Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "Closeness to the people, closeness between us; prophecy through our witness, with a heart on fire, with apostolic zeal that warms the hearts of others, even without words, "rejecting narcissism and “learning" adoration, these are the key features of consecrated life outlined Pope Francis during a festive gathering with five thousand consecrated young people participating in their international conference held in Rome in the context of the Year of Consecrated Life.
The meeting, which saw the Pope answer three questions posed by young people, was also an opportunity for Francis to remember his personal "calling" on September 21, 1953, and mention the martyrs of today, in Syria and Iraq.
"First of all – he said - I know that among you there are men and women religious from Iraq and Syria. Let me begin with a thought for our martyrs of Iraq and Syria, our modern day martyrs. Perhaps you know many of them or just a few ... A few days ago, in St Peter’s Square, an Iraqi priest came over and gave me a small cross: It is the cross that a priest held in his hand as he was beheaded for his refusal to deny Jesus. I carry this cross with me here (the Pope indicates his breast)... In the light of these testimonies of our modern day martyrs - who are like the martyrs of the first centuries - and also the martyrs of your land of Iraq and Syria, I would like to begin our conversation by thanking the Lord: May His Church realize in His Body that which it lacks from the Passion of Christ, even today, and seek the grace of the tiniest daily martyrdom, the martyrdom of everyday, in the service of Jesus and of our consecrated life".
Prophecy, the ability to dream and "rigidity"
A young Syrian religious, from Aleppo, asked the first question, about the Pope’s own response to his “calling” and the "Lord’s many other calls on us following our first response to His invitation to follow him more closely and prophetically".
The Pope observed that the question was an important one. “It touches a very serious problem, that is becoming comfortable in consecrated life: '... we need to do this and we are okay... I observe all the commandments, the rules ... I obey ...' . But Saint Teresa of Jesus noted that a rigid and structured compliance takes away freedom. And she was a free woman! So free that she had to go to answer to the Inquisition. There is a freedom that comes from the Spirit and there is a freedom that comes from worldliness. The Lord is calling you - and calls us all – to what Pierre called 'prophetic' freedom, that freedom which is linked to witness and fidelity. "
"Consecrated life can be sterile, if not quite prophetic; when we are not allowed to dream. Just think of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus: locked in a convent, with a difficult prioress; some thought that the prioress did things to bother her... But that young nun of 16, 17, 18, 20, 21 years dreamed! She never lost the ability to dream, she never lost sight of the horizons! To the point that today she is the patroness of the missions. She is the patroness of the horizons of the Church. And what St. Teresa called 'almas concertadas' is a danger. It is a great danger. She was a nun, but she travelled the streets across Spain, starting foundations, convents. She never lost the capacity for contemplation. Prophecy, the ability to dream is the opposite of rigidity. The rigid cannot dream. Think of those beautiful things that Jesus says to the rigid of his times, to the rigid consecrated of his day, in Chapter 23 of St. Matthew. Read it. Those were rigid. And obediance should not be rigid. If obediance is rigid, then it is not obediance, is personal selfishness. It is searching for oneself and feeling more righteous than others." "Teresa calls them 'almas concertadas'. And how can avoid being converted into this? By having a heart always open to that, which the Lord tells us, and to bring that, which the Lord tells us, to dialogue with our [religious] superior, with one’s spiritual maestro or maestro, with the Church, with the bishop. An open heart, dialogue, and also community dialogue. 'But, Father, we can not talk, because when we dialogue, we always argue ...'. 'But it's OK! Even Peter, Paul, James, in the early days - read the Acts of the Apostles - argued strongly. But then they were so open to the Holy Spirit who had this ability to forgive. What I am about to say to you is a little difficult. I want to speak to you honestly: one of the sins that I often find in community life is the inability to forgive between brothers, between sisters. 'Ah, I will make him pay! I'll make them pay! ... '. And this is blemishing the other! Gossip in a community prevent forgiveness, and also distances people from each other. I like to say that gossip is not just a sin - because gossip is a sin, and you should confess if you gossip ... It’s a sin! – No, Gossip is terrorism! Because those who gossip are attacking the reputation of others and destroying othera, who cannot defend themselves. These people gossip in the dark, without any light. And the darkness is the kingdom of the devil. Light is the Kingdom of Jesus. If you have something against your brother, against your sister, please pray ... First, pray soothe the soul, and then go and say to him, to her: 'I do not agree on this ... you've done a bad thing ... '. But never, never throw the gossip bomb. Never never! It is the plague of community life! And so the priest, the religious, who has dedicated his life to God, becomes a terrorist and a terrorist, who bombs his community, a bomb that destroys.
You, Sara, you have also spoken of the instability of our discipleship. Always, from the beginning of the consecrated life until now, there are moments of instability and there are the temptations. The first monks of the desert write about this and teach us how to find inner stability and peace. But there will always be temptations, always, always ... The fight will be to the very end. Returning to St. Therese of the Child Jesus, she said you should pray for those who are about to die, because they have reached the moment of greatest instability, where the temptations are hard. Culturally it is true, we live in a very, very unstable time, and also a time that seems to be 'a piece of time': we live in a culture that promotes the provisional. A bishop told me - a year ago or two years ago, more or less - that a fine young man, a good guy, a professional came to him, saying that he wanted to become a priest, but only for ten years, 'then we'll see ...'. But this happens, it happens: our culture is provisional. Even in marriages: 'Yes, yes, we're getting married! As long as love lasts ... when love goes away, bye, bye: you in your house, me in mine'. And this culture of provisional has entered into the Church, into religious communities, into families, into marriage ... The culture of the permanent: God sent His Son forever! Not temporarily, to a generation or to a country: to all. Everyone and forever. And this is a criterion of spiritual discernment. Am I in the culture of the provisional? For example, to stop disintegration, making permanent commitments.
A heart on fire with the desire to evangelize
Mary Jacinta, an Indian nun, then asked the second question, about the joy of evangelizing.
Pope Francis responded, “you spoke of evangelization. An evangelization - you mentioned - that burns in the heart: the desire to evangelize, where the heart burns, the heart is on fire. This is apostolic zeal. Evangelizing is not the same as proselytizing. We are not a football association looking for fans, followers ... To evangelize is not only to convince, it is to testify that Jesus Christ is alive. And how do we testify to this? With your flesh, with your life. You can study evangelization courses, and this is good, but the ability to warm hearts comes not from books, it comes from your heart! If your heart burns with love for Jesus Christ, you are a good evangelizer. But if your heart does not burn and is only attentive to matters of organization, which are necessary, but secondary ... And here I would like - forgive me if I'm a little 'feminist - to thank the witness of consecrated women - not all, however, there are some who are a bit 'hysterical! -: You have this desire to be on the front line: why? Because you are mothers – you have this maternal quality of the Church herself, which unites you. I remember in Buenos Aires, a hospital was left without nuns, because they were few, the elderly, and the congregation was almost at its end ... - because religious institutions are all temporary: the Lord chooses one for a while, then leaves it to create another; they cannot last forever; they are a grace from God, and some are for that time; this is clear - ... these nuns, poor things, were elderly ... And I spoke to a congregation from Korea: the Sisters of the Holy Family of Seoul. Through a Korean priest three Korean sisters finally arrived at the hospital, in Buenos Aires, where Spanish is spoken. And they knew Spanish like I know the Chinese: nothing. The second day, they were on the wards and with gestures, with a caress, with a smile ... The sick were saying 'What beautiful sisters! How they work! How good they are! '. 'But did they say something?' 'No, no'. It was the testimony of a heart on fire. And 'the motherhood of the sisters. Never forget this please! Because the nun is the icon of the Mother Church and the Mother Mary. You really have this function in the Church: to be icon of the Church; the icon of Mary; the icon of the tenderness of the Church, the love of the Church, of the Church's motherhood and maternity of the Virgin Mary. Do not forget this. Always at the forefront, but in this way. And, also, the Church is the bride of Jesus Christ – let me finish speaking about the sisters - and the nuns are the brides of Jesus Christ, and they find their strength there, before the tabernacle, before the Lord in prayer with their spouse, to bring his message.
Being close to others in a prophetic way
In his third response the Pope returned to the question of the Syrian priest: “And you said some keywords: follow Jesus more closely; close, closeness; prophetically. I spoke of this, of prophecy, when I spoke to Sara. And another word, which is key in consecrated life: memory. That is prophecy, proximity, memory. I spoke of prophecy. Proximity. Closeness between you and others. Proximity to the people of God. A colleague of my father’s - several companions had entered Argentina after the Spanish Civil War and anti-clerical - once one of them became ill with an ugly, ugly infection, with open sores, a nasty disease, and his wife worked as well and there were three children. He heard of a congregation, Les Petites Soeurs de l'Assomption, those nuns founded by Father Pernet. Their work ... In those days, after prayers, they went to homes where there were difficulties. They all were nurses and ministered to the sick, bringing the kids to school, did housework and then at four in the afternoon they went home. One of them went to this man’s home, the superior, because it was a difficult case. She said, 'I'll go'. Just imagine what the man said to this sister: the worst, ugliest words. But she quietly did her job, took care of the wounds, bore the children to school, prepared the meals. And then, after more than a month, the man was healed. He was healed. And he went back to work. A few days later, he was leaving work with three other colleagues who were also anti-clerical. They passed two sisters and one of them said nasty words to the nuns. And this man, he knocked him out cold and said : ‘You can say what you want about the priests of God, but against Our Lady nuns nothing! '. Think, an atheist, a priest hater, why ?, because he had seen the maternity of the Church, he had seen the smile of Our Lady in the nun who cared for him as a patient, who was a maid at home and took the children to school. Do not forget this, sisters: you are the icon of the Holy Mother Church and the Holy Mother Mary. Do not forget this. The Church thanks you for this, is a beautiful testimony. This is closeness, be close, be close to real problems.
And the other key word is memory. I think that James and John never forgot that encounter with Jesus. The same was true for the other Apostles. Peter: “You are Peter”; Nicodemus; Nathaniel ... their first meeting with Jesus -- the memory, the memory of one’s vocation. In dark moments, in moments of temptation, in difficult moments of our consecrated life return to the sources, we must remember and recall the astonishment we felt when the Lord looked at us. The Lord looked at me ... Memory.
And you asked me to share my memory, how that first call was on September 21 of ’53. But I don’t know how it was. I know that by chance I entered a church. I saw a Confessional and I came out different; I came out in another way. Life was changed there. And what fascinated me about Jesus and about the Gospel? I don’t know ... his closeness to me: the Lord has never left me alone, also in bad and dark moments, even in moments of sin ... Because we must also say this: we are all sinners. And we say it in theory but not in practice! I remember mine and I am ashamed. But not even in those moments did the Lord leave me alone. And not only me, but all [of us]. The Lord never leaves anyone.
And I felt this call to become a priest and Religious. The priest who heard my confession that day, whom I didn’t know, was there by chance, because he had leukemia. He was undergoing treatment and died a year later. And then I was guided by a Salesian, like you; a Salesian who had baptized me. I went to him and he led me to the Jesuits ... Religious ecumenism! But in the worst moments, the memory of the first encounter helped me so much, because the Lord always encounters us definitively. The Lord does not enter in the culture of the provisional; He loves us forever, he accompanies us forever.
And then, closeness to the people, closeness among ourselves; prophesying with our witness, with a burning heart, with the apostolic zeal that warms the hearts of others, even without words, as those little Korean Sisters; and memory, always go back.
And I give you a counsel: take the Book of Deuteronomy, where Moses reminds the people, and you remember your life: “When I was a slave there, how the Lord freed me, and how ...” It’s good. In the end, almost at the end of the Book, it teaches how one must go and give an offering to the Temple. It says: “My father was an errant Aramaean …” Learn to tell your life before the Lord: “I was a slave, the Lord freed me, and that is why I come to celebrate!” Celebrate: when you remember the wonders that the Lord has done in your life, you want to celebrate, you want to smile from one ear to the other, of those beautiful smiles, because the Lord is faithful! Prophecy, memory, closeness, burning heart, apostolic zeal, culture of the definitive, not use and throw away.
And I want to end with two words. One that is the symbol of the worst -- I don’t know if it is the worst but it is one of the worst attitudes of a Religious -- to reflect himself, narcissism. Beware of this. And we live in a narcissist culture, and we always have this tendency to mirror ourselves. Say no to narcissism, to looking at oneself. And yes to the contrary, to what strips all narcissism, yes to Adoration. And I think that this is one of the points on which we must go forward. We all pray, we give thanks to the Lord, we ask for favors, we praise the Lord ...But I ask the question: Do we adore the Lord? Do you, men and women Religious, have the capacity to adore the Lord? The prayer of silent adoration: “You are the Lord,” is the contrary of that self-reflection of narcissism. Adoration. I want to finish with this word: be women and men of adoration. And pray for me. Thank you.