Dan Burke is an award-winning author, writer, and speaker on Catholic spirituality. He has written and/or edited nine books on faithful Catholic spirituality and is the Executive Director and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register. Dan is the president of the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and the creator of Divine Intimacy Radio and SpiritualDirection.com.
In Pope Francis recent interview with America magazine he frequently references “discernment.” Though many are aware of what he means by this, those who have never been exposed to Ignatian spirituality might need a little more information.
Here are a few of the ways he illustrated or used the idea of “discernment” in this interview:
“He also speaks about the moment during the conclave when he began to realize that he might be elected pope. At lunch on Wednesday, March 13, he felt a deep and inexplicable inner peace and comfort come over him, he said, along with a great darkness. And those feelings accompanied him until his election later that day.”
Question: What element of Ignatian spirituality helps you live your ministry?” The Pope answered, “Discernment,” he replies. “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.”
“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.”
We can see from these quotes, that the Pope is a deeply spiritual man who is constantly striving to be attentive to the God’s leading. But what exactly does the Holy Father mean by “discernment”?
Discernment, or to use the full expression “discernment of spirits” is the attentive interpretation of what St. Ignatius called the “motions of the soul.” These interior movements consist of thoughts, emotions, inclinations, desires, repulsions and attractions. Discernment of spirits involves learning to be sensitive to these movements, reflecting on them and understanding where they come from and where they lead us.
St. Ignatius calls the two sources of these movements the “good spirit” and the “bad spirit.” The interior movements initiated by these spirits are called “consolations” or “desolations.”
In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius sets forth 14 rules for discerning how and under what circumstances consolations and desolations arise in our souls and these are called the “Rules for the Discernment of Spirits.”
It is obvious that Pope Francis is a deeply spiritual man who has learned to listen to the voice of God. This approach to listening is informed by a great tradition from a great saint who can teach us much about what it means to hear the voice of God.
If you would like to learn more about St. Ignatius' Rules of Discernment and how to learn to discern the voice of God, join me for a one hour online interactive webinar and question and answer session next Tuesday September the 24th from 6:00-7:30 PM Central Time. We will have limited seats so be sure to click on this link to REGISTER.