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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Words for Institutes of Consecrated Life

At 11:50am this morning, in the Clementine Hall at the Vatican's Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father, Pope Francis received in Audience those who are participating in the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.  The theme of this gathering is: Faithfulness and perseverance: interweaving of responsibilities.

Following an introduction and greetings offered by the Cardinal Prefect, His Eminence, João Braz de Aviz, the Pope spoke the following words to those who were in attendance.

Speech of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
addressed to the Congregation for
Institutes of Consecrated Life and
Societies of Apostolic Life

Dear brothers and sisters,

It is a joy for me to welcome you today, while you are meeting in Plenary Sessions to reflect on the theme of faithfulness and abandonment.  I greet the Cardinal Prefect and thank him for his words of introduction; and I greet all of you and express my gratefulness for your work and service of consecrated life in the Church.

The theme that you have chosen is important.  We can truly say that in this moment, faithfulness is being put to the test; the statistics that you have examined show this to be true.  We are facing a hemorrhage that is weakening consecrated life and the very life of the Church.  We are worried by the number of those who abandon the consecrated life.  It is true that some leave through an act of conscience, for they recognize, after a period of serious discernment, that they have never had a vocation; but others become less faithful with time, many times only a few years after having professed perpetual vows.  What has happened?

As you have pointed out, there are many factors to be considered with regard to faithfulness in this current time of change which is not only a change of time, a period which makes it difficult for us to accept serious and difficult commitments.  A little while ago, a bishop told me that there was a good young man who had a university degree; he was working in one of the parishes and one day he went to see his bishop and told him: I want to become a priest, but only for ten years.  We live in a provisional culture.

The first factor that does not help us to maintain faithfulness is the social and cultural context in which we move.  We live immersed in a so-called culture of fragments, of provision, which can lead us to live a la carte and to become slaves to fashion.  This culture induces the need to always have the side doors open to other possibilities, fed by consumerism and forgetting the beauty of a simple and austere life, which often leads us to feel an interior void.  This culture has also created a strong sense of practical relativism, according to which everything is judged in terms of self-realization which many times is extraneous to gospel values.  We live in a society where economic rules replace moral directives, dictate their own laws and impose their own systems of reference at the expense of the values of life; a system where the dictatorship of money and profit advocates for a vision of existence which sees those who are no longer useful as disposable.  In this situation, it is clear that we need first to be evangelized and only then will we be able to evangelize.

To this factor of socio-cultural context, we must add others.  One of them is the world of youth, a complex world which at the same time is rich and challenging.  Not negative but complex - yes, righ and challenging.  There is no shortage of very generous youth, who are supportive and committed at the religious and social levels; young people who are seeking a truly spiritual life; young people who are hungry for something different from that which the world offers.  There are some marvellous young people and there are lots of them.  However, even among the young, there are many victims of worldly reasoning, who can be described as: in search of success at any price, easy money and easily-attained pleasures.  This logic seduces many young people.  Our commitment cannot be any other than to stay close to them in order to infect them with the joy of the gospel and of belonging to Christ.  This culture must be evangelized if we want to help young people not to give in.

A third conditioning factor comes from within consecrated life itself, where along with such holiness - there is such holiness in consecrated life! - there is no shortage of situations of counter-witness which makes faithfulness difficult.  Some such situations, among others, include: routine, fatigue, the weight of managing structures, internal divisions, the search for power - ambitions - a worldly manner of governing institutions, challenges to authority that sometimes result in authoritarianism and at other times in a laissez-faire approach.  If the consecrated life seeks to maintain its prophetic mission and its appeal, while continuing to be a school of faithfulness to those who are close as well as to those who are far away (cf Eph 2:17), we must maintain the freshness and novelty of the centrality of Jesus, the attraction of spirituality and the strength of the mission, demonstrating the beauty of following Christ and radiating hope and joy.  Hope and joy.  These help us to see how a community is doing, what makes it tick.  Is there hope, is there joy?  Very good.  But when there is less hope and no joy, things are terrible.

One aspect that we should care for in a particular way is the life of fraternity lived in community.  It must be nourished by community prayer, reading the Word, active participation in the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, fraternal dialogue and sincere communication between all members, fraternal correction, mercy toward a brother or a sister who sins, and sharing of responsibilities.  All of this, accompanied by an eloquent and joyous witness of simple life lived side by side with the poor and a mission that favours those on the peripheries of existence.  The renewal of fraternal life in community depends very much on the result of pastoral vocations, the power to say: come and see (Jn 1:39) and the perseverance of brothers and sisters young and old, because when a brother or a sister finds no support in his or her consecrated life within the community, he or she will go outside in search of it, with all that this implies (cf Fraternal life in community, 2 February 1994, 32).

A vocation, like faith itself, is a treasure that we carry in earthen vessels (cf 2 Cor 4:7); this is why we must care for it, like we care for something that is truly precious, so that no one can rob us of this treasure, nor can it lose its beauty with the passage of time.  This task is first and foremost something that we must all aim to accomplish, we who have been called to follow Christ more closely with faith, hope and charity, cultivating these treasures daily through our prayer and strengthening them through good theological and spiritual formation, which is defended against the culture of passing realities and allows us to walk on firm in our faith.  On this basis, it is possible to practice the evangelical counsels and to have the same sentiments as Christ (cf Phil 2:5).  A vocation is a gift that we have received from the Lord, who has set his gaze upon us and has loved us (cf Mk 10:21) calling us to follow him in the consecrated life, and at the same time, it is a responsibility to be lived by everyone who has received this gift.  With the grace of the Lord, each one of us is called to take on a personal responsibility for our own human, spiritual and intellectual growth, and at the same time, to keep the flame of our vocation alive.  This means that we in turn must keep our eyes fixed on the Lord, always being attentive to continue the journey according to the logic of the gospel and not to fall prey to the criteria of worldliness.  Many times, the greatest infidelities begin with small deviations and distractions.  In this case too, it is important that we make Saint Paul's exhortation our own: It is now the time to wake from sleep (Rom 13:11).

Speaking about fidelity and abandonment, we should give great importance to accompaniment.  This is something that I want to point out.  Consecrated life must invest in preparing qualified companions who are qualified for this ministry.  I say consecrated life because the charism of spiritual accompaniment, which we call spiritual direction, is a lay charism.  Even priests have access to spiritual directors but this practice is first and foremost for the laity.  How many times I have encountered a Sister who says: Father, do you know of a priest who can be my director - But tell me, is there not a wise woman in your own community, a woman of God? - Yes, there is one who is very old, but ... - Go to her!  Take care of the members of your own Congregations.  In the last Plenary, you already discussed this need; it is also present in your recent document New wine, new wineskins (cf nn. 14-16).  We can never place enough emphasis on this need.  It is hard to remain faithful if we are walking alone, or with the guidance of a brother or sister who is not capable of listening attentively and patiently, or without having adequate experience in the consecrated life.  We need brothers and sisters who are experts in the ways of god, in order to do what Jesus did with his disciples on the road to Emmaus: accompany them on the journey of life and in the moments when they are disoriented, rekindling hope and faith within them through the Word and the Eucharist (cf Lk 24:13-35).  This is the delicate and demanding task of a companion.  More than a few vocations are lost because of a lack of good accompaniment.  All of us consecrated persons, young and old, need help in the human, spiritual and vocational moments we experience, but we must also avoid whatever modes of accompaniment might create dependencies.  This is important: spiritual accompaniment should never create dependency.  While we must avoid any practice of accompaniment that might create dependencies that protect, control or create childishness, we cannot resign ourselves to merely walking the road, we need closeness in our accompaniment, frequent and fully adult encounters.  Everything that helps another to secure continual discernment that leads to the discovery of the will of God, to seeking in every possible way to cry to the Lord, as Saint Ignatius would say, or - with the words of Saint Francis of Assisi - to always desire that which is pleasing to You (cf FF, 233).  Discernment requires, both on the part of the accompanier and the person being accompanied, a refined spiritual sensitivity, an ability to stand before oneself and before the other sine proprio, with complete abandon and lack of prejudice, without personal concern or that of a group.  In addition, we should remember that in the process of discernment, it is not a matter solely of choosing between good and evil, but between good and better, between that which is good and that which will lead us to identify ourselves with Christ.

Dear brothers and sisters, thank you again; I invoke upon you and upon your service as members and collaborators with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the continual assistance of the Holy Spirit, and with all my heart I give you my blessing.  Thank you.
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