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Mercy with yourself vs. striving for virtue: Pope considers “imbalance”

POPE FRANCIS

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA | I.Media

Isabella H. de Carvalho - published on 11/11/22

Pope Francis gives suggestions on how to navigate life's "imbalances" with discernment to find the Spirit's prompting.

“In [life’s] imbalances there are motions from God that invite you to something: to the will to do good, to rise up after falling into sin … Knowing how to live in an imbalance: You bring a different balance.”

This is how Pope Francis explained growing amidst our limitations as humans and our desire to live virtuously, when he met with a group of priests and seminarians on October 24. During this private audience, the Pontiff answered 10 of their questions, encouraging them to navigate difficult situations with the help of proper discernment through prayer and the Holy Spirit. 

Self-growth by learning to live in life’s “imbalances” 

In response to a question asking how to find balance between experiencing mercy in light of our shortcomings and striving to live a virtuous and holy life, Pope Francis turned the query on itself, saying he did not like the word “balance,” exactly because “life is not in balance.” 

In fact, I would say the opposite: How to live in imbalance, in daily imbalance. Don’t be afraid of imbalance: We are human. And in imbalance we discern. A ‘balanced’ person cannot discern, because he has no motions from his spirit. In imbalance there are motions from God that invite you to something: to the will to do good, to get up after falling into sin … Knowing how to live in imbalance: you bring a different balance. I would say a dynamic balance, which I do not hold: the Lord holds it. He is carrying you along, with the anointing of the Spirit. This is balance and imbalance.

Pope Francis also added that dealing with the “imbalances” that sin causes, by going to confession, helps one become humble and grow. 

The balance, in life, is also the balance with the experience of forgiveness and mercy for sin. But thank God that we are sinners, dear ones, and thank God that we need to go every week or every fortnight — I do it every fortnight — to the confessor so that He can forgive us. And this is a great imbalance because it leads you to humility. The Christian life is a continuous walking, falling down and getting up. Just walking a little bit with others: There is no roadmap. […] There’s prayer, advice and other things to help you grow.

Discernment during “imbalances” brings you closer to God 

The Pontiff then explained the importance of correct discernment during life’s “imbalances,” as it brings you closer to God. 

Discernment is always ‘imbalanced,’ the situation on which you have to discern is imbalanced, because you have emotions on this side, emotions on that side … Correct discernment is to look for how this imbalance finds its way to God — not ‘finds the balance’ — because it always resolves itself, the unbalance, on a higher plane, not on the same plane.

The Pontiff continued by explaining that prayer is necessary for one to discern correctly: 

“You go before the Lord with an imbalance, helped by a brother if you want, and prayer, seeking to do God’s will, will bring you to resolve the imbalance, but on another plane. It always takes you forward, takes you out of the contradiction of the imbalance — which is not a mathematical contradiction, it is a human contradiction.”

The Holy Spirit brings harmony 

In trying to discern through prayer, in the context of these “imbalances,” harmony can be achieved with the help of the Holy Spirit. 

“Right discernment does not consist in the fact that the result is balanced. […] The decision is harmonious, not ‘balanced.’ Balance is one thing, harmony is another. […] Balance is a mathematical, physical thing; harmony is a thing of beauty, if you could say so. Balance is making a comparison of the parts and finding a compromise; harmony, in discernment, is the gift of the Holy Spirit: The only one who can create harmony is the Holy Spirit. It is a gift.”

“You cannot do Christian discernment without the Holy Spirit. And that’s why the imbalance comes into prayer, comes into the way of the Holy Spirit, and He brings you to a new harmonious situation. And then you can enter into another disharmony, and it will be the Spirit to take you further. It is not a physical thing, it is not an intellectual thing, it is not sentimental: It is the grace of receiving the Holy Spirit, which is harmonious. And through prayer we come to this grace of understanding the harmony of the Spirit. […] It is not about discerning so as to balance, like a scale, no: [it is about] praying, about going forward and letting the Spirit with inner emotions go forward.” 

And what is the result of correct discernment? The Pope offers an answer:

“Spiritual consolation. The Holy Spirit, when He gives you harmony, He consoles you. Instead, when you have a problem, you are not in consolation, you are in desolation. We have to learn to use, in our life, the emotions of the Spirit, consolation and desolation: this makes me good, this makes me happy, this takes away my peace … What the Lord does in the heart and what the devil does. Because the devil exists! St. Peter says he goes around, around, around, to look for whom to devour. He is our danger. But the Spirit is the guide. And this is the way: Follow the Holy Spirit.”

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