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On this World Day of Prayer for the Pope’s intentions, we reflect on Pope Francis’ intention for March: “That the Church may appreciate the urgency of formation in spiritual discernment, both on the personal and communitarian levels.”
This is a very Ignatian intention, recognizing the importance of discerning (seeing) the will of God. It is a skill that can be taught and improved with practice. As a Jesuit, the Holy Father clearly recognizes the importance of formation in discernment of vocations and apostolates both for individuals and in communities.
Pope Francis is familiar with the Spiritual Exercises developed by the founder of the Society of Jesus in the early 16th century. These guided reflections presume that spirits good and evil are influencing God’s creatures by means sometimes blunt and obvious, but at others more subtle and nuanced.
Members of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, the Apostleship of Prayer, commit daily to making an examination of conscience. During this break from the ordinary busyness of the day, we reflect on how we have received grace from God, how we have moved towards Him or away, and which spirits may have been motivating us towards good or evil. St. Ignatius considered this daily examination to be extremely important. He himself is said to have practiced self-examination to a heroic degree.
Friends, discernment is not merely the territory of priests or religious. All vocations are best discerned carefully, in prayer, and in dialogue with a trusted spiritual advisor. While vocations to marriage, to a profession, to religious life, or the clerical state require such reflection, groups can also practice communal discernment. Religious congregations certainly do so, but also boards of trustees, civic groups, even a book club might discern God’s will in spiritual conversation when considering mission, identity, or major policy decisions.
May the good Lord grant His Church and all individuals and groups the gift of discernment.
Father William Blazek SJRegional Director
Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (USA & Canada)