Discerning the voice of the Lord
In this month’s edition of ‘The Pope Video’, Pope Francis speaks about the importance of spiritual discernment for the Church, in the context of our personal decision-making, and in communal or group settings. “The times in which we live demand that we develop a profound capacity of discernment”, the Pope says. He explains how Christians need “to discern, from among all the voices we hear, which is the Lord’s voice, which is the voice of Him who guides us to the Resurrection, to Life, and the voice that frees us from falling into the ‘culture of death’”.
Francis outlines that “Every Christian ought to grow in the ability to “read within” his or her life, and to understand where and to what he or she is being called by the Lord, in order to carry on his mission.” He concludes by asking us to join together with him in prayer “that the Church may appreciate the urgency of formation in spiritual discernment, both on the personal and communitarian levels.”
Fr Frédéric Fornos SJ, international director of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, noted how “Spiritual discernment is the compass that enables us to recognise the Holy Spirit in our lives, in our communities, and in the world”. He explained that God continues to act, and to accompany his Church, but that many times we do not recognise his voice.
According to Fr Fornos formation in discernment, is urgent, because “it helps us to listen, to recognise, and to be docile to the Spirit of the Lord” in the context of the challenges of the world and the mission of the Church. “Without spiritual and pastoral discernment, we are blind”, he remarked.
In a morning meditation on 26 November 2013 at Chapel of Casa Santa Marta, his residence at the Vatican, Pope Francis explained how discernment helps us “to recognise true signs and to know the way we should take at this moment”. A Christian the Pope said, is “a man or woman who knows how to live in the moment and also knows how to live in time”.
Francis outlined how prayer is necessary in order to live each moment well, stating that “the Christian is able to move on the road of the moment, with prayer and discernment”, and hoping in the Lord as he or she awaits the end of time. Christians should be “men and women of the moment and of time, of prayer and discernment and hope”, he remarked. The Pope also spoke about how wisdom is a gift which “leads us to pray and discern and which, in time, is God’s messenger that helps us to live with hope”.
“Spiritual discernment is about inviting God in our decisions”, says Fr Brian Grogan SJ, writing in the March issue of Sacred Heart Messenger, the publication of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer) in Ireland. Brian who is author of many books on Ignatian spirituality cites the example of Saint Ignatius who used to say “that we should make no decision without asking counsel of God as of a wise and loving father”.
According to Brian “Christian life is meant to be a lively partnership with an engaged and supportive God, not a solo run”. He says that Jesus did not go it alone, and always did what would please his Father “I always do what is pleasing to him”. (Jn 8:29). “That is to be our aim too”, he remarks.
He explains how Pope Francis is aware of the challenges facing the Church today, and “sees no ready-made answers but asks that in all choices the Christian community should let itself be led by the Holy Spirit”. The Pope’s two recent synods on the family “were examples of communal discernment”, Brian says, explaining that the bishops “were invited to speak freely, and also to listen well to opinions different from their own”.
This process he argues, resulted in the group becoming “more sensitive and prayerful as it searched for what the Spirit was trying to say to the Church through each speaker”. According to Brian “to some degree personal agendas slipped away, and a consensus emerged about the next step forward”. In conclusion the Jesuit theologian remarks that “clearly, for Francis, God rather than himself is in charge of the Church”.
Writing from Zambia on the Pope’s intention for this month, Irish Jesuit Charlie Searsons says Pope Francis prays that Spiritual Discernment is the grace to allow God the space to guide us
as we struggle to make a good choice. We are making choices all the time, he notes, adding that some decisions we have to make quickly and under pressure. Where to go? What to do? Whom to call? How to respond to someone’s request for help? These are all important questions in the decision-making process according to Charlie who says that other decisions are big and need time if we are to make them well. He says that we can make a decision on our own or with the help of a friend or as a community and he offers these nine steps below that might help in the decision-making process. The Jesuits in Ireland also have an online 8 step guide to Making Good Decisions and you can sign up for it here.
1. Pray using 1 Kings 3:7: “I do not know how to go…”
2. Don’t go ahead until you know all the facts.
3. Listen to the comments of your friends in a way that allows you to
make your own decision.
4. If you or the another person have already made up your minds don’t
go into spiritual discernment. All those involved need to be
undecided, open to either choice.
5. Spiritual Discernment only applies to a choice between two good
things (for example: should I get married or become a priest or a
religious?). If the choice is between good and bad then choose the
good, guided by the Ten Commandments.
6. After you make an initial choice, but before finally making up your
mind, look at the consequences of what you have chosen and what you
have rejected. Are you comfortable with the consequences of your
7. Be guided in your choice by your conscience and by the teaching of
the Catholic Church as found in the book called “The Catholic
Catechism” and its Youth version which is called: “YOU CAT”, which is
found at the Catholic bookshop.
8. Take your time to make your decision but don’t leave it too long.
Set yourself a deadline. Procrastination is the enemy of freedom.
9. Your final decision needs to be subject to confirmation in prayer.
The whole process should end in peace, love and joy. These are the
signs that God is with you and that God has led you to a good