Pope asks Jesuits to educate diocesan clergy in practice of discernment

By Cindy Wooden

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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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

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