Life isn't black and white – teach priests to discern the gray, Pope says

Pope Francis meets with Jesuits in Krakow July 30, 2016. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano.
Pope Francis meets with Jesuits in Krakow July 30, 2016. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano.

.- In a conversation with members of the Jesuit order from Poland, Pope Francis said the real life situations of everyday Catholics aren’t black and white, but rather vary on a spectrum of gray.

Because of this, he stressed the need for the Church to step up formation when it comes to teaching seminarians about spiritual discernment, cautioning that many priests can’t relate to or accompany the people they counsel, since they haven’t been properly formed.

“Future priests need to be formed not with general and abstract ideas, which are (overly) clear and distinct, but this fine discernment of spirits, so that they can help people in their concrete lives,” the Pope said in a speech to Polish Jesuits, published Aug. 25.

Seminarians and future priests, he said, “need to truly understand this: in life not everything is black and white, white and black. No! In life shades of gray predominate. We must then teach how to discern within this gray.”

Pope Francis met with a group of 28 Polish Jesuits July 30 while in Krakow for World Youth Day, which also coincided with the First Vespers of the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.

The participants came from two provinces and included two lay collaborators, and were accompanied by the two provincials, the director of Vatican Radio’s Polish site, former Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi SJ and Fr. Antonio Spadaro SJ, director of the Jesuit publication La Civilta’ Cattolica.

In the private audience, which lasted about 40 minutes and took place at the Archbishop’s residence in Krakow, the Pope greeted each attendee individually before sitting down to respond to some questions.

Since the audience was private, the text of the conversation was not made public, however, the transcript of the conversation was published in the Aug. 25 edition of La Civilta’ Cattolica.

The questions posed to the Pope centered on topics such as how to dialogue with youth, what role Jesuit Universities play in the scheme of education, why he himself chose to become a Jesuit and his advice to priests for their future.

However, in his typical style, after answering the questions and exchanging some gifts with the Jesuits, Francis decided to add a thought, focusing on the need for better formation in seminaries, particularly when it comes to spiritual discernment.

“I ask you to work with the seminarians. Above all give them what we received from the (Spiritual) Exercises: the wisdom of discernment,” the Pope said.

He said the Church today “needs to grow in her capacity for spiritual discernment,” noting that in some seminaries, formation plans place too much of an emphasis on educating “in the light of ideas that are overly clear and distinct, and therefore of acting with limits and rigidly defined ‘a priori’ criteria.”

By having the rules so clearly defined, the formation turns into a formula of “you must do this, you must not do this,” and doesn’t depend on the “concrete situations” of everyday life, he said.

“Therefore seminarians, becoming priests, find difficulty in accompanying the lives of many youth and adults…and many people leave the confessional disappointed.”

Francis stressed that this isn’t because “the priest is bad,” but rather comes from the fact that the priest doesn’t have the ability “to discern situations, of accompanying in authentic discernment. He doesn’t have the necessary formation.”

The Pope said the art of spiritual direction is “not only a priestly charisma, but also lay,” however, it’s more important for priests to master, since they “need it in their ministry.”

Priests “routinely receive the confidences of the consciences of the faithful,” he said, adding that because of this, spiritual discernment needs to be taught “above all to priests, to help them in the light of the Exercises in the dynamic of pastoral discernment.” Francis said pastoral discernment “respects the law,” but can also “go beyond.”

Turning to 20th century Jesuit Fr. Hugo Rahner, brother of famous Jesuit theologian Fr. Karl Rahner, the Pope said Hugo had written that “a Jesuit should be a man of supernatural instinct.”

“That is, he should be equipped with a sense of the divine and a sense of the diabolic related to the events of human life and history,” he said. “The Jesuit must therefore be able to discern whether it’s in the field of God or in the field of the devil.”

What Hugo wrote, he said, “is bold, it’s truly bold, but this is discernment!”

Tags: Catholic News, Pope Francis, Seminarians, Discernment of Spirits

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