8. Discernment… following the Holy Spirit’s promptings that we may be a “Holy People of God” who witnesses the joy of the encounter with Christ

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. (Lk 24:30‑31)

Beginning with our personal encounter with Christ;

with acknowledging our being personally called as “missionary disciples” through Word and Service;

while appreciating how our personal call is the communal call of the ecclesia, that has been lived in our land across centuries and through communal witness and worship;

as we re‑appropriate the ecclesial attitudes of contemplation, reconciliation, formation and mission through pondering Christ’s pedagogy—of becoming a Church that listens, that welcomes, that accompanies and that always seeks to go forth and beyond;

as we become cognizant of the diversity of gifts of our one People of God;

as we ponder the culturally textured “land” in which we are called to serve;

as we ponder the signs of the times and recognize the wounds that Christ desires to heal

then the duty of the Church is to act in a decisive manner.

The Church does not act technocratically, by planning the ways “we deem best, or most efficient and expedient”, but through our submission to Christ, our King, and his Holy Spirit whose “work” we desire to accomplish, whose “Life” the Church seeks to mediate.

Acting as Church, that is, acting as disciples of Christ who are sent, demands judging and deciding not with our own (biased, because always sinful) eyes, but with full attunement to the Spirit of God who binds us as “the one Holy People of God.”

This process of submission and empowerment is what we term “discernment.” It is the fundamental trust that it is the Spirit who acts through the Church, and therefore that the Church’s efforts, accomplished with the utmost desire for authenticity, are never her own, and only for that reason will inevitably bear fruit in God’s time.

As Pope Francis teaches us:

“Keeping our missionary fervour alive calls for firm trust in the Holy Spirit, for it is he who “helps us in our weakness” (Rom 8:26). But this generous trust has to be nourished, and so we need to invoke the Spirit constantly. He can heal whatever causes us to flag in the missionary endeavour. It is true that this trust in the unseen can cause us to feel disoriented: it is like being plunged into the deep and not knowing what we will find. I myself have frequently experienced this. Yet there is no greater freedom than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, renouncing the attempt to plan and control everything to the last detail, and instead letting him enlighten, guide and direct us, leading us wherever he wills. The Holy Spirit knows well what is needed in every time and place. This is what it means to be mysteriously fruitful!” (Evangelii gaudium, 280)

Christian discernment is not merely a matter of reading a situation holistically, of grasping its salient moral features, or of judging and deciding what would be the best course of action and acting responsibly. All that is what every reasonable person—Christian or not—can and must do.

The discernment of the Christian implies reading reality through God’s eyes and thus allowing the Holy Spirit to conform us to the mind of Christ.

Becoming “like Christ” and therefore “his body” is about being attuned to the Holy Spirit’s action of Life and always in contrast to the signs of Death unleashed by dark spirits. The “discernment of spirits” is thus pivotal to all Christian discernment.

Like the discernment of reasonable men and women, Christian discernment also has multiple dimensions that the ecclesia must seek to fulfill with the utmost desire for authenticity:

  • as Christians we discern and act as individuals in our personal matters. For this reason, the Christian must be an ascetic developing the necessary discipline in his or her appetites of body and soul to conform to Christ;
  • as Christians we discern on behalf of the wellbeing of those who are entrusted to our care. Parents discerning on behalf of their children is the paradigmatic example; but in any position of authority, prudence demands considering the wellbeing of others. Caring for the other through the eyes of Christ implies the “love of mercy” for the other and not just a spirit of justice;
  • as Christians we also discern in our public roles, where we are responsible not only for persons under our care, but for the righteous functioning of institutions that must serve the common good. Being cognizant of the good that God desires from our institutions of governance, economy and public wellbeing—including of the Church itself as institution—implies acting in a way that respects the dignity of persons first and foremost;
  • as Christians we are also called to discern in service of the good of our common home. Being stewards of the earth implies revealing the Beauty of the New Creation that the Holy Spirit seeks to accomplish.

But, as Christians, we also discern together as Church. Communal discernment is necessary as we together, in the different communities where the Church gathers, seek to read the signs of the times in light of the Gospel and thus to act in conformity with what the Holy Spirit demands of us.

  • In the “domestic” Church, or wherever small communities gather. These communities could be the family; the particular religious community bound to a convent or specific mission; the small lay community of friends who share the same charism;
  • In the “parish”, or where the ecclesia can gather in its totality of clergy, lay and religious where together they discern how the Spirit is calling them to serve and go forth in their particular territory. Analogous is the work in Church schools or other institutions of the Archdiocese;
  • In the “religious province or congregation” or the “lay movement” where, as communities bound by charism to the universal Church but present locally, the particular spirit of service that characterises the community, needs to be made incarnate in the particular local circumstances, under the promptings of the Spirit;
  • In the Archdiocese as a whole, starting from its Curial structures, but also through a process that guarantees true synodality; a true gathering of the Maltese Church that together listens, together prays, together seeks to be truly open to becoming a medium for the Spirit’s work—no matter what the cost might be.

The local Church is being invited to this conversion in our modus operandi, in our way of being “salt” in our land and “light” for its future, by truly becoming a “discerning people of God” who acts in His name, because the sheep recognise the voice of their True Shepherd (see Jn 10:14).