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‘Lazy, tepid, sad’: Pope Francis explains how desolation can be turned to good

October 26, 2022 Catholic News Agency 1
Pope Francis arriving for the general audience on St. Peter’s Square, Oct. 26, 2022 / Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Rome Newsroom, Oct 26, 2022 / 04:02 am (CNA).

Pope Francis explained on Wednesday how times of spiritual desolation — described by St. Ignatius of Loyola as feelings of unquiet, temptation, sadness — can also help bring us closer to God.

“No one wants to be desolate, sad. We would all like a life that is always joyful, cheerful and fulfilled. Yet this, besides not being possible — because it is not possible — would not be good for us either,” the pope said during the general audience on Oct. 26.

In fact, he added, feelings of sadness or remorse can be the impetus for turning away from a life of vice.

Pope Francis continued his lessons on discernment with a reflection on spiritual desolation at his weekly gathering with the public in St. Peter’s Square.

Quoting from St. Ignatius of Loyola’s spiritual exercises, he said desolation is defined as: “Darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to things low and earthly, the unquiet of different agitations and temptations, moving to want of confidence, without hope, without love, when the soul finds itself all lazy, tepid, sad and as if separated from its Creator and Lord.”

He said one thing to know about desolation is that it is an invitation to self-reflection.

“It is important to learn how to read sadness,” Francis said. “We all know what sadness is: everyone. But do we know how to read it? Do we know what it means for me, this sadness of today?”

“In our time, [sadness] is mostly considered negatively, as an ill to avoid at all costs, and instead it can be an indispensable alarm bell for life, inviting us to explore richer and more fertile landscapes that transience and escapism do not permit,” he added.

The pope also pointed to St. Thomas Aquinas’ definition of sadness in the Summa Theologica as a “pain of the soul: like the nerves for the body, it redirects our attention to a possible danger, or a disregarded benefit.”

He compared the feelings to a red traffic light warning us to stop.

Pope Francis said we should also be aware of how the devil may try to use feelings of sadness or desolation to tempt us away from intentions to live with virtue.

“For those, on the other hand, who have the desire to do good, sadness is an obstacle with which the tempter tries to discourage us,” he explained.

“Think of work, study, prayer, a commitment undertaken: if we abandoned them as soon as we felt boredom or sadness, we would never complete anything,” he continued. “This is also an experience common to the spiritual life: the road to goodness, the Gospel reminds us, is narrow and uphill, it requires combat, self-conquest.”

He described a common experience: “I begin to pray, or dedicate myself to a good work, and strangely enough, just then things come to mind that need to be done urgently.”

“It is important, for those who want to serve the Lord, not to be led astray by desolation,” he warned, encouraging people to first pause and consider their state of mind before taking any drastic decisions.

“A wise rule says not to make changes when you are desolate,” he said without the help of a good spiritual guide.

The pope concluded by paraphrasing the encouraging words of St. Paul, who wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:13, that no one will be tempted beyond his or her ability, because the Lord never abandons us, and with him near, we can overcome every temptation.

And if we do not succeed today, he said, let us rise up and try again tomorrow.


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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 shares a spiritual life hack: Know the ‘passwords’ of your heart

October 5, 2022 Catholic News Agency 9
Pope Francis greeting pilgrims on St. Peter’s Square, Oct. 5 2022 / Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Rome Newsroom, Oct 5, 2022 / 03:04 am (CNA).

Pope Francis shared a spiritual life hack for discernment at his general audience on Wednesday.

Speaking in St. Peter’s Square on Oct. 5, the pope said that the “spiritual life, too, has its passwords.” 

Just like on one’s computer, where “we know how important it is to know the password in order to get into the programs where the most personal and valuable information is stored,” the pope said that discernment requires unlocking “the passwords of our heart.”

Crowds welcome Pope Francis on St. Peter's Square, Oct. 5, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
Crowds welcome Pope Francis on St. Peter’s Square, Oct. 5, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Pope Francis underlined that “self-knowledge” is key to discernment. When discerning who to marry or whether one is called to be a priest or religious sister, the pope said it is important to know what one’s heart is most sensitive to protect oneself from temptation. 

He said the devil “knows these passwords well, and it is important that we know them too, so as not to find ourselves where we do not want to be.”

“Temptation does not necessarily suggest bad things, but often disordered things, presented with excessive importance,” the pope said

“They can be, for example, degrees, careers, relationships, all things that are in themselves praiseworthy, but towards which, if we are not free, we risk having unrealistic expectations, such as the confirmation of our worth. … From this misunderstanding often comes the greatest suffering, because none of those things can be the guarantee of our dignity,” he said.

Pope Francis recommended the practice of an “examination of conscience” to learn and note “what we give most importance to” in daily choices. 

Above all, he said that it is crucial to understand what truly “satiates the heart.”

“For only the Lord can give us confirmation of what we are worth. He tells us this every day from the cross: he died for us, to show us how precious we are in his eyes. There is no obstacle or failure that can prevent his tender embrace,” he said.

The pope’s reflection was part of a weekly catechesis series on spiritual discernment that he launched on Aug. 31. 

Pope Francis noted that “underlying spiritual doubts and vocational crises” is often a lack of self-knowledge.

The pope quoted Thomas Green’s book on discernment, Weeds Among the Wheat: “I have come to the conviction that the greatest obstacle to true discernment (and to real 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. Almost all of us hide behind a mask, not only in front of others, but also when we look in the mirror.”

Pope Francis added: “Forgetfulness of God’s presence in our life goes hand in hand with ignorance of ourselves … ignorance of our personality traits and our deepest desires.”

General audience with Pope Francis, Oct. 5, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
General audience with Pope Francis, Oct. 5, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

At the end of his general audience, Pope Francis recalled that the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Faustina Kowalska on Oct. 5.

“Through her, God directed the world to seek salvation in his mercy. Let us remember this especially today, thinking especially of the war in Ukraine,” he said in his greeting to Polish-speaking pilgrims.

Pope Francis reminded people of his appeal for Ukraine in his Angelus address on Sunday and added: “We trust in God’s mercy, which can change hearts, and in the maternal intercession of the Queen of Peace.”


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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.



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Taking time to ask, ‘What is God’s will?’

December 24, 2021 Catholic News Agency 0
A nun at the prayer vigil for consecrated life in St. Peter’s Basilica, Jan. 28, 2016. / Alexey Gotovskiy/CNA

Denver, Colo., Dec 24, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Discerning your vocation is about more than pursuing a celibate vocation alone, said Father Ryan O’Neill, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Denver. The purpose, he said, is to “increase the knowledge and possibility of vocation for anybody.”

“It gives us all a moment to be like, ‘Oh yeah, I do have a vocation. God does have a plan for my life, and I can find out what that is,” said O’Neill, who was ordained in 2012.

“We should all take a moment to ask, ‘How is discernment part of my daily Christian experience? How are we seeking the Father’s will?’” he said.

Everyone is created for marriage at the natural level because of their biological identity, O’Neill said, but to have a celibate vocation is “a supernatural vocation.”

“You have to pause, and say, ‘Okay, I know I’m created for marriage, but, Jesus, are you calling me to something different?’” O’Neill said.

For those considering a celibate vocation, O’Neill suggested reaching out to a religious order or a local diocese to go on a discernment retreat at the earliest opportunity. If no retreats are immediately available, meet with a priest or religious to talk about your interest in a celibate vocation.

“The first principle is, you cannot drive a parked car,” O’Neill said. “You’ve got to get in the car and you’ve got to drive somewhere. That means don’t sit in your bedroom asking God what He wants. Do something about it.”

O’Neill compared it with the idea of really liking someone, but never mustering up the courage to ask them on a date.

“You’ll never get an answer unless you drive the car in a direction you think you should go,” he said.

Reaching a “dead end” where the answer is “no” is okay, O’Neill said, especially on the first try. If you encounter a “no,” either from a spiritual director or in your own discernment, it does not mean you are not meant for a celibate vocation—it may mean that you need to try a couple communities before finding the right place.

“We have this pressure to find the right answer and to make sure it’s the exact fit, and that’s just not real,” he said. “The world works by you going out and driving into a dead end, being okay with it, and saying, ‘I found an answer, now I turn around and I go back the direction I came, and I go a different direction.’”

As a practical tip for discerning a celibate vocation, O’Neill suggested increasing the amount of time you spend in prayer and learning the Liturgy of the Hours, both of which, he said, will increase your relationship with Jesus.

“It’s only going to be beneficial if you spend more time in prayer,” he said. “If your life is going to be centered around a relationship with Jesus as a religious sister, as a priest, or as a religious brother, why would you not start working on that relationship now?”

O’Neill also said that it is important to not be actively dating when you are discerning a celibate vocation because it can cause additional stress and confusion.

“Either you are going to direct your heart toward marriage, or you’re going to direct it away from marriage, but to do both is actually torturous for your own heart,” he said. “Allow yourself to focus on one thing at a time. Let your heart relax in whatever direction you are focusing on.”

One of the greatest joys of O’Neill’s vocation as a priest, he said, is the freedom to seek what God wants.

“Our world puts so much pressure on young people to have it all figured out, to have a 5-year plan, a 10-year plan,” O’Neill said. “All those things really bore down upon me when I was in college until I was given permission by a priest to let all those things go, and say, ‘Jesus what do you think?’ and ‘Jesus what do you want?’”

“When I focused on that I felt more free than I ever had before, and I began to understand that that’s really what God wants. God wants us to have an experience of freedom,” he said.

Both marriage and celibate vocations are good things, O’Neill said, and each has a different kind of intimacy, whether that be spiritual intimacy with Christ or physical intimacy with your spouse.

“It’s okay to not get married for the sake of Jesus,” O’Neill said. “Marriage is good, but so is being celibate. What is your heart longing for?”