Pope asks Jesuits to educate diocesan clergy in practice of discernment

ROME (CNS) — When it comes to the Christian life, too many seminaries teach students a rigid list of rules that make it difficult or impossible for them as priests to respond to the real-life situation of those who come to them seeking guidance, Pope Francis said.“Some priestly formation programs run the risk of educating in the light of overly clear and distinct ideas, and therefore to act within limits and criteria that are rigidly defined a priori, and that set aside concrete situations,” the pope said during a meeting with 28 Polish Jesuits in Krakow during World Youth Day.

The Vatican did not publish details of the pope’s meeting July 30 with the Jesuits, but — with Pope Francis’ explicit approval — a transcript of his remarks to the group was published in late August by Civilta Cattolica, a Jesuit journal reviewed at the Vatican prior to publication.

According to the transcript, the pope asked the Jesuits to begin an outreach to diocesan seminaries and diocesan priests, sharing with them the prayerful and careful art of discernment as taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.

“The church today needs to grow in the ability of spiritual discernment,” the pope told the Polish Jesuits.

In his spiritual exercises, St. Ignatius provided steps for helping people recognize — or discern — where God is working in their lives and what draws them closer to God or pushes them further from God. For St. Ignatius, knowing what is moral and immoral is essential, but knowing what is going on in people’s lives helps identify practical ways forward.

Without “the wisdom of discernment,” the pope said in Krakow, “the seminarians, when they become priests, find themselves in difficulty in accompanying the life of so many young people and adults.”

“And many people leave the confessional disappointed. Not because the priest is bad, but because the priest doesn’t have the ability to discern situations, to accompany them in authentic discernment,” the pope said. “They don’t have the needed formation.”

While some laypeople also are called to provide spiritual direction, priests are more often “entrusted with the confidences of the conscience of the faithful,” so seminarians and priests particularly need to learn discernment.

“I repeat, you must teach this above all to priests, helping them in the light of the exercises in the dynamic of pastoral discernment, which respects the law but knows how to go beyond,” the pope said.

“We need to truly understand this: in life not all is black on white or white on black,” he said. “The shades of grey prevail in life. We must them teach to discern in this gray area.”

Pope Francis did not mention his apostolic exhortation on the family, “Amoris Laetitia,” (“The Joy of Love”), in his talk with the Jesuits in Krakow, but the document repeatedly referred to the importance of discernment for families and for their spiritual guides.

Father Salvador Pie-Ninot, a Spanish professor of ecclesiology, wrote in the Vatican newspaper Aug. 24 that the pope referred to the need for discernment 35 times in the exhortation.

Especially when dealing with individual Catholics who have been divorced and civilly remarried, Pope Francis wrote, discernment recognizes that, “since the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases, the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same. Priests have the duty to accompany (the divorced and remarried) in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the church and the guidelines of the bishop.”

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Rowena Orejana

Reader Interactions


  1. John says

    Sr Briege McKenna made a commitment to be present in quiet adoration in front of the Eucharist,
    for two hours each day.After this she would attend to the responsibility of Ministry. She has known
    many miracles in her ministry.

    Pope Saint John Paul II when he went missing, was found eventually
    with his arms draped about the tabernacle.

    Once the “Imitation of Christ”was second only in published works to the bible.
    But then Harry Potter rose to challenge and fill the void.
    Equally, Saint Ignatius work on ascetical theology in the past was hugely popular
    among serious-minded Catholics.
    Catholics need to seek through deeper prayer a way to contradict the extreme
    forms of atheism, and the ideology that underlies law, a feature of Hillary Clintons background. Without a mystical
    strength there can be no contradiction, and indeed no real Christianity (“The Christian of the future will be a mystic
    or not exist at all”…Fr Karl Rahner SJ).
    The very presence of Satanic after school clubs in the U.S., makes it imperative for Catholics to be supportive of
    prayerful priesthood. The many distractions that are about can be farmed out to responsible parishioners, and free up
    more time for the priest to pray.
    Saint Leopoldo Mandic was a priest of the confessional, as was Saint Jean Vianney. They are models for priesthood.
    Both were deeply spiritual men.
    Catholic culture that embraces aceticism and mysticism, has a strength and a contradiction in a world of hedonism.

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