In the second phase in the process of the Ratio Missionis, we are invited to discover at personal level and in our communities the signs of the presence of the Spirit in our journey, to adequately respond to the needs and challenges we have to face
“When the sun is setting, you say, ‘We are going to have fine weather, because the sky is red’. And early in the morning you say, ‘It is going to rain, because the sky is read and dark’. You can predict the weather by looking at the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs concerning these times!”
1. Discernment in difficult times
We Comboni Missionaries have to admit that we quickly pass to action as soon as we identify the challenges that a situation confronts us with. We pass, therefore, from seeing to acting without almost any delay, without taking sufficient time to discern.
The Institute, after the first phase of “to see” and encouraged by the letter of the General Council, has started its second phase in the process of the Ratio Missionis: the discernment. We are invited to discover at personal level and in our communities the signs of the presence of the Spirit in our journey, to adequately respond to the needs and challenges we have to face.
We are living in times of individualism, when many wish to organize themselves without having to refer to anything that is above or beside themselves. At the same time, we are constantly influenced by thousands of different messages, which claim to impose on us certain ways of thinking and of behaving that are not always in conformity with what God requires from us. Discernment, in this context, is a means to get away from an ego that is centred exclusively on self and from a way of life that is far from the Gospel.
The required conditions for making a good discernment consist in encouraging a fraternal climate that allows sharing and a serious and constant prayer life.
For this, discernment is not a discussion, a debate on an argument, a study, a reflection, the deepening of a biblical text or a task which is separated from faith and love. It consists in our making together an experience of faith. It requires an attitude of listening and of paying attention that helps us to discover in our personal, community, provincial or Institute journey what God expects from us today. All this requires on our part great availability and willingness to be converted.
Discernment is a disposition of the spirit that allows us to listen to God’s voice in the midst of so many voices that distract us, to discover the signs of god’s presence and of his project in our concrete situation. We are talking about a personal and community journey which requires to learn how to read our personal history and that of the Institute in an evangelical light, without leaving out its moments of fragility and defeats, but also its moments of fidelity in the midst of persecutions and the many testimonials till martyrdom. Both histories, then, appear like the places where God reveals himself to us.
This way of proceeding is an apprenticeship to help us to develop the ability of paying attention, reciprocal love, corresponsibility and the insertion into reality.
2. Discernment in the Christian tradition
Discernment dips its roots in Church tradition. Jesus, as a matter of fact, reproaches the people of his time for not being able to recognise the signs of the times (Lk 12:56), namely their inability to detect those signs that “speak of” God’s presence in their midst.
The Church, from its very beginning, especially on the occasion of the crucial moment of admission of non-Jews into the community, summoned a meeting to discern what was necessary to do (Ac 15:1-11; 22-29). Paul will repeatedly insist on this need: “Put all things to the test: keep what is good” (1 Thes 5:21). At a time nearer to us, the Vatican Council II said: “With the help of the Holy Spirit, it is the task of the entire People of God, especially pastors and theologians, to hear, distinguish and interpret the many voices of our age, and to judge them in the light of the divine word, so that revealed truth can always be more deeply penetrated, better understood and set forth to greater advantage” (GS 44).
3. Stages of discernment in common
- Choice and justification of the topic
Without getting down to the level of discussion, we dedicate about an hour to give reasons to the pertinence of the problem at hand. This sharing may help us to understand, clarify and place limits to the various problems which may arise. This first part has as its objective that of getting us to agree on the common problems and of starting on a journey of research and answers.
- Community prayer in silence
We come together before God to look with an open and sincere heart for God’s will, starting from what we have just shared. We remain in silence, together, in an attitude of listening to God, in a suitable place (half an hour or an hour). We pray individually and in common in an open way.
- Personal reflection in a common place
In a personal reflection we integrate all that the Lord has told us in prayer. The aim is to reflect at personal and community level, we work in silence but while being all together. It is not a contradiction (personal/community), but of a particular way: the silence and personal concentration become more meaningful through the presence and the effort of everyone; it expresses at the same time an anthropological value and a truth of the Spirit.
- We share in the topic we are dealing with
We dialogue on the topic we are dealing with: it is not a debate, but attentive listening to the confreres in a respectful climate. We share with the others our answers to the questions. This will allow us to further deepen God’s will and to place “the spirit above the flesh”.
- Interiorisation. Community prayer in silence
Interiorisation with the Lord, for the purpose of searching for decisions together (about half an hour). An attitude of attentive and silent prayer.
- We take decisions together
We search for concrete proposals. To accept one or the other proposal is not just the outcome of a majority vote (like in parliament), but the result of a common attitude of attention to God, confreres and situation. We arrive at the proposal after having searched for what is most satisfactory to and appropriate for all. This may be useful for a possible community, provincial or Institute plan.
It is helpful to remember that, at times, discernment itself may tell us that we have to interrupt the discerning process, not for a diplomatic game or cowardice, but for other reasons. For instance, like when we feel the need for new explanations or better clarifications to the question, or when a non-strictly-necessary decision may jeopardise the process, impair unanimity or at least community harmony.
The community is not only the active subject of discernment, but also the place where it takes place and its theological significance.
4. Questions for a better deepening
- Is there a discernment experience in your community? Explain the steps taken and the achieved results.
- Which problem in your province or in the Institute require community discernment?
Rome, 25 July 2007
The Core Committee of the Ratio Missionis