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Pope Francis: Desire points our discernment in the right direction

October 12, 2022 Catholic News Agency 5
Pope Francis speaking on St. Peter’s Square, Vatican, Oct. 12, 2022 / Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Rome Newsroom, Oct 12, 2022 / 03:35 am (CNA).

At his public audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke about the role desire plays in spiritual discernment, comparing it to a compass that points one in the right direction.

“Desire is not the craving of the moment. No. The Italian word, desiderio, comes from a very beautiful Latin term, desidus, literally ‘the lack of the star,’” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Square on Oct. 12.

“Desire is ‘the lack of the star,’ of the reference point that orients the path of life,” he continued. “It evokes a suffering, a lack, and at the same time a tension to reach the good that is missing.”

The pope spoke in his general audience about desire as the third “indispensable ingredient” of discernment, after prayer and self-knowledge.

Pope Francis greeting pilgrims on St. Peter's Square, Oct. 12, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
Pope Francis greeting pilgrims on St. Peter’s Square, Oct. 12, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

On Aug. 31, Francis began a series of weekly catecheses, or messages, on discernment, which he described as “an exercise of intelligence, and also of skill and also of will, to seize the opportune moment” in order to make a good choice about one’s life.

“Desire, then,” he said in the live-streamed address on Wednesday, “is the compass to understand where I am and where I am going. Actually, it is the compass for whether I am standing still or going.”

Pope Francis addressed how someone can recognize desire within themselves in his message. “A sincere desire,” he said, “knows how to touch deeply the chords of our being, which is why it is not extinguished in the face of difficulties or setbacks.”

“Unlike a momentary craving or emotion, desire lasts through time, even a long time,” he explained.

General audience on St. Peter's Square, Oct. 12, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
General audience on St. Peter’s Square, Oct. 12, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Pope Francis pointed to some of the pitfalls to knowing the desires of one’s heart; for example, society’s promotion of “the maximum freedom of choice,” while those “choices” are mostly reduced to just what is wanted most in the moment, not what will truly satisfy over the long term.

“We are bombarded by a thousand proposals, projects, possibilities, which risk distracting us and not permitting us to calmly evaluate what we really want,” the pope said, adding that many people go around “with their cell phones in their hands and they are searching, looking,” but never stopping to think or reflect.

“Desire cannot grow like that,” he said. “You live in the moment, satiated in the moment, and desire does not grow.”

Francis said that distraction can cause people a lot of suffering “because they do not know what they want from their lives; they have probably never got in touch with their deepest desire.”

Another pitfall the pope mentioned was the knowledge that one wants to do something but never actually takes action.

“And so certain changes, though desired in theory, when the opportunity arises are never implemented,” he said.

“Often,” he said, “it is indeed desire that makes the difference between a successful, coherent and lasting project, and the thousands of wishes and good intentions with which, as they say, ‘hell is paved with.’”

The moon was visible over St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican, on the morning of Oct. 12. 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
The moon was visible over St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican, on the morning of Oct. 12. 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

He recalled that Jesus, before performing a miracle, often questions a person about his or her desires, like he does with the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda in chapter five of the Gospel of John. 

“Jesus asks him: ‘Do you want to be well?’ How come?” the pope said.

He explained that “Jesus’ question was an invitation to bring clarity to his heart, to welcome a possible leap forward: to no longer think of himself and his own life ‘as a paralytic,’ transported by others. … By engaging in dialogue with the Lord, we learn to understand what we truly want from life.”

The paralytic, he continued, is an “example of people [who say,] ‘Yes, yes, I want, I want,’” but in the end, never do anything.

Instead of taking action, we find excuses or complain: “But be careful,” he said, because “complaints are a poison, a poison to the soul, a poison to life because they don’t make you grow the desire to move forward.”

“If the Lord were to ask us, today, the question he asked the blind man in Jericho: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ how would we answer?” the pope said. “Perhaps we could finally ask him to help us know his deepest desire, that God himself has placed in our heart.”


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Pope Francis: The first element of discernment is prayer

September 28, 2022 Catholic News Agency 3
Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square, Sept. 28, 2022 / Pablo Esparza / CNA

Rome Newsroom, Sep 28, 2022 / 03:41 am (CNA).

Prayer is the first element of discernment, Pope Francis said in his general audience message on Wednesday.

“To discern we need to be in an environment, in a state of prayer,” he said Sept. 28 in St. Peter’s Square.

“We resume our catecheses on the theme of discernment,” the pope said, “because the theme of discernment is very important to know what is going on inside of us — feelings and ideas — we have to discern where they come from, where they lead me, to what decision.”

Francis emphasized that discernment does not lead to absolute certainty, because “life is not always logical” and humans are not machines, but “prayer is an indispensable aid.”

“It is not enough to be given instructions to carry out,” he said. “We would like to know precisely what should be done, yet even when it happens, we do not always act accordingly. How many times have we, too, had the experience described by the apostle Paul: ‘For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want.’”

He pointed out that the first miracle Jesus performs in the Gospel of Mark is an exorcism. In the synagogue in Capernaum, Jesus delivers a man from the devil, “freeing him from the false image of God that Satan has been suggesting since the beginning: that of a God who does not want our happiness.”

Pope Francis blessed a child at the general audience on St. Peter's Square, Sept. 28, 2022. Pablo Esparza / CNA
Pope Francis blessed a child at the general audience on St. Peter’s Square, Sept. 28, 2022. Pablo Esparza / CNA

Pope Francis noted that this is a trap many people, even Christians, can fall into: they may believe that Jesus is the Son of God, “but they doubt that he wants our happiness.”

“Indeed, some fear that taking his proposal seriously means ruining our lives, mortifying our desires, our strongest aspirations. These thoughts sometimes creep up inside us: that God asks too much of us, or wants to take away what we hold most dear. In short, that He doesn’t really love us,” Francis said.

But, he explained, meeting the Lord in prayer should produce joy, not fear or sadness, which are signs of distance from him.

He encouraged people to pray to God with simplicity. Just like they would greet a friend, they can say “hello” to God throughout the day.

Prayer “is knowing how to go beyond thoughts, to enter into intimacy with the Lord, with an affectionate spontaneity,” he said, adding that “true prayer is familiarity and confidence with God. It is not reciting prayers like a parrot, blah blah blah, no.”

“To be in prayer,” he said, “is not to say words, words, no; to be in prayer is to open my heart to Jesus, to draw closer to Jesus, to let Jesus come into my heart and let us feel his presence.”

This, the pope continued, is how we can discern when it is Jesus speaking to us and when it is just our own thoughts. 

Francis said familiarity with the Lord also helps us to overcome the fear or doubt that God’s will is not for our good, “a temptation that sometimes runs through our thoughts and makes the heart restless and uncertain.”

“Discerning is not easy, for appearances are deceptive, but familiarity with God can melt doubts and fears in a gentle way, making our lives increasingly receptive to his ‘gentle light,’ according to the beautiful expression of Saint John Henry Newman,” he said. 

“It is a grace we must ask for each other: to see Jesus as our friend, our greatest friend, our faithful friend, who does not extort us, who, above all, never abandons us, even when we turn away from him,” he said. “He remains at the door of the heart.”

Pope Francis speaking at the general audience on St. Peter's Square, Sept. 28, 2022. Pablo Esparza / CNA
Pope Francis speaking at the general audience on St. Peter’s Square, Sept. 28, 2022. Pablo Esparza / CNA

In his final greeting at the end of the audience, Pope Francis recalled that Thursday, Sept. 29, the Church celebrates the feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.

These saints “arouse in each one of us a sincere adherence to the divine plans. Know how to recognize and follow the voice of the inner Master, who speaks in the secret of our consciousness,” he said.