Pope Francis continued his cycle of reflections on the theme of discernment during his catechesis at the Wednesday General Audience.
Addressing the faithful, the Pope highlighted that good discernment also requires self-knowledge because “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,” the Pope said.
Dialogue between religious and human dimensions
The Holy Father noted that underlying spiritual doubts and vocational crises are not infrequently an insufficient dialogue between religious life and our human, cognitive and affective dimensions.
He illustrated this by referring to a writer on spirituality who underlined how many difficulties on the theme of discernment are indicative of problems of another kind, which need to be recognized and explored.
The author expressed his conviction that the greatest obstacle to true discernment and to true 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” as “almost all of us hide behind a mask, not only in front of others, but also when we look in the mirror.”
Knowing ourselves is not difficult, but it is laborious,” Pope Francis affirmed.
“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, often unconsciously.”
More so, he continued, it requires distinguishing between emotions and spiritual faculties, separating between “I feel” and “I am convinced,” and knowing that “I feel like” is not the same as “I want.”
In this way, he explained, we come to recognize that the view we have of ourselves and of reality is at times somewhat distorted.
The Pope insisted that “to realize this is a grace!” because, 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.
Spiritual “passwords” and temptation
Pope Francis explained that similar to the way passwords are required to enter into programmes in our age of information technology, even the spiritual life has “passwords,” – words that “touch the heart because they refer to what we are most sensitive to.”
He warned that the tempter also knows these keywords and thus, it is important that we too know them to avoid finding ourselves “where we do not want to be” because “temptation does not necessarily suggest bad things, but often haphazard things, presented with excessive importance.”
In this way, explained the Pope, temptation hypnotizes us with the attraction that these things stir in us, things that are beautiful but illusory, that cannot deliver what they promise, leaving us in the end with a sense of emptiness and sadness. These may include degrees, careers, relationships – things praiseworthy in themselves, but toward which, if we are not free, make us risk harbouring unrealistic expectations.
“From this misunderstanding often comes the greatest suffering, because none of those things can be the guarantee of our dignity,” the Pope said, stressing the importance of knowing ourselves and what we are most sensitive to in order to be able to protect ourselves from those who present themselves with persuasive words to manipulate us, as well as to recognize what is really important to us.
Examination of conscience
The Holy Father then upheld examination of conscience as an aid that can help us on this path.
He described it as “the good habit of calmly rereading what happens in our day, learning 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.”
It also helps us to learn to “recognize what satiates the heart,” stressed the Pope, for “only the Lord can give us confirmation of what we are worth” and “there is no obstacle or failure that can prevent His tender embrace.”
In concluding his catechesis, Pope Francis underlined that Prayer and self-knowledge enable us to grow in freedom, as they are basic elements of Christian existence, as well as precious elements for finding one’s place in life.
Prayers for Ukraine
In greetings to the faithful after the catechesis, the Pope appealed for prayers for “martyred Ukraine” and asked for the gift of peace.