasure, but afterward he found himself dry and sad. But when he thought of journeying to Jerusalem, and of living only on herbs and practicing austerities, he found pleasure not only while thinking of them, but also when he had ceased” (Chapter 8); they left him a trace of joy.

In this experience we note two aspects, above all. The first is time: that is, the thoughts of the world are attractive at the beginning, but then they lose their lustre and leave emptiness and discontent; they leave you that way, empty. Thoughts of God, on the contrary, rouse first a certain resistance – “But I’m not going to read this boring ting about saints” – but when they are welcomed, they bring an unknown peace that lasts for a long time.

Here, then, is the other aspect: the end point of thoughts. At first the situation does not seem so clear. There is a development of discernment: for example, we understand what is good for us not in an abstract, general way, but in the journey of our life. In the rules for discernment, the fruit of this fundamental experience, Ignatius lays down an important premise, which helps to understand this process: “In the persons who go from mortal sin to mortal sin, the enemy is commonly used to propose to them apparent pleasures” – to reassure them that everything is fine – “making them imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more and make them grow in their vices and sins. In these persons the good spirit uses the opposite method, pricking them and biting their consciences through the process of reason” (Spiritual Exercises, 314). But this will not do.

There is a history that precedes one who discerns, a history that it is indispensable to know, because discernment is not a sort of oracle or fatalism, or something from a laboratory, like casting one’s lot on two possibilities. The great questions arise when we have already travelled a stretch of the road in life, and it is to that journey we must return to understand what we are looking for. If in life we make a little progress, then: “But why am I walking in this direction, what am I looking for?”, and that is where discernment takes place. Ignatius, when he found himself wounded in his father’s house, was not thinking of God at all, or of how to reform his own life, no. He had his first experience of God by listening to his own heart, which presented him with a curious reversal: things that were attractive at first sight left him disillusioned, whereas in others, less dazzling, he found lasting peace. We too have this experience; very often we begin to think about something, and we stay there, and then we end up disappointed. Instead, if we carry out a work of charity, do something good and feel something of happiness, a good thought comes to us, and happiness comes to us, something of joy, and it is an experience that is entirely our own. He, Ignatius, had his first experience of God by listening to his own heart, that showed him a curious reversal. 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, you need to listen to your heart.

This is why Ignatius will go on to suggest reading the lives of the saints, because they show the style of God in the life of people not very different to us, because the saints were made of flesh and blood like us, in a narrative, comprehensible way. Their actions speak to ours, and they help us to understand their meaning.

In that famous episode of the two feelings that Ignatius had, one when he read about knights and the other when he read about the life of the saints, we can recognize another important aspect of discernment, which we already mentioned last time. There is an apparent randomness in the events of life: everything seems to arise from a banal mishap – there were no books about knights, only lives of saints. A mishap that nonetheless holds a possible turning point. Only after some time will Ignatius realize this, at which point he will devote all his attention to it. Listen carefully: God works through unplannable events that happen by chance, but by chance this happened to me, and by chance I met this person, by chance I saw this film. It was not planned but God works through unplannable events, and also through mishaps: “But I was supposed to go for a walk and I had a problem with my foot, I can’t…”. Mishap: what is God saying to you? What is life telling you there? We have also seen this in a passage from the Gospel of Matthew: a man ploughing a field accidentally comes across buried treasure. A totally unexpected situation. But what is important is that he recognizes it as the lucky break of his life and decides accordingly: he sells everything and buys that field (cf. 13:44). I will give you a piece of advice: beware of the unexpected. He who says to you: “But I wasn’t expecting this”. Is it life speaking to you, is it the Lord speaking to you, or is it the devil? Someone. But there is something to discern, how I react when faced with the unexpected. But I was quiet at home and “Boom!” – my mother-in-law arrives; and how do you react to your mother-in-law? Is it love or something else inside? And you must discern. I was working well in the office, and a companion comes along to tell me he needs money: how do you react? See what happens when we experience things we were not expecting, and there we can learn to know out heart as it moves.

Discernment is the aid in recognizing the signals with which the Lord makes himself known in unexpected, even unpleasant situations, as the leg wound was for Ignatius. A life-changing encounter can arise from them, forever, as in the case of Ignatius. Something can arise that that makes you better along the way, or worse, I don’t know, but be careful; the most beautiful thread is given to us by the unexpected: “How do I act in view of this?” May the Lord help us to hear our hearts and see when it is He who acts and when it is not, and it is something else.

07.09.22


Pope Francis

28.09.22 General Audience, Saint Peter's Square

Catechesis On Discernment: 3. The elements of discernment. Familiarity with the Lord

Ephesians 5: 15, 17-20

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

We resume our catecheses on the theme of discernmentbecause the theme of discernment is very important in order to know what is going on within us, to know about our feelings and ideas, we have to discern where they come from, where they lead me, to what decisions — and today we focus on the first of its constituent elements, which is prayer. To discern we need to be in an environment, in a state of prayer.

Prayer is an indispensable aid for spiritual discernment, especially when it involves the affective dimension, enabling us to address God with simplicity and familiarity, as one would speak to a friend. It is knowing how to go beyond thoughts, to enter into intimacy with the Lord, with an affectionate spontaneity. The secret of the lives of the saints is familiarity and confidence with God, which grows in them and makes it ever easier to recognize what is pleasing to Him. 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. This familiarity overcomes fear or doubt that His will is not for our good, a temptation that sometimes runs through our thoughts and makes our heart restless and uncertain, or even bitter.

Discernment does not claim absolute certainty, it is not a chemically pure method, it does not claim absolute certainty, because it is about life, and life is not always logical, it has many aspects that cannot be enclosed in one category of thought. We would like to know precisely what should be done, yet even when it happens, we do not always act accordingly. How many times have we, too, had the experience described by the apostle Paul, who says: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want” (Rom. 7:19). We are not just reason, we are not machines, it is not enough to be given instructions to carry them out: the obstacles, like the supports, to deciding for the Lord are primarily affective, from the heart.

It is significant that the first miracle performed by Jesus in Mark's Gospel is an exorcism (cf. 1:21-28). In the synagogue at Capernaum He delivers a man from the devil, freeing him from the false image of God that Satan has been suggesting since the beginning: that of a God who does not want our happiness. The possessed man in that passage of the Gospel knows that Jesus is God, but this does not lead him to believe in Him. In fact, he says, "You have come to ruin us" (v. 24).

Many people, even Christians, think the same thing: that is, that Jesus may well be the Son of God, but they doubt that He wants our happiness; indeed, some fear that taking his proposal seriously, that which Jesus proposes to us, means ruining our lives, mortifying our desires, our strongest aspirations. These thoughts sometimes creep up inside us: that God asks too much of us, we fear that God asks too much of us, that He doesn't really love us. Instead, in our first encounter we saw that the sign of meeting the Lord is joy. When I encounter the Lord in prayer, I become joyful. Each one of us becomes joyful, a beautiful thing. Sadness, or fear, on the other hand, are signs of distance from God: “If you would enter life, keep the commandments,” Jesus says to the rich young man (Mt 19:17). Unfortunately for that young man, some obstacles did not allow him to implement the desire in his heart to follow the "good teacher" more closely. He was an interested, enterprising young man, he had taken the initiative to meet Jesus, but he was also very divided in his affections, for him riches were too important. Jesus does not force him to make up his mind, but the text notes that the young man turns away from Jesus “sad” (v. 22). Those who turn away from the Lord are never happy, even though they have an abundance of possessions and possibilities at their disposal. Jesus never forces you to follow Him, never. Jesus lets you know His will, with all His heart He lets you know things, but He leaves you free. And this is the most beautiful thing about prayer with Jesus: the freedom that He allows you. On the other hand, when we distance ourselves from the Lord, we are left with something sad, something ugly in our heart.

Discerning what is happening within us is not easy, for appearances are deceptive, but familiarity with God can melt doubts and fears in a gentle way, making our lives increasingly receptive to His “gentle light,” according to the beautiful expression of Saint John Henry Newman. The saints shine with reflected light and show in the simple gestures of their day the loving presence of God, who makes the impossible possible. It is said that two spouses who have lived together for so long loving each other end up resembling each other. Something similar can be said about affective prayer: in a gradual but effective way it makes us more and more able to recognize what counts through connaturality, as something that springs from the depths of our being. To be in prayer does not mean saying words, words, no: being in prayer means opening my heart to Jesus, drawing close to Jesus, allowing Jesus to enter into my heart and making us feel His presence. And there we can discern when it is Jesus and when it is us with our thoughts, that so many times are far from what Jesus wants.

Let us ask for this grace: to live a relationship of friendship with the Lord, as a friend speaks to a friend (cf. St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, 53). I knew an old religious brother who was the doorman of a boarding school, and every time he could he would approach the chapel, look at the altar, and say, “Hello,” because he was close to Jesus. He didn't need to say blah blah blah, no: “Hello, I am close to you and you are close to me.” This is the relationship we must have in prayer: closeness, affective closeness, as brothers and sisters, closeness with Jesus. A smile, a simple gesture, and not reciting words that do not reach the heart. As I said, talk to Jesus as a friend talks to another friend. It is a grace we must ask for one another: to see Jesus as our friend, as our greatest friend, our faithful friend, who does not blackmail, above all who never abandons us, even when we turn away from Him. He remains at the door of our heart. “No, with you I don’t want to know anything,” we say. And He remains silent, He remains close at hand, at heart’s reach because He is always faithful. Let us go forward with this prayer, we could say the prayer of “Ciao,” the prayer of greeting the Lord with our heart, the prayer of affection, the prayer of closeness, with few words but with acts and good works. Thank you.

28.09.22


Pope Francis

05.10.22 General Audience, Saint Peter's Square

Catechesis on Discernment: 4. The Elements of Discernment. Knowing yourself

Sirach 17: 1, 2, 5, 6

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Let us continue to explore the theme of discernment. Last time we considered prayer, understood as familiarity and confidence with God, as its indispensable element. Prayer, not like parrots. No: prayer as familiarity and confidence with God; prayer of the sons of the Father; prayer with an open heart. We saw this in the last Catechesis. Today I would like, in an almost complementary way, to emphasize that good discernment also requires self-knowledge. Self-knowledge. And this is not easy, eh! Indeed, it involves our human faculties: memory, intellect, will, affections. Often, we do not know how to discern because we do not know ourselves well enough, and so we do not know what we really want. You have heard many times: “But that person, why doesn’t he sort out his life? He has never known what he wants…”. There are people who… And then, yes, his life goes like that, because not even he knows what he wants. Without arriving at that extreme, it happens to us too that we do not know clearly what we want, we do not know ourselves well.

Underlying spiritual doubts and vocational crises, there is not infrequently an insufficient dialogue between religious life and our human, cognitive and affective dimension. A writer on spirituality noted how many difficulties on the theme of discernment are indicative of problems of another kind, which must be recognized and explored. This author writes: “I have come to the conviction that the greatest obstacle to true discernment (and to real growth in prayer) is not the intangible nature of God, but the fact that we do not know ourselves sufficiently, and do not even want to know ourselves as we really are. Almost all of us hide behind a mask, not only in front of others, but also when we look in the mirror” (TH. GREEN, Weeds Among the Wheat, 1992). We all have the temptation to wear a mask, even in front of ourselves.

Forgetfulness of God’s presence in our life goes hand in hand with ignorance of ourselves – ignoring God and ignoring ourselves – ignorance of our personality traits and our deepest desires.

Knowing oneself is not difficult, but it is laborious: it implies patient soul-searching. It requires the capacity to stop, to “deactivate the autopilot”, to acquire awareness of our way of acting, of the feelings that dwell within us, of the recurrent thoughts that condition us, and often unconsciously. It also requires that we distinguish between emotions and spiritual faculties. “I feel” is not the same as “I am convinced”; “I feel like” is not the same as “I want”. Thus, we come to recognize that the view we have of ourselves and of reality is at times somewhat distorted. To realize this is a grace! Indeed, very often it can happen that erroneous convictions about reality, based on past experiences, strongly influence us, limiting our freedom to strive for what really matters in our lives.

Living in the age of information technology, we know how important it is to know the password in order to get into the programmes where the most personal and valuable information is stored. But spiritual life, too, has its “passwords”: there are words that touch the heart because they refer to what we are most sensitive too. The tempter, that is, the devil, knows these passwords well, and its important that we know them too, so as not to find ourselves where we do not want to be. Temptation does not necessarily suggest bad things, but often haphazard things, presented with excessive importance. In this way it hypnotizes us with the attraction that these things stir in us, things that are beautiful but illusory, that cannot deliver what they promise, and therefore leave us in the end with a sense of emptiness and sadness. That sense of emptiness and sadness is a sign that we have embarked on a path that was not right, that has disoriented us. They can be, for example, degrees, careers, relationships, all things that are in themselves praiseworthy, but towards which, if we are not free, we risk harbouring unreal expectations, such as confirmation of our worth. For example, when you think of a study you are undertaking, do you think only of promoting yourself, for your own interests, or also to serve the community? There, one can see the intentionality of each one of us. From this misunderstanding often comes the greatest suffering, because none of those things can be the guarantee of our dignity.

This is why, dear brothers and sisters, it is important to know ourselves, to know the passwords of our heart, what we are most sensitive to, in order to protect ourselves from those who present themselves with persuasive words to manipulate us, but also to recognize what is truly important for us, distinguishing it from current fads or flashy, superficial slogans. Many times, what is said in a television programme, in some advertisement that is made, touches our hearts and makes us go that way without freedom. Be careful about that: am I free, or do I let myself be swayed by the feelings of the moment, or the provocations of the moment?

An aid in this is examination of conscience, but I am not talking about the examination of conscience that we all do when we go to confession, no. This is: “But I sinned in this, that…”. No. A general examination of conscience of the day: what happened in my heart in this day? “Lots of things happened…”. Which? Why? What traces did they leave in my heart? Carrying out an examination of conscience, that is, the good habit of calmly rereading what happens in our day, learning to learn to note in our evaluations and choices what we give most importance to, what we are looking for and why, and what we eventually find. Above all, learning to recognize what satiates the heart. What satiates my heart? For only the Lord can give us confirmation of what we are worth. He tells us this every day from the cross: he died for us, to show us how precious we are in his eyes. There is no obstacle or failure that can prevent his tender embrace. The examination of conscience helps a great deal, because in this way we see that our heart is not a road where everything passes without us knowing about it. No. To see: what passed by today? What happened? What made me react? What made me sad? What made me joyful? What was bad, and did I harm others? Seeing the route our feelings took, the attractions in my heart during the day. Don’t forget! The other day we talked about prayer; today we are talking about self-awareness.

Prayer and self-knowledge enable us to grow in freedom. This is to grow in freedom! They are basic elements of Christian existence, precious elements for finding one’s place in life. Thank you.

05.10.22