Taking his cue from the reading of St Paul’s letter to the Romans, Pope Francis’s homily reflected on the discernment that the Church needs to employ whilst looking at the signs of the times and doing what Christ wants. He noted how St Paul’s preaching stressed the freedom which has saved us from sin whilst Christ himself spoke of reading the signs of the times. God set us free, the Pope explained, and in order to have this freedom, we must open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit and clearly understand what is happening within and around us through discernment.
“We have this freedom to judge whatever is happening around us. But in order to judge, we must have a good knowledge of that is happening around us. And how can we do this? How can we do this, which the Church calls ‘recognizing the signs of the times?’ Times are changing. And it’s precisely Christian wisdom that recognizes these changes, recognizes the changing times and recognizes the signs of the times. What one thing and another thing means. And do this freely, without fear.”
Pope Francis conceded that is this is not an easy thing to do on account of the external conditioning that pressures Christians as well, encouraging many of them to seek comfort in doing nothing.
“This is something that we usually don’t do: we stick with conformity, we reassure ourselves with (words like) ‘they told us, I heard, people said they read….’ In this way we are reassured. But what is the truth? What is the message that the Lord wants to give me with this sign of the times? First of all, in order to understand the signs of the times we need silence: to be silent and observe. And afterwards we need to reflect within ourselves. One example: why are there so many wars nowadays? Why did something happen? And pray… silence, reflection and prayer. It’s only in this way that we can understand the signs of the times, what Jesus wants to tell us.”
Understanding the signs of the times, noted the Pope, should not be confined to an elite cultural group. He recalled how Jesus didn’t tell us to look at how the professors, the doctors and the intellectuals do things but instead urged us to look at the farm labourer who knows how to “separate the wheat from the chaff.”
“Times are changing and we Christians must change continuously. We must change whilst remaining fixed to our faith in Jesus Christ, fixed to the truth of the Gospel but we must adapt our attitude continuously according to the signs of the times. We are free. We are free thanks to the gift of freedom given to us by Jesus Christ. But our job is to look at what is happening within us, discern our feelings, our thoughts and what is happening around us and discern the signs of the times – through silence, reflection and prayer.”
Over at Aleteia, there’s this helpful context:
An admonishment to “read the signs of the times” directly references the exhortations of the Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et spes (“Joy and Hope”):
Inspired by no earthly ambition, the Church seeks but a solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit. And Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgment, to serve and not to be served.(2)
4. To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics.