With so many voices, opinions and diverse values floating around these days a correct discernment is of the utmost importance. Who are we to believe and how do we know that what he or she says is true? We want to know how to be happy, how to have a full and meaningful life and in whom to trust when faced with those impossible situations in life. Cleary, much, if not all, depends in whom we have confidence, in whom we recognize as an authority in our life. There are testimonies of many persons, some sincere but ignorant or opinionated, others who are frauds looking how to take advantage of the ignorance and needs of others. But there are also persons who present an integrated life and have shown wisdom and good judgement. In the lives of these people abound good fruits, worthy and indicative of an authentic human development. They represent a moral authority in our lives. One of these persons is Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. His testimony about his encounters with God and in the way in which we can know whether they come from God or not can be a valuable guide in our own process of discernment.
Padre Pio shares an interesting testimony regarding how to discern the voice of the Lord in the soul. His testimony is included in a letter to his spiritual director Padre Benedicto de San Marco in Lamis of July 7, 1913. This letter is particularly interesting because it not only presents Padre Pio’s comments on his experience of our Lord, but also includes a locution that Padre Pio received from the Lord himself concerning discernment of spirits. Padre Pio comments:
This morning after Mass while I was feeling quite troubled about this matter I was suddenly seized by a violent headache and there and then it seemed to me impossible to continue my thanksgiving.
This condition increased my torment. Moreover, a great aridity invaded my soul and who knows what might not have happened if what I am about to tell you had not taken place.
Our Lord appeared and spoke to me as follows: “My son, do not fail to write down what you hear today from my lips, so that you may not forget it. I am faithful and no creature will be lost unwittingly. Light is very different from darkness. I invariably attract to myself the soul to whom I am accustomed to speak. On the contrary, the wiles of the devil tend to separate it from me. I never inspire in the soul any fears which drive it away from me, the devil never places in the soul any fears which induce it to draw near to me.”
“If the fears which the soul feels at certain moments of its life on the score of its eternal salvation proceed from me, they can be recognized by the peace and serenity they leave in the soul…”
This vision and locution of Our Lord plunged my soul into such peace and happiness that all the sweetness of the world appears tasteless in comparison to even a single drop of this bliss.
The reflection continues: What fears are we talking about? Those fears that proceed from God have to do with separating ourselves from the life that God has given us or from God himself. They include fears of offending God, of not being charitable to one’s neighbor, of not giving sufficient meaning to one’s life, etc. Examples of fears that come from the Devil include the fear o being saintly, fear of presenting oneself before God, fear of saying no to inappropriate actions approved by current cultural trends. While God invites me to correct myself, the Devil invites me to pass the limits whispering that “nothing will happen to you, everyone does it, just do it; follow your instincts” (without measuring the consequences). In other words, the devil counsels us to live like animals.
Despite his initial aridity of soul, Padre Pio felt an abundance of peace after his conversation with our Lord. Aridity or some sort of suffering can purify the soul and prepare it to perceive divine communications more clearly. Usually, we are so distracted by things around us that we don’t know how to separate ourselves from them and as a result we wrongly interpret what the Lord says to us. What Padre Pio heard from our Lord was very direct and simple: If the fear in our soul attracts us to the Lord and gives us peace then it is from the Lord. If it drives us farther from him, it is not from the Lord. Nevertheless, it is helpful to know whether this attraction and peace is primarily in the superior part of the soul, which is more oriented to our relationship with God, or principally in the lower part of the soul which is more orientated to our relationship with this world and to material and temporal circumstances. An encounter with God affects all our being, but it is useful in discernment to note where the effect is most pronounced. The communication from the Lord is especially directed to the superior part of the soul whereas the Devil touches more often the lower and more sensual part of the soul.
In summary, when we have an inspiration or a fear and are not sure of its origin, let us first purify our heart by being sincere with ourselves and God, let us place ourselves in his light, and with humility and docility seek the truth. Then, let us note if there is peace in our soul or confusion. If it is from the Lord, not only will there be peace, but jubilee and attraction toward him and toward means, such as the sacraments and spiritual reading, that lead us to him.
Your servant in Christ Jesus,
Fray Guillermo Trauba, Capuchin