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September 30, 2013

Reading between the lines of Pope Francis' interview with Antonio Spadaro of La Civilta Cattolica one finds a pope who is passionate about hearing the voice of God in the voice of the people. Pope Francis criticizes the man he was as head of the Jesuits in Argentina 40 years ago for being too authoritarian. Being authoritarian leads to many problems, but the one of greatest concern to the pope is that by being sure of the rightness of his own view, he made it impossible to hear anyone else.

Leadership, for Pope Francis, is about discernment, and discernment involves consultation. Consultation, however, is not the endpoint. The goal is to hear what God is saying, and God may be speaking in places outside our controlled consultations.

Catholic teaching is that the pope is infallible in a restricted range of statements about doctrines of faith and morals. But Pope Francis, in this interview, turns the tables to speak about the infallibility of the faithful. There is an infallibility in "the faith of all the people walking together."

Problems arise from hasty decisions. Why? Because real listening, real discernment, has not occurred. One may be able to say that one has consulted widely. But if one has only consulted and not discerned, the decision is hasty.

Pope Francis says he associates sanctity with patience. Holiness can be found "in the patience of the people of God: a woman who is raising children, a man who works to bring home the bread, the sick, the elderly priests who have so many wounds but have a smile on their faces because they served the Lord, the sisters who work hard and live a hidden sanctity."

Throughout this remarkable interview, one hears the voice of a pope who has deeply imbibed the spirit of St. Ignatius of Loyola and who seeks only to discern the will of God. Even as pope, he will discern everywhere. He will go to the ends of the earth to discern.

So he makes those phone calls, which the world finds so quirky coming from a world leader. In his contact with the man who brought him his daily newspapers in Buenos Aires and in the heartfelt letter from someone unknown to him, he experienced the presence of God and he is grateful for it.

All of us can learn from this precious man who, by a curious constellation of events, was elected pope of the Catholic Church. We can learn how to hear God speak in our lives.

One should have a method of discernment, but ultimately one must go beyond the method. One must be ever alert to the in-breaking of God in random events of daily life and in the off-hand comments of those outside our normal circle of consultors. In both the mundane and the unusual, angels may bring us word of what God wants from us. We must be alert and we must be patient.