To discern well, “turn off the autopilot”

“Turn off the autopilot”: this is Pope Francis’ advice for learning to discern. Although essential, prayer is not enough; it is also necessary to know oneself, “to become aware of our way of doing things, of the feelings which inhabit us” and of the “recurring thoughts which condition us, often without our knowledge”.

During the general audience this Wednesday, October 5, 2022, in a warm and sunny St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis gave his fourth catechesis on discernment, entitled “Knowing yourself”. Often, he pointed out, “we don’t know how to discern because we don’t know ourselves well enough and don’t know what we really want either.”

“The vision we have of ourselves and of reality is sometimes erroneous,” observes the pope. It is necessary to realize that these erroneous beliefs, “based on our past experiences, strongly influence us, limiting our freedom” to engage in “what really matters in our lives”. Hence his invitation to ask himself: “am I free or do I let myself go to the feelings or provocations of the moment?” “.

François recommends knowing the “passwords of our hearts”, which allow “access to the programs where the most personal and valuable information is located”. These words to which “we are most sensitive” should not “manipulate us” but help to “recognize what is really important to us”. The pope also advises us to ask ourselves each day: “What happened in my heart today? », « what satisfies my heart? “.

Translation of Pope Francis’ Italian catechesis (Full text)

Dear brothers and sisters, hello !

We continue our reflection on the theme of discernment. The last time we considered prayer as its indispensable element, considered as familiarity and trust in God. Prayer, not like parrots. No: prayer as familiarity and trust in God; the prayer of children to their Father; prayer with an open heart. We saw it in the last catechesis. Today I would like, in an almost complementary way, to emphasize that good discernment also requires the self-knowledge. Know yourself. And it’s not easy, huh! Indeed, this involves our human faculties: memory, intellect, will, affectivity. Often we don’t know how to discern because we don’t know ourselves well enough, nor do we know what we really want. You have often heard: “But this person, why does he not fix his life? She never knew what she wanted…”. There are people who… And then yes, her life is going like that, because she doesn’t know what she wants either. Without going to this extreme, we also sometimes do not know what we want, we do not know ourselves well.

Spiritual doubts and vocational crises are often underpinned by insufficient dialogue between religious life and our human, cognitive and affective dimension. An author of spirituality noted how many difficulties on the subject of discernment refer to problems of another nature, which must be recognized and explored. This author writes: “I have come to the conviction that the greatest obstacle to true discernment (and to real growth in prayer) is not the intangible nature of God, but the fact that we do not know each other. enough, and we don’t even want know ourselves as we really are. Almost all of us hide behind a mask, not only in front of others, but also when we look in the mirror” (TH. GREEN, Il grano e la zizzania, Rome, 1992, 25). We all have the temptation to be masked, even in front of ourselves.

Forgetting God’s presence in our lives goes hand in hand with ignorance about ourselves – ignoring God and ignoring ourselves – ignorance about the characteristics of our personality and about our deepest desires.

Knowing yourself is not difficult, but it is tiring: it involves a patient work of introspection. This requires the ability to stop, to “turn off the autopilot”, to become aware of our way of doing things, of the feelings that inhabit us, of the recurring thoughts that condition us, often without our knowledge. It also requires us to distinguish between emotions and spiritual faculties. “I feel” is not the same as “I am convinced”; “I feel” is not the same as “I want”. It is only thus that it is possible to realize how much the vision that we have of ourselves and of reality is sometimes erroneous. To realize this is a grace! Indeed, it often happens that erroneous beliefs about reality, based on past experiences, strongly influence us, limiting our freedom to play for what really matters in our lives.

In the age of information technology, we know how important it is to know the password to access the programs where the most personal and valuable information resides. But the spiritual life also has its Passwords “: there are words that touch the heart because they refer to what we are most sensitive to. The tempter, that is to say the devil, knows these key words well, and it is important that we know them too, so that we do not end up where we do not want to be. Temptation does not necessarily suggest bad things, but often messy things, presented with excessive importance. He thus hypnotizes us by the appetite that these things arouse in us, beautiful but illusory things, which cannot keep their promises, and thus leave us in the end with a feeling of emptiness and sadness. This feeling of emptiness and sadness is the sign that we have “taken” a wrong path, which has confused us. It can be for example diplomas, career, relations, all things in themselves laudable, but towards which, if we are not free, we risk having unreal expectations, such as confirmation of our value. You, for example, when you think of the studies you undertake, do you think of them only to promote yourself, for your own interest, or also to serve the community? There, we can see what is the intentionality of each of us. The greatest suffering often comes from this misunderstanding, because none of these things can guarantee our dignity.

For this, dear brothers and sisters, it is important to know ourselves, to know each other, to know the Passwords from our heart, what we are most sensitive to, to protect ourselves from those who come forward with persuasive words to manipulate us, but also to recognize what is really important to us, distinguishing it from current fashions or slogans flashy and superficial. Often, what is said in a program on television, in certain advertisements, touches our hearts and makes us take this direction without freedom. Pay attention to this: am I free or am I giving in to the feelings of the moment, or the provocations of the moment?

A help in this regard is theexamination of conscience, but I’m not talking about the examination of conscience that we all do when we go to confession, no. That is to say: “But I have sinned in this, that…”. No. General examination of conscience of the day: what happened in my heart today? “So much has happened [se sont passées] …”. Which ones? Why ? What traces have they left in the heart? Do the examination of conscience, that is to say the good habit of calmly rereading what is happening in our day, learning to note in our evaluations and our choices what we attach the most importance to , what we are looking for and why, and what we finally found. And above all, by learning to recognize what satisfies my heart. What satisfies my heart? Because only the Lord can give us the confirmation of what we are worth. He tells us every day from the cross: he died for us, to show us how precious we are in his eyes. No obstacle or failure can prevent its tender embrace. The examination of conscience helps a lot, because then we see that our heart is not a road where everything passes without our knowledge. No. See: what happened today? What happened? What made me react? What made me sad? What made me happy? What was wrong and did I hurt others? But to see the course of feelings, of attractions in my heart during the day. Don’t forget huh! The other day we talked about prayer; today we are talking about self-knowledge.

Prayer and self-knowledge allow us to grow in freedom. It’s about growing in freedom! They are fundamental elements of Christian existence, precious elements in finding one’s place in life. Thanks.

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To discern well, “turn off the autopilot” – ZENIT – English