After all the media frenzy on the Pope in recent weeks, I just couldn’t help myself; I have to write on discernment. I guess the idea of the media pitching the Pope’s election as some sort of vote(as we American’s perceive voting) or political game, just makes me squirm. The Pope’s election is so far from that. It is all about prayer, humility and discernment and NOT about political gain and power.
I know it is hard to comprehend how on earth this all works. I realize that this is not the “norm” for our society to hear about true discernment. Our own humanness just cannot comprehend this sort of method for electing a leader.
After doing a lot of research on the Election of the Pope, I still have trouble conceptualizing the process. (Check out https://www.ewtn.com/holysee/Interregnum/index.asp for more information on the Election process). What I can help you along with is the process of discernment. I have been through several different “conclaves” of my own. One in particular would involve anywhere from 15-25 women discerning their own ministries for a weekend retreat. Our process looks a lot like this:
• Prayer is the beginning step in the process. All individuals involved must pray before the meeting. Prayer should involve quiet time with God throughout the weeks before discernment. God will talk to us in all kinds of ways: through people, through scripture, in church, and sometimes through events in our life. Opening yourself up to these “Holy Spirit” moments is the key to a good discernment
• When the day of the meeting (or assembly of the conclave) begins, it should start in prayer.
• All individuals involved meet together in a circle (this is just how we do it)
• A listing of all ministries that are being discerned for should be visible for all to see
• A leader of the group should run the meeting
• During discernment, the leader will decide which ministry is discerned for first, and continue on with each ministry in the same format
• Affirmations should begin. Validating and confirming people for ministries is very important. It allows individuals to see that their spiritual gifts are seen by others. Eventually many affirmations will appear for one individual and the leader will at that time affirm that person for the ministry.
• It works beautifully when people allow the Holy Spirit to guide them, but it takes time (God’s time) to come to an agreement.
I know it is still confusing, isn’t it? True discernment is only possible when we leave our false expectations, pride, worldly desires and self control at the door. I recently read an article by Peter Kreeft on the five general principles of discernment:
1) Begin with data (or facts). In other words, speak the truth.
2) Let your heart educate your mind. If you open your heart to God’s will – His Will will become your will.
3) Have a soft heart, but a hard head. We should be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”
4) Look for fruits of the spirit: especially love, joy and peace. If we are angry and anxious and worried, loveless and joyless and peaceless, we have no right to say we are sure of being securely in God’s will.
5) All God’s signs should line up, by a kind of trigonometry. There are at least seven such signs: (1) Scripture, (2) church teaching, (3) human reason (which God created), (4) the appropriate situation, or circumstances (which he controls by his providence), (5) conscience, our innate sense of right and wrong, (6) our individual personal bent or desire or instincts, and (7) prayer. Test your choice by holding it up before God’s face. If one of these seven voices says no, don’t do it. If none say no, do it.
After reading through all of these steps on discernment, can you imagine what it is like for the Conclave to discern for a Pope? Can you imagine how much prayer it must take for them to let go of their worldly desires, their humanness, their pride, and their self control? I sure can’t. Catholic or not, we should all be praying for these men as they journey into a very difficult process. As humans we can call it voting, picking or choosing a Pope, but truly it so much more than that.
We shouldn’t limit the Election of Pope for discernment; we should be using discernment everyday. We should be using discernment to see where God is leading us in our life. We should utilize this amazing process to make difficult decisions about our ministry, our church, our family, and even our daily life circumstances. Discernment is a powerful tool when used correctly.
The key to discernment is prayer, an open heart, an elimination of pride and a desire to accomplish God’s Will. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to check those false expectations at the door.