instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, October 03, 2013

"This is the time of discernment"

One dimension of the Christian life that may grow during the current papacy is discernment.

In his interview with Fr. Spadaro, Pope Francis gave a long and little-noted reflection on discernment. The full reflection is quoted at the end of this post, but let me propose a few thoughts first:
  1. Discernment turns information into knowledge. The vast amount of information available to us today makes discernment all the more important.

  2. Discernment transforms information. It doesn't simply fit new data into existing patterns. "This discernment takes time," as Pope Francis says. It also takes effort. A reflexive response to an event is not a discerned response.

  3. Discernment should not merely be an intellectual process to be pulled out of the toolbox when some external trigger suggests it's needed. It should be a habit. We should always be "looking at things, at people and ... reading the signs of the times."

  4. Discernment is not primarily, much less only, a natural or political matter. To discern is to try "to hear the things of God from God’s ‘point of view.’" Absent this divine aspect, we are not discerning, we are plotting.

  5. Given this divine aspect, discernment should always encompass discernment of spirits. The Holy Spirit is not the only spirit at work in the world. That I am moved in some way, even strongly moved, does not mean I am moved closer to God.
I offer the above for what it's worth. Here's the Pope's answer to the question, "What element of Ignatian spirituality helps you live your ministry?”:
“Discernment. Discernment is one of the things that worked inside St. Ignatius. For him it is an instrument of struggle in order to know the Lord and follow him more closely. I was always struck by a saying that describes the vision of Ignatius: non coerceri a maximo, sed contineri a minimo divinum est (“not to be limited by the greatest and yet to be contained in the tiniest—this is the divine”). I thought a lot about this phrase in connection with the issue of different roles in the government of the church, about becoming the superior of somebody else: it is important not to be restricted by a larger space, and it is important to be able to stay in restricted spaces. This virtue of the large and small is magnanimity. Thanks to magnanimity, we can always look at the horizon from the position where we are. That means being able to do the little things of every day with a big heart open to God and to others. That means being able to appreciate the small things inside large horizons, those of the kingdom of God.

“This motto offers parameters to assume a correct position for discernment, in order to hear the things of God from God’s ‘point of view.’ According to St. Ignatius, great principles must be embodied in the circumstances of place, time and people. In his own way, John XXIII adopted this attitude with regard to the government of the church, when he repeated the motto, ‘See everything; turn a blind eye to much; correct a little.’ John XXIII saw all things, the maximum dimension, but he chose to correct a few, the minimum dimension. You can have large projects and implement them by means of a few of the smallest things. Or you can use weak means that are more effective than strong ones, as Paul also said in his First Letter to the Corinthians.

“This discernment takes time. For example, many think that changes and reforms can take place in a short time. I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change. And this is the time of discernment. Sometimes discernment instead urges us to do precisely what you had at first thought you would do later. And that is what has happened to me in recent months. Discernment is always done in the presence of the Lord, looking at the signs, listening to the things that happen, the feeling of the people, especially the poor. My choices, including those related to the day-to-day aspects of life, like the use of a modest car, are related to a spiritual discernment that responds to a need that arises from looking at things, at people and from reading the signs of the times. Discernment in the Lord guides me in my way of governing.

“But I am always wary of decisions made hastily. I am always wary of the first decision, that is, the first thing that comes to my mind if I have to make a decision. This is usually the wrong thing. I have to wait and assess, looking deep into myself, taking the necessary time. The wisdom of discernment redeems the necessary ambiguity of life and helps us find the most appropriate means, which do not always coincide with what looks great and strong.”