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Pope Francis, walking with a cane, smiles at visitors as he arrives in the Paul VI Audience Hall for his weekly general audience at the Vatican Aug. 23, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

A Reflection for Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

Find today’s readings here.

“The word of God is living and effective,
able to discern the reflections and thoughts of the heart.”

In today’s readings, the Gospel acclamation caught my eye. Not because I am particularly adept at discernment or at reflecting on the thoughts of my heart, but because for the past several weeks I’ve been conducting interviews about the devil.

I’m working on a feature for America, exploring how Pope Francis talks about the devil and looking at how Catholics understand a part of the faith that might, at first blush, feel antiquated and even embarrassing. This year also marks a half-century since the premiere of The Exorcist, and Hollywood has offered no shortage of images that have come to define evil in a particularly graphic way.

But the emphasis on discernment in today’s readings hit me because many of the people I interviewed—scholars, exorcists and spiritual directors—said that discernment is key when it comes to understanding the role that spirits, both good and bad, play in our lives.

We end up idolizing the wrong things, and we’re left isolated and disappointed. The key, Francis said, is to examine our lives regularly.

A few years ago, Francis said Christians must seek to understand how “to discern one thing from another, to discern which is the novelty, the new wine that comes from God, which is news that comes from the spirit of the world and which is news that comes from the spirit of the devil.”

The devil lies to us, Francis said at another moment, suggesting that even good things in life—such as careers, relationships, degrees—will bring ultimate fulfillment. We end up idolizing the wrong things, and we’re left isolated and disappointed. The key, Francis said, is to examine our lives regularly.

“What made me react? What made me sad? What made me joyful? What was bad, and did I harm others?” the pope suggested as possible questions to ask ourselves daily.

It is only through discernment that we will begin to understand where God is active in our lives, and where other spirits that don’t have our well-being in mind are active, Francis says. And through that discernment, he hopes that we will be able to live in a way that is oriented toward God’s love.

More: Scripture

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