Pope Francis met with new bishops at the end of their training course at the Vatican, reminding them to be both humble in their work and open to better ways of evangelizing other than just “the way it's always been.”
“Discernment is a remedy for the immobility of 'it has always been so' or 'we take time,'” the Pope said Sept. 14. “It's a creative process that is not limited to the application of methods. It is an antidote against rigidity, because the same solutions are not good everywhere. Do not be imprisoned by the nostalgia of having only one answer to apply in all cases.” He continued, warning that to have an easy, one-size-fits-all answer might soothe our performance anxiety, but it threatens to make our lives “dried up.”
Pope Francis spoke in an audience with participants in the annual training course for new bishops held in Rome and organized by the Congregation of Bishops and the Congregation of Eastern Churches. He reminded them how important it is that they have humility, especially for the work of the Holy Spirit.
“Remember that God was already present in your dioceses when you arrived and will still be there when you are gone,” he said. “And, in the end, we will all be measured not on the accounting of our works but on the growth of God's work in the heart of the flock that we keep in the name of the 'Shepherd and keeper of our souls' (cf. 1 Pt. 2:25).”
Discernment, the Pope continued, requires humility and obedience. “Humility with regard to your own projects.” “Obedience with regard to the Gospel, the ultimate standard; to the Magisterium, who guards it; to the norms of the universal Church, which serve it; and to the concrete situation of people,” who are looking to draw from the Church what will be most fruitful to their salvation,” he said.
In achieving this, Francis encouraged the bishops to “cultivate an attitude of listening, growing in the freedom to give up your point of view (when it is partial and inadequate), to assume that of God.” Listening is necessary, because the bishop’s discernment is always a community action, he said, it does not disregard “the richness of the opinion of his priests and deacons, of the People of God, and of all those who can offer him a useful contribution” – even those which are more concrete than formal.
Discernment is a gift of the Spirit to our Church, the Pope noted. So although bishops may have many personal responsibilities in their job, they are also called to live their own discernment “of Pastor as a member of the People of God, or in ever-ecclesial dynamics, at the service of the koinonìa,” the Christian community. “The bishop is not the self-sufficient ‘father’ and not even the frightened and isolated ‘Lone shepherd.’” This is why the bishop must be aware of the great gift, the “Spiritus Principalis” entrusted to him at his ordination, the Pope said.
It is perhaps for this reason that the Church, in the episcopal consecration prayer, derived an expression from the Miserere in which the person praying, after exposing his failure, implores the Spirit to grant him immediate and spontaneous generosity in obedience to God, “so fundamental to those who lead a community.”
“Discernment, therefore, is born in the heart and mind of the bishop through his prayer when he meets people and situations entrusted to him with the Divine Word pronounced by the Spirit,” he said. It is in the intimacy of prayer that a bishop grows his inner freedom to make good decisions, both in ecclesial and personal matters. “Only in the silence of prayer can one learn the voice of God, perceive the traces of his language, access his truth.”
He explained that bishops and leaders in the church must strive to grow in the kind of discernment which dialogues with the faithful “in a patient and courageous accompanying process.” Then it can “mature the capacity of each – faithful, families, priests, communities, and societies – all called to advance in the freedom to choose and accomplish the good that God wants.”
Because discernment isn’t just for the wise, clear-sighted, or perfect, he said. God often shows himself to the most humble, in fact. So true discernment, he continued, is an open and necessary process. It’s not about set formulas or repetition. “The Shepherd is called to make available to the flock the grace of the Spirit, who knows how to penetrate the folds of the real and to take account of its nuances to reveal what God wants to achieve at all times.”