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