Recollection Material – August 2022: COMMUNITARIAN DISCERNMENT
Lk. 14:28 – 33
In the measure that we advance in the life of faith, we notice that personal discernment becomes a necessity, in making decisions that bring us closer to God and removes us farther from sin, i.e., from deceit, hatred, injustice, spiritual worldliness et.. To discern is a fundamental aspect of our growth in the faith, hope and love. St. Augustine in many occasions recommends the we discern the motivations that bring us to this or that practice, just as he also appeals to us to discern the “loves” that move our life and our choices. All this is essential to personal discernment. Well then, in community life we also experience the need to discern, to know how to choose, to ascertain common decisions. When the challenges multiply and the reality is manifested in all its complexity we take note how we need to dialogue and pray to arrive at decisions that promote the good and bring the brothers closer to God, the final objective of all pastoral action. Therefore, in this recollection, we would like to put emphasis on communitarian and pastoral discernment. From a series of orientations, we hope we can offer you the possibility of centering your prayer in this theme so that God may increase in you the capacity to discern to love.
Return to yourself.
Let us now dispose ourselves to live this day of recollection, by putting ourselves in the presence of God. Our prayer reminds us that discernment implies being open to discover the will of God, to know the path we must follow:
Now I love only you; only you do I follow and seek; only you am I disposed to serve, because you alone justly rule; I want to fall under your jurisdiction. Command and order, I beg you, what you will; but heal my ears to hear your voice; heal and open my eyes to see your signs; dispel from me all ignorance that I may recognize you. Tell me where to direct my eyes to see you, and I hope to fulfill all your commands. I beg you, receive (me) your fugitive, Lord, most clement Father (sol. 1, 1, 5).
Your voice is my joy.
Accept and meditate on the Word of God that enlightens us today on our day of Recollection, which invites us to discern, and to discover where is the will of God.
“Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and
calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing against him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, every one of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple. (Lk. 14: 28 – 33).
The firmament of the Scriptures.
Chapter 14 presents Jesus to us at supper in the house of a chief Pharisee; the speakers are a group of these and they develop a pair of scenarios. In verse 25 there is a radical change: the setting changes and the speakers as well, they will be those who walk with him. In chapter 15, again it returns to the Pharisees and the chiefs of the town.
In both chapters Jesus is shown as a teacher who teaches that the true will of God is in the mercy for sinners and the needy. Our verses are a kind of insertion chiefs of the town and the Pharisees have to change their way of living and actuations, but also those who walk with him (disciples) must be conscious that to follow him has its demands, good intentions or desires are not enough.
To hate (μισει) and to renounce (αποτασσεται), are two verbs that serve to characterize the discourse. Jesus begins with the demand to hate one of the most precious goods in one’s life: the closely related persons, the most intimate –one’s own family-, and supposedly to hate one’s own life. To follow him implies to hate one’s own life, i.e., take up one’s own cross and follow him.
This demand comes explained with two parables. Jesus takes as example the construction and the war. The first refers to a man who constructs a tower and it is necessary that he sees the expenses right from the beginning. Will he be capable of building it or will he become the ridicule before all the others. The second example is a king who calculates his military forces before the attack of another, will his army be capable of resisting the other or will he have to send envoys to negotiate for terms of peace and not be defeated and humiliated? In both parables it is necessary to reflect on one’s own strengths and convictions.
To renounce and to hate in this case are synonyms, although the negative implications of the verb to hate can be lessened, with the verb depreciate, that gives a better meaning in the context, though the radical meaning is tinted; Jesus asks of us the renunciation of goods to be able to follow him, rather these must be hated, i.e., rejected in absolute form. In a society where persons were also goods, it seems that Jesus returns to that interpretation of the Law; but that is not so. In these two chapters Jesus upholds the value of each person over and above objects, wealth and ideologies, including over and above many aspects of religion.
Thus the radical nature of depreciate: persons are goods in the wider sense, since they are with me (lit. they are what I have), but they can become a burden in the evangelical following. To renounce serves as counterweight, since it gives meaning to why one hates, it makes it somehow positive. The goods must pass through a new scale of values, where Jesus is the most precious. To be worthy of him means to leave behind our securities, and including that which makes it what it is: the loved ones, that many times are considered untouchable. Jesus himself renounced it to follow the Father’s path.
The text also presents an important element: reflection and discernment. In the two parables as well as in the two corresponding questions, the theme of reflection appears: to consider, to think. Reflection or discernment forms part of discipleship, thus becoming radical, it is not simply an impulse or an unconscious desire: to be able to construct or to confront an opposing army, one must calculate, think, weigh possibilities. The actions of a kingdom require discernment, a pause to consider, from the parameters of Christ, our own situation and possibilities. To discern is to consider, evaluate, reflect. The tower to construct and the war to engage in are possibilities offered to the believer in his life and his following of Christ. Discernment is necessary to discover if the will of God is really in that construction or in that war. On the contrary, it is necessary to look for other paths or other alternatives. Finally, one must avoid precipitation and take time to reflect, to put ourselves in tune with discernment.
Process of communitarian and pastoral discernment.
We speak of process of communitarian and pastoral discernment, thus we avoid here promoting automatisms like the well-known “we have always done it this way”, or clericalist attitudes that seek to block procedural paths because of insecurities or more or less hidden fears. To enter into a process is to assume risks, to fight against internal fears, and surrender oneself and give time to choose the good, and together execute decisions that bear benefits and fruits for the Church and the world. St. Augustine throughout his life had different moments of discernment to discover what was the will of God and what it was that God was asking of him in a determined circumstance of his life. Let us now see the more important phases of communitarian and pastoral discernment.
Knowledge, listening and dialogue.
In every community there is need to expand our knowledge of the brothers. We shall never do enough to know the others. Nevertheless, mutual knowledge is the basis for good communitarian discernment. Well then, at the center and the beginning of communitarian discernment, those interested in taking the path together must above all listen to the Word of God. In the Augustinian commentary of the text that we meditate on today, a Word of God becomes a military trumpet, a bugle call that must invite us to action, not to be simply a forgetful hearer, or like the case of the young Leto, addressee of the letter 243, who saw himself impeded to comply with the will of God because of inordinate affection for his mother. The Lord has sounded the bugle call so that we may remain alert in the battle field and we may build the tower from which we can divide and conquer the enemy of eternal life. The bugle call brings the soldier of Christ to battle, and keeps his mother! (ep. 243, 6).
On the other hand, to listen and to speak should be two attitudes that reflect a profound respect for the ideas and the feelings of the brothers, only thus will it be an expression of a truly synodal process.
The synodal dialogue implies such value in the speaking as well as in the listening. It is not a matter of being entangled in a debate where the speaker wants to impose himself on the others or refute their positions with overwhelming arguments, but of expressing with respect what in conscience was perceived as having been suggested by the Holy Spirit as useful in view of the communitarian discernment, and at the same time is open to whatever, in the positions of the others, is suggested by the same Spirit “for the common good” (cfr. 1 Cor. 12:7) (SVMI 111).
Humility and interior purification.
Certainly, an essential attitude in synodal dialogue is humility (SVMI114). Undoubtedly the common experience of communitarian and pastoral discernment is frustration because we lack humility. We go to meetings or reunions of discernment with the idea that the program or project we have in mind will push through. Sometimes we do not even consider the possibility that our ideas or proposals need to be corrected. In short, as St. Augustine points out upon commenting on the text we meditate on today, we must be capable of renouncing our own ego, our pride, so that the will of God be done.
Or what king, who goes to engage another king in combat, would not sit down first to consider if he will succeed with ten thousand soldiers against one who comes with twenty thousand? Otherwise, while still afar he would send a delegation to negotiate peace. In conclusion he declares the why of these parables, saying: Thus, those of you who do not renounce all you possess cannot be my disciple. From all this we see that the budget to build the tower and the ten thousand soldiers to fight the one who comes with twenty thousand, do not mean anything else but the renunciation of everything one possesses (ep. 243, 2-3).
Deepening and evaluation.
To deepen the communion of life and service is a key element for the growth of the ecclesial community. It is not a matter of simply moving forward, a movement of extroversion, but of going towards the interior, i.e., deepening in the goods and gifts belonging to the community, for all. In other words, it is a movement of introversion, which does not deny the need to go out (to be an “outgoing Church”) but which complements it with the other imperative (to be “Communion Church”). Perhaps Jesus’ question may be an appeal that reminds us that there exists an evangelical evaluation of the circumstances and the signs of the times: “Who among you, who wants to build a tower, does not first sit down to calculate the budget, and to see if he has sufficient to finish it?”
Recommendation and Decision.
At a determined moment of communitarian dialogue and discernment, recommendations are sought. Opinions are shared, recommendations are given and received, all this before arriving at agreements and the making of decisions. St. Augustine is an example in seeking advice at the moment of making decisions in his life, as it happened before his baptism, when he sought the advice and the help of St. Ambrose and St. Simplicianus (conf. 8, 1).
Communitarian and pastoral discernment is not an indefinite process in time. The community must know when a process of this type begins, with what objectives, with what spaces of time. Thus spaces and times are created for it. The dispositions of which we speak before, accompany the whole process until it is carried out, that we can imagine is not a lesser moment. No one must be disinterested in the decisions made together (as a body), because they are part of the process and always look towards the growth of the community of brothers. The execution (carrying out) of the decisions requires unity and a sense of belonging, as well as responsibility and fortitude. Thus did St. Augustine remind Leto, who had to discern, order his love, since he had a responsibility to care for in the Church (the harvest of the Lord) and a responsibility in the community (the fraternal communion).
If you have charity in order, knowing to put the greater ahead of the lesser and let yourself be moved by mercy, so that the poor are evangelized, so that the harvest of the Lord does not remain at the mercy of the birds for lack of harvesters, so that the heart is prepared to follow the will of God, in sorrow as well as in prosperity that he gives out to his servant, (…) Please, be careful not to cause greater sorrow to the good brothers with your actual lukewarm disposition, than the joy that you had procured with your availability (ep. 243,12).
Five urgent texts: Synodality is … to discern.
Texts from the document “Synodality in the life and in the mission of the Church” (SVMI), of the International Theological Commission, 2018.
1. “The method of communitarian and apostolic discernment is an expression of the very nature of the Church, a mystery of communion with Christ in the Holy Spirit” (SVMI 42).
2. “In the gift and the compromise of the communion are found the font, the form and the objective of synodality in so far as it expresses the specific modus vivendi et operandi of the People of God, in the responsible and orderly participation of all the members in the discernment and putting into practice of the paths of the mission” (SVMI 43).
3. “The Church is called to activate in synodal synergy the ministries and charisms present in its life to discern, in the attitude of listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit, the paths of the evangelization” (SVMI 53).
4. “As part of the mystery of love towards humanity, God gives to all the faithful an instinct of the faith –sensus fidei- that helps them to discern what really comes from God” (SVMI 56).
5. “In the Synodal Church the whole community, in the free and rich diversity of its members, is called to pray, to listen, to analyze, to dialogue, to discern and advice so that pastoral decisions, more conformed to the will of God, be taken” (SVMI 68).
From word to action.
The elements that make up the authentic process of communitarian and pastoral discernment are many:
- In what do you feel more strongly?
- In which of them are you best satisfied? Or at ease.
- In what phases or dispositions, of those previously mentioned, do you feel need for improvement or to which should you give more attention?
Now I know the need to return to you; open the door for me, for I am calling; teach me the road to arrive at you. I do have the will; I know that the perishable and transitory must be despised to pursue the secure and the eternal. I do this, Father, because only this do I know and I do not yet recognize the road that leads to you. Teach it to me; show it to me; give me the strength for the journey. (sol. 1, 1, 5).+
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