Yesterday here on the blog I played a bit of catch-up with the remarkable interview Pope Francis (pictured here) gave recently to a Jesuit priest for publication.
Today I want to focus on another aspect of the interview -- the pope's discussion of what I think of as a gift, discernment. It's an ability to think wisely, and even the psalmist (in 119:66) prayed for it: "Teach me good discernment and knowledge. . ."
Pope Francis, a Jesuit, is steeped in Ignatian spirituality, which encourages people to think and think and think about where they are, who they are, whose they are, where they're headed and why.
The result, one hopes, is discernment.
Here's a bit of what the pope said:
". . .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."
It may seem as if this pope is moving quickly to make significant changes in the Catholic Church, but so far what has changed is style and attitude, not doctrine or practice. I suspect it's about those matters that the pontiff is taking his time to discern the future. Those matters are key and they require care in making anything like significant changes.
But being in a process of discernment doesn't mean he cannot be his open, warm self, and it's that inviting self that is making the church seem different when compared to the reign of Pope Benedict XVI, now retired.
Indeed, Pope Francis seemed to point to the difference between style and substance when he said this in the interview:
“But I am always wary of decisions made hastily. I am always wary of the first decision, that is, the first thing that comes to my mind if I have to make a decision. This is usually the wrong thing. I have to wait and assess, looking deep into myself, taking the necessary time. The wisdom of discernment redeems the necessary ambiguity of life and helps us find the most appropriate means, which do not always coincide with what looks great and strong.”
Notice, please, the pope's helpful phrase,"the necessary ambiguity of life." His use of that is an acknowledgement that life is complicated, complex, full of mystery. If we insist always on sharp, rigid answers we violate "the necessary ambiguity of life," which at times can be uncomfortable.
To me, discernment is a spiritual practice that must be learned and kept in good working order. Sometimes it can be employed in a hurry and be useful, but more often it requires the kind of time and care that so many of us are unwilling to give it in a culture that sees time as literal money.
* * *
WILL METHODISTS ABANDON OLD STANCE ON GAYS?
Speaking of discernment and changes, the forces of justice slowly are moving the United Methodist Church away from its open hostility toward homosexuality, and an upcoming meeting may be the site of the next steps in that good direction. I've been deeply disappointed in the way Methodists have clung to a position that misuses scripture and that flies in the face of their historic commitment to justice -- just as I was disappointed for decades in my own Presbyterian denomination's similar stance. Methodists should be leading this fight, not resisting. For my essay on what the Bible says about homosexuality, look under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.