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Pope Francis’ 8-step guide to discernment


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Kathleen N. Hattrup -

"The voice of God is a voice that has a horizon, whereas the voice of evil leads you to a wall"

Being able to tell right from wrong is a clear element of not only moral conscience but of spiritual growth as well. In fact, it is one of the pillars of classic Ignatian Spirituality. Pope Francis, a Jesuit himself, has spoken repeatedly during his pontificate about the need for discernment, even dedicating a series of Wednesday audiences to this theme.

He once gave a mini-lesson on discernment (on the fourth Sunday of Easter 2020, dedicated to Jesus the Good Shepherd) in eight relatively easy steps.

Here, we share with you the most important excerpts of Francis’ lesson:

The Gospel says that “The sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (Jn 10: 3). The Lord calls us by name, He 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 brigands who mean harm to 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 recognise the voice of the good Shepherd rather than that of the thief, how can we distinguish the inspiration of God from the suggestion of the evil one?

Read more:
The 7-word prayer Pope Francis learned from his grandmother

One can learn to discern these two voices: they speak two different languages. That is, they have opposite ways of knocking on the door of our hearts. They speak different languages. Just as we know how to distinguish one language from another, we can also distinguish the voice of God from the voice of the evil one.

Am I still free?

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, emotions that are tempting but transient.

Am I being flattered?

At first [the voice of evil] flatters, it makes us believe that we are all-powerful, but then it leaves us empty inside and accuses us: “You are worth nothing”. The voice of God, instead, corrects us, with great patience, but always encourages us, consoles us: it always nourishes hope.

Am I looking forward?

The voice of God is a voice that has a horizon, whereas the voice of evil leads you to a wall, it backs you into a corner.

Am I in the present moment?

Another difference. The voice of the enemy distracts us from the present and wants us to focus on fears of the future or sadness about the past – the enemy does not want the present – it brings to the surface the bitterness, the memories of the wrongs suffered, of those who have hurt us, many bad memories. Instead, the voice of God 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 inspires us, it leads us ahead, but it speaks in the present: now.

Is it about my ego?

Again: the two voices raise different questions in us. That which comes from God will be: “What is good for me?” Instead the tempter will insist on another question: “What do I feel like doing?” What I feel like: the evil voice always revolves around the ego, its impulses, its needs, everything straight away. It is like the tantrums of a child: everything, and now. The voice of God, instead, never promises joy at a low price: it invites us to go beyond our ego to find the true good, peace.

What aftertaste does it leave?

Let us remember: evil never gives us peace, it causes frenzy first and leaves bitterness later. This is the style of evil.

Am I seeking light or hiding?

The voice of God and that of the tempter, finally, speak in different “environments”: the enemy prefers darkness, falsehood, and gossip; the Lord loves sunlight, truth, and sincere transparency.

Am I led to trust?

The enemy will say to us: “Close yourself up in yourself, besides no-one understands and listens to you, don’t trust anyone!” Goodness, on the contrary, invites us to open up, to be clear and trusting in God and in others.

Dear brothers and sisters, in this time so many thoughts and worries lead us to turn inwards into ourselves. Let us pay attention to the voices that reach our hearts. Let us ask ourselves where they come from. Let us ask for the grace to recognise 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.


Read more:
If you are struggling with a decision, say this prayer to Our Lady of Good Counsel

May Our Lady, Mother of Good Counsel, guide and accompany our discernment.

Make sure to visit the slideshow below to discover seven insightful and inspiring phrases by Pope Francis. 

Pope Francis
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