This week, Pope Francis delivered part 4 of his Catechesis on Discernment, this time speaking about the vital role of self-knowledge in discernment. Sometimes when we are don’t know what we really want or who we are. We learn who we truly are when we are able to honestly examine ourselves. Yet, as the Holy Father pointed out, “And this is not easy, eh! Indeed, it involves our human faculties: memory, intellect, will, affections. Often, we do not know how to discern because we do not know ourselves well enough, and so we do not know what we really want.”

Discussing how difficulty in discernment is often indicative of deeper underlying problems, Francis quotes Jesuit author Thomas H. Green’s 1993 book Weeds Among the Wheat:

“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 ourselves sufficiently, and do not even want to 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.”

The pope explained, “We all have the temptation to wear a mask, even in front of ourselves.” So how do we begin to discover and understand our true selves? Pope Francis said:

Knowing oneself is not difficult, but it is laborious: it implies patient soul-searching. It requires the capacity to stop, to “deactivate the autopilot”, to acquire awareness of our way of acting, of the feelings that dwell within us, of the recurrent thoughts that condition us, and often unconsciously. It also requires that we distinguish between emotions and spiritual faculties. “I feel” is not the same as “I am convinced”; “I feel like” is not the same as “I want”. Thus, we come to recognize that the view we have of ourselves and of reality is at times somewhat distorted. To realize this is a grace! Indeed, very often it can happen that erroneous convictions about reality, based on past experiences, strongly influence us, limiting our freedom to strive for what really matters in our lives.

Drawing a parallel between self-knowledge and modern technology, the Holy Father suggested that we must learn the “passwords” that unlock true-self knowledge. The passwords in spiritual discernment are “words that touch the heart because they refer to what we are most sensitive to.” And he also warned us, “The tempter, that is, the devil, knows these passwords well, and its important that we know them too, so as not to find ourselves where we do not want to be.”

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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.

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