By Christopher Wells
“How can we recognize authentic consolation?” Pope Francis asked at the beginning of Wednesday’s General Audience.
In his continuing catechesis on discernment, the Holy Father turned to the Spiritual Exercises of Jesuit founder St Ignatius of Loyola, who says we must examine our thoughts to see if they are inclined to the good in their beginning, middle, and end. If all are directed towards what is good, “It is a sign of the good Angel,” the Pope said; while if our thoughts and intentions propose something bad, or weaken or distract our soul, it is a sign that such thoughts “proceed from the evil spirit, the enemy of our profit and eternal salvation.”
Examining our thoughts and actions
The Pope gave several examples. An action such as praying is good in its beginning if it inclines us toward love of God and neighbour; and is bad if it is done in order to avoid our duties. Similarly, if praying leads me to pride and disdain of others, even a good action can be bad in the middle.
Finally, we can ask about the end of a thought or action. An action can be bad in its outcome if it distracts me from other goods I should be doing, or if I become aggressive and angry, or focus on myself to the point of losing confidence in God.
Importance of daily examination of conscience
Pope Francis notes that the enemy of the human soul is often devious, searching for a way into our hearts to corrupt our thoughts and actions. So, he continued, a patient examination of the origin and truth of our thoughts is “indispensable.” “This is why a daily examination of conscience is so important,” he said. “It is the valuable effort of rereading experience from a particular point of view.”
The Pope added that genuine consolation can serve as a kind of confirmation “that we are doing what God wants of us”, that we are on the right path.
What is good for me here and now
Finally, he reminded us that discernment “is not simply about what is good or about the greatest possible good, but about what is good for me here and now.” Discernment can help us to see what God expects of us at this moment, helping us to choose between different possibilities “in our search for the true good.”