Discernment key to understanding ‘The Joy of the Gospel’

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, August 7, 2016

After reflecting on “Amoris Laetitia,” Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation following the Synod on the Family, Father Louis Cameli was struck by the role that discernment plays in the document. He drafted an article on the idea and ended up going to Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor of the Italian Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica, for input.

The result is “The Gift and Challenge of Discernment in ‘Amoris Laetitia,’” which ran in La Civilta Cattolica in June. A condensed version ran in the Jesuit magazine America in August. Read the full text here:

Cameli, the archbishop’s delegate for formation and mission, discussed the importance of discernment in “Amoris Laetitia” with the Catholic New World.

Catholic New World: How did the article come about?

Father Louis Cameli: “Amoris Laetitia” is just a wonderful document, but it’s also long and many people seem to be puzzled by it. So I went through it carefully and realized that to understand this document, it was really very important to understand discernment.

Father Spadaro was very interested in this article. He felt that there was a key piece here, and he wanted to work with me on it.

CNW: What were people missing when they were reading or talking about “Amoris Laetitia”?

Cameli: It’s 200 pages, and it’s really not something you can read through quickly for information. It’s an extended meditation on marriage and family life. My training has been with Jesuits, and this document really is suffused with the spirituality of St. Ignatius. To kind of summarize his approach to spirituality, it really is bringing people along into discipleship with Jesus, and doing that with patience and with courage. It’s not just a yes-or-no or white-and-black. Disciples don’t emerge instantaneously in perfect condition.

Part of the genius of Ignatius is his ability to pick up on the journey in the Christian life. If you look at this exhortation in the light of Ignatian spirituality, it makes a lot of sense. It’s not a set of formulas that just need to be applied. It assumes the teaching of the church and our traditions, but it really is almost a guide to living out the mystery of the love God in the context of family life and marriage, and that’s extraordinary. Those are not sound bites, you see, and we’re accustomed in our culture to dealing in sound bites, whether it’s about relationships or about marriage or about family.

CNW: Can we talk about what discernment is?

Cameli: When people hear the word “discernment,” I think almost instinctively they gravitate toward problem-solving, and I think this is a cultural thing. Americans are very practical people and we like to get things resolved, and the way problems are solved is by rationally analyzing what’s in play, trying to gather all the relevant information, process it in our heads and then come up with a solution.

Discernment is in a very different mode. Discernment first of all assumes that God is already active in our lives, that God is moving already, and that if we take a look at the unfolding of our lives, if we wait, and watch, and are attentive, then eventually we will see that direction that God is giving us. It will emerge and it will emerge clearly, and then we can embrace that and make decisions and move forward.

We’re not accustomed to that approach. When people look at the exhortation, it’s “Is it this way or is it that way? And what do we need to do? What do we need to apply to a given situation?” Well, it doesn’t work that way, especially in the Christian journey.

The pope is talking about family life, and it really always is in the context of church. We’re together in this. One extraordinary line in “Amoris Laetitia” is where the pope talks about how the main ministers to families are families. While I think clergy and trained experts, so-called, are important, there’s something we do for each other in the church.

CNW: Why do you think discernment is so important when it comes to family and marriage?

Cameli: At this particular moment in history, we’re in a moment of radical change, and that means there are these different tugs and pulls in the culture. Some of them are very good. A good movement is the appreciation of the gifts of women. That’s a good thing. What’s also good is a sense of the importance of individual freedom. But the other side of these things can lead in directions which are not so good.

I think discernment is important because there is so much that is going on the world. In this moment, family life and marriage, with all the stuff that is going on, some is promising but some is very, very confusing. First, look at the experience. Listen to each other.

CNW: Speaking of critical moments, how does this fit with Renew My Church?

Cameli: There are two sides to Renew My Church: planning and discernment. What people gravitate to is planning, which is very much aligned to problem solving. It’s structural realignment. How much money is coming in? What’s the condition of the buildings? How many people do we get to serve the church, especially priests, but others as well? All of those kinds of organizational, structural issues, they get very prominent play both in the media and in the minds of people. But that is almost a secondary part of the story of Renew My Church.

The primary part is trying to figure out, in this kind of secular environment that we have, in a time when people seem to be shifting in their commitment to the church and to the faith, what does this mean? Where is God calling us to go? That discernment then is going to lead us to a point where we can say, OK, the Lord wants us to renew our efforts, for example, in evangelization, but we’re going to have to do that in context of the resources we already have.


  • renew my church
  • culture
  • marriage
  • family life
  • discernment
  • father cameli
  • amoris laetitia

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