Address of His Holiness Pope Francis
to participants in the General Assembly
of the Italian Conference of Secular Institutes

Consistory Hall
Saturday, 10 May 2014

The Pontiff spoke extemporaneously:

I wrote an address for you, but something happened today. It’s my fault because I granted two audiences not quite at the same time, but almost. Thus, I would rather consign this text to you, because reading it now would be tedious, and I will just say two or three small things that might help you.

From the time in which Pius XII thought of it, Provida Mater Ecclesia was a revolutionary gesture in the Church of that day. Secular institutes are themselves an act of courage that the Church made at that moment; such as to give structure, to institutionalize XX secular institutes. And from that time up to now, the good you do for the Church is very great, it is done with courage; for one needs great courage to live in the world. Many of you are alone, many come and go in your apartment; some of you live in small communities. Everyday you live the life of a person in the world, and, at the same time, retain contemplation. This contemplative dimension with the Lord and in relation to the world, to contemplate reality, to contemplate the beauty of the word as well as the great sins of society, its deviations, all these things, and always in spiritual tension.... This is why your vocation is so fascinating, because it is a vocation which is spot on, where the salvation not only of people but of the institutions are at stake. And a great many lay institutions are necessary in the world. That is why I think that Provida Mater Ecclesia was a truly revolutionary step for the Church!

I hope that you will always retain this attitude of going beyond, not only beyond, but beyond and in between. There, where everything is at stake: politics, the economy, education, family... precisely there! Perhaps you are tempted maybe to think: “But what can I do?”. When you are tempted like this, remember that the Lord spoke to us about the grain of wheat! Your life is like a grain of wheat... precisely; it is like leaven... precisely. Doing everything possible so that the Kingdom may come, grow and be great, and also so that it may shelter many people, like the mustard tree. Think about this. Small life, small gesture; normal life with a leaven, a grain that produces growth. And this may reward you. The outcome of the Kingdom of God cannot be foreseen. Only the Lord allows us to divine something... We shall see the results in heaven.

Therefore it is important that you foster great hope! It is a grace which you must always ask the Lord for. Hope never disappoints. It never disappoints! A hope that moves forward. I would advise you to read often Chapter 11 of the Letter to the Hebrews, that chapter of hope. And to learn that many of our forefathers took this path and did not see the results, but they anticipated them beforehand. Hope.... This is what I wish for you. Many thanks for all you do in the Church; many thanks for your prayers and work. Thanks for the hope. And do not forget: be revolutionary!

Prepared address of the Holy Father:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I welcome you on the occasion of your Assembly and I greet you saying that I understand and value your vocation! It is one of the most recent forms of consecrated life the Church has recognized and approved, and perhaps that is why it is not yet fully understood. Do not be discouraged: you are part of that poor Church which goes out and which I dream of!

As a vocation, you are lay and priestly like others and among others, you lead an ordinary life, free from outward signs, without the support of community life, without the visibility of an organized apostolate or specific works. Your only wealth is the all encompassing experience of God’s love and thus you are able to understand and share the toils of life in its many expressions, infusing them with the light and power of the Gospel.

May you be a sign of that Church in dialogue of which Paul VI speaks in his Encyclical Ecclesiam Suam: “Since the world cannot be saved from the outside”, he stated, “we must first of all identify ourselves with those to whom we would bring the Christian message like the Word of God who Himself became a man. Next we must forego all privilege and the use of unintelligible language, and adopt the way of life of ordinary people in all that is human and honourable. Indeed, we must adopt the way of life of the most humble people, if we wish to be listened to and understood. Then, before speaking, we must take great care to listen not only to what men say, but more especially to what they have it in their hearts to say. Only then will we understand them and respect them, and even, as far as possible, agree with them. Furthermore, if we want to be men’s pastors, fathers and teachers, we must also behave as their brothers. Dialogue thrives on friendship, and most especially on service” (nn. 90-96).

The theme of your Assembly, “At the heart of human events: the challenges of a complex society”, indicates the scope of your mission and of your prophetic scope. You are in the world but not of the world, carrying within you the essence of the Christian message: the love of the Father who saves. You are at the heart of the world with the heart of God.

Your vocation makes you interested in every man and in his deeper issues which are often left unexpressed or masked. By the strength of the love of God which you have encountered and come to know, you are capable of sympathy and tenderness. Thus, you can be close enough to touch the other, his wounds and his expectations, his questions and his needs, with the tenderness that is an expression of care that erases all distances. As the Samaritan who passes by, sees and takes compassion. This is the action to which you are committed by your vocation: pass by every man and make yourself a neighbour to every person you meet. Because your permanence in the world is not simply sociological, it is a theological reality that calls you to be aware, attentive, that can perceive, see and touch the flesh of his brother.

If this does not happen, if you are distracted, or worse still, if you do not know today’s world but you know and experience only the world which suits you best or that you feel more drawn to, then conversion is urgently needed! Yours is an outward reaching vocation by nature, not only because it brings you into contact with others, but also and especially it demands that you live where every man lives.

Italy is the country with the largest number of secular institutes and members. You are a leaven that can produce good bread for many, the Bread for which there is so much hunger: listening to people’s needs, aspirations, disappointments, hopes. Like those who have preceded you in your vocation, you can restore hope to young people, help the elderly, open roads to the future, spread love in every place and in every situation. If this does not happen, if your ordinary life lacks witness and prophecy, then, I repeat to you, there is an urgent need for conversion!

Never lose the momentum of walking the streets of the world, aware that walking, even with an uncertain step or limping along, is always better than standing still, withdrawn in your own questions or sense of security. The missionary passion, the joy of the encounter with Christ that urges you to share with others the beauty of faith, reduces the risk of becoming stuck in individualism. The line of thought that proposes man as self-reliant, guided only by his own choices and desires, often vested in the seemingly beautiful garment of freedom and respect, threatens to undermine the foundations of consecrated life, especially of lay people. There is an urgent need to reevaluate your sense of belonging to your vocational community which, precisely because it is founded on community life, finds its strengths in its charisma. For this reason, if each of you are a precious opportunity for others to meet with God, it is about rediscovering the responsibility of being prophetic as a community, to seek together, with humility and patience, a word of sense that can be a gift for the country and for the Church, and to bear witness to it with simplicity. You are like antennas ready to receive the smallest innovations prompted by the Holy Spirit, and you can help the ecclesial community to take on this gaze of goodness and find new and bold ways to reach all peoples.

Poor among the poor, but with a burning heart. Never still, always on the move. Together and sent out, even when you are alone, because your consecration makes of you a living spark of the Church. Always on the road borne along by the virtue that is of pilgrims: joy!

Thank you, dear friends, for what you are. May the Lord bless you and Mary keep you. And pray for me!

CONGREGATION FOR INSTITUTES OF CONSECRATED LIFE
AND SOCIETIES OF APOSTOLIC LIFE

Rejoice!”

A message from the teachings of Pope Francis

 

A letter to consecrated men and women in preparation for the year dedicated to Consecrated Life (Prot. n. Sp.R. M 1/2014)




“I want to say one word to you and this word is joy. Wherever consecrated people are, there is always joy!”

Pope Francis

 

INDEX

Dear brothers and sisters

I. Be glad, rejoice, radiate joy

Listening

This is the beauty In being called

Found, touched, transformed In the joy of the faithful ‘yes’

II. Comfort, comfort my people

Listening

To bring God’s embrace

Tenderness is good for us Closeness as companionship The restlessness of love

III. For reflection

Questions of Pope Francis

Hail, Mother of Joy

 


Dear brothers and sisters,

“The joy of the Gospel fills the heart and lives of all who encounter Jesus. With Jesus Christ joy is constantly born anew.”1

The beginning of Evangelii Gaudium, within the fabric of the teaching of Pope Francis, rings out with surprising vitality, proclaiming the wonderful mystery of the Good News that transforms the life of the person who takes it to heart. We are told the parable of joy: our meeting with Jesus lights up in us its original beauty, the beauty of the face on which the Father’s glory shines (cf. 2 Cor 4:6), radiating happiness.

This Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life invites us to reflect on the graced time we have been given to live, at the special invitation that the Pope addresses to those in consecrated life.

To accept this teaching means to renew our existence in accordance with the Gospel, not in a radical way understood as a model of perfection and often of separation, but by adhering wholeheartedly to the saving encounter that transforms our life. “It is a question of leaving everything to follow the Lord. No, I do not want to say ‘radical’. Evangelical radicalness is not only for religious: it is demanded of all. But religious” follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way. It is this witness that I expect of you. Religious should be men and women able to wake the world up.”2

In their finite humanity, on the edge, in their everyday struggles, consecrated men and women live out their fidelity, giving a reason for the joy that lives in them. So they become splendid witnesses, effective proclaimers, companions and neighbours

for the women and men with whom they share a common history and who want to find their Father’s house in the Church.3 Francis of Assisi, who took the Gospel as his way of life “made faith grow and he renewed the Church, and at the same time

he renewed society, he made it more fraternal, but he always did it with the Gospel and by his witness. Always preach the Gospel and if necessary use words!”4

Numerous suggestions come to us from listening to the words of the Pope, but we are particularly challenged by the absolute simplicity with which Pope Francis offers his teaching, in tune with the appealing sincerity of the Gospel. Plain words disseminated from the open arms of the good sower, who trustingly does not discriminate between one sort of soil and another.

An authoritative invitation is offered to us with gentle trust, an invitation to do away with institutional arguments and personal justifications. It is a provocative word that questions our sometimes apathetic or sleepy way of life, as we often live on the sidelines of the challenge: if you had faith as big as this mustard seed (Lk 17:5). It is an invitation that encourages us to impel our spirits to acknowledge the Word living among us, the Spirit who creates and continues to renew the Church.

This Letter is motivated by this invitation, in the hope of initiating a shared reflection. It is offered as a simple tool for examining our lives honestly in the light of the Gospel. This Dicastery therefore presents a shared itinerary, a space for personal, communal and institutional reflection as we journey towards 2015, the year the Church has dedicated to consecrated life, with the desire and the intention of making courageous evangelical decisions leading to revitalization, bearing fruits of joy. “The primacy of God gives full meaning and joy to human lives, because” men and women are made for God, and their hearts are restless until they rest in him.”5


 

Be glad, rejoice, radiate joy

Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her all you who mourn over her.

For this is what the Lord says: “I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees.

As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.

When you see this, your heart will rejoice and you will flourish like grass; the hand of the Lord will be made known to his servants.”

Isaiah 66: 10-14


Listening

In sacred Scripture the term joy (in Hebrew: śimḥâ/śamaḥ, gyl) is used to express a multiplicity of collective and personal experiences connected in a particular way to religious ceremonies and feasts, and to recognise the sense of the presence of God in the history of Israel. There are indeed 13 different verbs and nouns found in the Bible to describe the joy of God, of people and also of creation itself, in the dialogue of salvation.

In the Old Testament, these recurrences are most numerous in the Psalms and in the prophet Isaiah. With creative and original linguistic variations, there are many invitations to joy. The joy of the nearness of God is proclaimed, the delight for what God has created and made. Hundreds of times in the Psalms there are effective expressions to indicate that joy is both the fruit of the benevolent presence of God and the jubilant echoes that it gives rise to, as well as a declaration of the great promise that lies in the future for the people. As for the prophet, it is the second and third parts of the scroll of Isaiah that pulse with this frequent call to joy, pointing to the future: it will be overflowing (cf. Is 9:2), the heavens, the desert and the earth will leap for joy (Is 35:1; 44: 23; 49:13), the liberated prisoners will enter Jerusalem shouting for joy (Is 35:9f; 51:11).

In the New Testament the preferred vocabulary is linked to the root kar (kàirein, karà), but other terms are found such as 'agalliáomai, euphrosyne’. It usually implies total exultation embracing the past and the future together. Joy is the messianic gift par excellence, as Jesus himself promised: … that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete (Jn 15:11; 16:24; 17:13). Starting with theevents that precede the birth of the Saviour, it is Luke who signals the exultant diffusion of joy (cf. Lk1:14, 44, 47; 2:10; cf. Mt 2:10) and then accompanies the spread of the Good News with this effect that expands (Lk 10:17; 24: 41, 52) and is a typical sign of the presence and the spread of the Kingdom (cf. Lk 15:7, 10, 32; Acts 8:39; 11:23; 15:3; 16:34; cf. Rom 15:10, 13; etc.).

According to Paul, joy is a fruit of the Spirit (cf. Gal 5:22) and a typical, constant feature of the Kingdom (cf. Rm 14:17) that is strengthened by trials and tribulations (cf. 1Titus 1:6). The source of joy must be found in prayer, charity and unceasing thanksgiving (cf. 1 Titus 5:16; Phil 3:1; Col 1:11f). In his difficulties the apostle to the gentiles felt full of joy and a sharer of the glory that we all await (cf 2Cor 6:10; 7:4; Col 1:24). The final triumph of God and the marriage of the Lamb will complete every joy and exultation (cf Rev 19:7), setting off an explosion of a cosmic Alleluia (Rev 19:6).

Let us look at the meaning of the text: Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her (Is 66:10). This is the end of the thirdpart of the prophet Isaiah. It is necessary to be aware that chapters 65-66 are closely united and mutually complementary, as was already evident in the conclusion of the second part of Isaiah (chapters 54-55).

In both these chapters the theme of the past is evoked, sometimes with crude imagery, as if to invite them to forget it because God wants to make a new light shine out, a trust that will immediately heal infidelity and cruelty. The curse, a result of their disregard for the Covenant, will disappear because God is about to make Jerusalem a delight and its people a joy (cf Is 65:18). This will be demonstrated inthe experience that God's answer comes even before the request is voiced (cf. Is 65:24). This context persists through the first verses of Isaiah 66, resurfacing here and there through signs showing the insensitivity of their hearts and ears in the face of the Lord’s goodness and his Word of hope.

Here the likeness of Jerusalem as mother seems evocative. It is inspired by the promises of Isaiah 49:18-29 and 54: 1-3: the land of Juda is unexpectedly filled with those returning from the diaspora, after their humiliation. It is as if you might say that the rumours of “liberation” had “made Sion pregnant” with new life and hope, and that God, the lord of life, will bring this gestation to fulfilment, effortlessly giving birth to new children. Thus mother Sion is surrounded by new-born children and generously nourishes and tends them all. This gentle image fascinated St. Therese of Lisieux, who found it a crucial key for the interpretation of her spirituality.6

An accumulation of intense terms: be glad, rejoice, radiate, as well as consolation, delight, abundance, prosperity, caresses, etc. The relationship of fidelity and lovehad failed, and they had ended in sadness and sterility. Now the power and holiness of God restores meaning and fullness of life and happiness, expressed in terms that belong to the affective roots of every human being, arousing unique feelings of tenderness and security.

It is a gentle but true profile of a God who radiates maternal vibrations and deep, contagious emotions. A heart-felt joy (cf Is 66:14) that comes from God – with maternal face and supportive arm - and radiates through a people who have been crippled, whose bones have become brittle through a thousand humiliations. It is a freely-given transformation that spreads out joyfully to the new heavens and the new earth (Is 66:27), so that all the people might come to know the glory of the Lord, thefaithful redeemer.

This is the beauty

This is the beauty of consecration: it is joy, joy”.7 The joy of bringing God’s consolation to all. These are the words spoken by Pope Francis during his meeting with seminarians and novices. “There is no holiness in sadness”,8 the Holy Father continued. Do not grieve like others who have no hope, wrote St. Paul (1 Thess 4:13).

Joy is not a useless ornament. It is a necessity, the foundation of human life. In their daily struggles, every man and woman tries to attain joy and abide in it with the totality of their being.

In the world there is often a lack of joy. We are not called to accomplish epic feats or to proclaim high-sounding words, but to give witness to the joy that arises from the certainty of knowing we are loved, from the confidence that we are saved.

Our short memories and flimsy experiences often prevent us from searching for the ‘lands of joy’ where we can relish God’s reflection. We have a thousand reasons for remaining in joy. Its roots are nourished by listening with faith and perseverance to the Word of God. In the school of the Master we hear: may my joy be in you and may your joy be complete (Jn 15:11) and we are taught how to practise perfect joy.

“Sadness and fear must give way to joy: “Rejoice ... be glad ... rejoice with her in joy,” says theprophet (Is 66:10). It is a great invitation to joy. [..] Every Christian,and especially you and I, we are called to be bearers of this message of hope giving serenity and joy, God’s consolation, his tenderness towards all. But if we first experience the joy of being consoled by him, of being loved by him, then we can bring that joy to others. [...] I have occasionally met consecrated persons who are afraid of the consolations of God. They were tormented, because they were afraid of this divine tenderness. But be not afraid. Do not be afraid, because the Lord is the Lord of consolation, the Lord of tenderness. The Lord is a Father and he says that he will be for us like a mother with her baby, with a mother’s tenderness. Do not be afraid of the consolations of the Lord.”9

In calling you

“In calling you God says to you: ‘You are important to me, I love you, I am counting on you’. Jesus says this to each one of us! Joy is born from that! The joy of the moment in which Jesus looked at me. Understanding and hearing this is the secret of our joy. Feeling loved by God, feeling that for him we are not numbers but people; and we know that it is he who is calling us.”10

Pope Francis directs our attention to the spiritual foundations of our humanity, to see what is given to us gratuitously by free divine sovereignty and free human response: Then Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mk 10:21).

The Pope recalls: “Jesus, at the Last Supper, turns to the Apostles with these words: You did not choose me, but I chose you (Jn 15:16). They remind us all, not onlythose of us who are priests, that vocation is always an initiative of God. It is Christ who called you to follow him in the consecrated life and this means continuously making an “exodus” from yourselves in order to centre your life on Christ and on his Gospel, on the will of God, laying aside your own plans, in order to say with St Paul: It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20). 11

The Pope invites us on a pilgrimage in reverse, a pathway of knowledge to discover ourselves on the streets of Palestine or near the boat of the humble fisherman of Galilee. He invites us to contemplate the beginnings of a journey or rather, of an event initiated by Christ, when the nets were left on the lake shore, the tax-man’s bench by the side of the road, the ambitions of the zealot among former plans. All are inappropriate means for staying with him.

He invites us to remain for a long time, on an interior pilgrimage, before the dawn, when, in a warm environment of friendly relationships, the intellect is led to open itself to mystery, the decision is made that it is good to set out to follow this Master who alone has the words of eternal life (Jn 6:68). He invites us to make our whole “life a pilgrimage of loving transformation.”12

Pope Francis calls us to pause at that opening scene: “the joy of the moment when Jesus looked at me”13 and to recall the important and demanding, underlying meaning of our vocation: “It is a response to a call, a call of love”.14 To stay with Christ requires us to share our lives, our choices, the obedience of faith, the happiness of the poor, the radicality of love.

It is about being reborn through vocation. “I invite all Christians [...] at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ today, at least to an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.”15

Paul brings us back to this fundamental vision: no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid (1 Cor 3:11). The word‘vocation’indicates a free gift, likea reservoir of life that never ceases renewing humanity and the Church in the depths of their being.

In the experience of vocation, God is indeed the mysterious subject of an act of calling. We hear a voice that calls us to life and discipleship for the Kingdom. Pope

Francis in recalling: “You are important to me”, uses direct speech, in the first person, so that awareness might emerge. He calls to consciousness my opinion and my judgement, requiring behaviour consistent with my self-awareness, with the call that I hear addressed to me, my personal call. “I would like to say to those who feel indifferent to God or to faith, and to those who are far from God or who have distanced themselves from him, and to us also, with our “distancing” and our “abandonment” of God, that may seem insignificant but are so numerous in our daily life: look into the depths of your heart, look into your own inner depths and ask yourself: do you have a heart that desires something great, or a heart that has been lulled to sleep by things? Has your heart maintained a restlessness search or have you let it be suffocated by things that will finally harden it?”16

The relationship with Jesus Christ asks to be nourished by the restlessness of seeking. This makes us aware of the gratuity of the gift of a vocation and helps us to explain the reasons for our initial choice and for our perseverance. “Letting Christ make us his own always means straining forward to what lies ahead, to the goal of Christ (cf. Phil 3:14)”.17 To continue listening to God requires that these questions become the coordinates guiding the rhythm of our daily life.

This inexpressible mystery, leading us within, sharing in the indescribable mystery of God, can only be interpreted in faith. “Faith is our response to a word that engages us personally, to a "Thou" who calls us by name”18 and “as a response to a word which preceded it, would always be an act of remembrance. Yet this remembrance is not fixed on past events but, as the memory of a promise, it becomes capable of opening up the future, shedding light on the path to be taken”.19

“Faith contains our own memory of God’s history with us, the memory of our encounter with God who always takes the first step, who creates, saves and transforms us. Faith is remembrance of his word that warms our heart, and of his saving work which gives life, purifies us, cares for and nourishes us. [...] The one who is mindful of God, who is guided by the memory of God in his or her entire life is able to awaken that memory in the hearts of others.”20 It is the memory of being called here and now.

Found, touched, transformed

The Pope asks us to re-read our own personal story and to scrutinize it in the light of God’s loving gaze, because if a vocation is always his initiative, it is up to us to

freely accept the divine-human economy as a relationship of life in agape, the path of discipleship, the “beacon on the Church’s journey”.21 Life in the spirit is never completed, but is always open to mystery, as we discern in order to know the Lord and to perceive reality beginning with him. When God calls us he lets us enter into his rest and invites us to repose in him, in a continuous process of loving understanding. We hear the Word you are worried and upset about many things (Lk 10:41). On the path of love we go forward through rebirth: the old creation is born anew. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17).

Pope Francis points out the name of this rebirth. “This path has a name and a face: the face of Jesus Christ. He teaches us to become holy. In the Gospel he shows us the way, the way of the Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:1-12). This is the life of the Saints, people who for love of God did not place conditions on him during their life”.22

Consecrated life is a call to incarnate the Good News, to the following of Christ, the crucified and risen one, to take on Jesus' way of living and acting as the Incarnate Word in relation to the Father and in relation to the brothers and sisters”.23 In practical terms, it is a call to take up his way of life, to adopt his interior attitude, to allow oneself to be invaded by his Spirit, to absorb his surprising logic and his scale of values, to share in his risks and his hopes. “Be guided by the humble yet joyful certainty of those who have been found, touched and transformed by the Truth who is Christ, ever to be proclaimed”.24

Remaining in Christ allows us to grasp the presence of the Mystery which lives in us and expands our hearts to the measure of his Son’s heart. Those who remain in his love, like the branch attached to the vine (cf. Jn 15:1-8), enter into intimacy with Christ and bear fruit. “Remain in Jesus! This means remaining attached to him, in him, with him, talking to him”.25

“Christ is the seal on our foreheads, he is the seal on our hearts: on the forehead because we always profess him; on the heart because we always love him; he is the seal on our arms because we are always working for him.”26 Consecrated life is in fact a continuous call to follow Christ, and to be made like him. “Jesus’s whole life, his way of dealing with the poor, his actions, his integrity, his simple daily generosity, and finally his complete self-giving, all this is precious and relates to our personal lives.”27

Meeting the Lord gets us moving, urges us to leave aside self-absorption.28 A relationship with the Lord is not static, nor is it focused on self. “Because when we put Christ at the center of our life, we ourselves don’t become the center! The more that you unite yourself to Christ and he becomes the center of your life, the more he leads you out of yourself, leads you from making yourself the center and opens you to others”.29 “We are not at the center; we are, so to speak, relocated. We are at the service of Christ and of the Church”.30

Christian life is defined by verbs of movement. Even when it is lived in the context of a monastery or contemplative cloister it is a life of continual searching.

“It is impossible to persevere in a fervent evangelization unless we are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to do so. It is not the same thing to try to build the world with his Gospel as to try to do so by our own lights.

We know well that with Jesus life becomes richer and that with him it is easier to find meaning in everything”.31

Pope Francis recommends for us the restlessness of the search, as it was for Augustine of Hippo: a “restlessness in his heart which brought him to a personal encounter with Christ, brought him to understand that the remote God he was seeking was the God who is close to every human being, the God close to our heart, who was more inward than our innermost self”. This is an on-going search. “Augustine did not stop, he did not give up, he did not withdraw into himself like those who have already arrived, but continued his search. The restlessness of seeking the truth, of seeking God, became the restlessness to know him ever better and of coming out of himself to make others know him. It was precisely the restlessness of love.”32

In the joy of the faithful ‘yes’

Anyone who has met the Lord and follows him faithfully is a messenger of the joy of the Spirit.

“Thanks solely to this encounter – or renewed encounter – with God’s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption”.33 When we are called, we are called to ourselves, that is, to our capacity for being. Perhaps it is not unwarranted to say that the crisis of consecrated life results from the inability to recognize such a profound call, even in those who are already living this vocation.

We are experiencing a crisis of fidelity, understood as a conscious adherence to a call that is a pathway, a journey from its mysterious beginnings to its mysterious end.

Perhaps we are also in a crisis of humanization. We are experiencing the limitations of complete consistency, wounded by our incapacity to lead our lives as an integrated vocation and as a faithful journey.

This daily journey, both personal and communal, marked by discontent and a bitterness that encloses us in remorse almost a permanent longing for unexplored paths and unfulfilled dreams, becomes a lonely road. Our call to live in relationship, in the fulfilment of love, can be transformed into an uninhabited wildness. At every age we are invited to revisit the deep center of our personal life, where the motivation of our life with the Master, as disciples of the Master, finds its meaning and truth.

Faithfulness is the awareness of a love that points us towards the “Thou” of God and towards every other person, in a constant and dynamic way when we experience within ourselves the life of the Risen One. “Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness”.34

Faithful discipleship is grace and love in action; it is the practice of sacrificial charity. “When we journey without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly. We may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord”.35

To persevere all the way to Golgotha, to experience the lacerations of doubts and denial, to rejoice in the marvel and wonder of the Paschal event, up to the manifestation of Pentecost and the evangelization of the peoples, these are milestones of joyful fidelity because they are about self-emptying, experienced throughout life, even in the sign of martyrdom, and also sharing in the life of the risen Christ. “And it is from the Cross, the supreme act of mercy and love, that we are reborn as a “new creation” (Gal 6:15).36

In the theological locus in which God, in revealing himself, reveals us to ourselves, the Lord asks us to return to the search, fides quaerens. Pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart (2 Tm2:22).

The interior pilgrimage begins with prayer. “The first thing for a disciple is to be with the Master, to listen to him and to learn from him. This is always true, and it is true at every moment of our lives. [...] If the warmth of God, of his love, of his tenderness is not in our own hearts, then how can we, who are poor sinners, warm the heart of others”.37 This is a life-long journey, as in the humility of prayer the Holy Spirit convinces us of the Lordship of Christ within us. “The Lord calls us to follow him with courage and fidelity; he has made us the great gift of choosing us as his disciples; he invites us to proclaim him with joy as the Risen one, but he asks us to do so by word and by the witness of our lives, in daily life. The Lord is the only God of our lives, and he invites us to strip ourselves of our many idols and to worship him alone”.38

The Pope identifies prayer as the source of the fruitfulness of the mission. “Let us cultivate the contemplative dimension, even amid the whirlwind of more urgent and heavy duties. And the more the mission calls you to go out to the margins of existence, let your heart be the more closely united to Christ’s heart, full of mercy and love”.39

Being with Jesus shapes a contemplative approach to history which knows how to see and hear the presence of the Spirit everywhere and, in a special way, how to discern the Spirit’s presence in order to live in time as God’s time. When the insight of faith is lacking, “life itself loses meaning, the faces of brothers and sisters are obscured and it becomes impossible to recognize the face of God in them, historical events remain ambiguous and deprived of hope”.40

Contemplation opens out to prophetic aptitude. The prophet is one “whose eye is opened, and who hears and speaks the words of God; [...] a person of three times: the promise of the past, the contemplation of the present, the courage to point out the path toward the future”.41

Fidelity in discipleship occurs through and is demonstrated by the experience of community, a theological reality in which we are called to support each other in our joyful ‘yes’ to the Gospel. “It is the Word of God that inspires faith and nourishes and revitalizes it. And it is the Word of God that touches hearts, converting them to God and to his logic which is so different from our own. It is the Word of God that continually renews our communities”.42

The Pope invites us to renew our vocation and to fill it with joy and passion, so that the increase in loving activity is a continuous process - “it matures, matures, matures”43 - in a permanent development in which the ‘yes’ of our will to God’s will unites will, intellect and feeling. “Love is never finished and complete; throughout life it changes and matures, and thus remains faithful to itself”.44


 

Comfort, comfort my people

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.

Isaiah 40:1-2


Listening

Using a stylistic peculiarity, also seen later in the text (cf Is 51:17; 52:1: Awake, awake!), the oracles of the second part of Isaiah (Is 40-55) make a plea to come tothe help of Israel in deportation, that tends to close itself inside the void of a failed memory. The historical context clearly belongs to the prolonged deportation of the people to Babylon (587-538 BC), with all the consequent humiliation and the sense of powerlessness to escape. However, the disintegration of the Assyrian empire under the pressure of the new emerging power of the Persians, guided by the rising star of Cyrus, enabled the prophet to foresee that an unexpected liberation might come about. And so it would. The prophet, inspired by God, voiced this possibility publicly, interpreting the political and military developments as actions guided mysteriously by God through Cyrus. He proclaimed that liberation was at hand and that the return to the land of their fathers was about to take place.

The words that Isaiah uses: Comfort ... speak tenderly, are found regularly in the Old Testament. These recurrences are of particular value in dialogues of tenderness and affection. Thus Ruth recognizes that Boaz has “comforted me and spoken kindly” (Ruth 2:13), or in the famous page of Hosea who announces to the woman,Gomer, that he will “allure her and bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her” (Hos 2:14) for a new period of fidelity. There are other similar parallel passages: the dialogue of Shechem, son of Hamor, who was in love with Dinah (cf Gen 34:1-5) and that of the Levite of Ephraim speaking to the concubine who had abandoned him (Judg 19:3).

This is a language to be interpreted in the context of love. Thus action and speech together, delicate and encouraging, remind us of the intense emotional bonds of God, the ‘spouse’ of Israel. This comfort must be an epiphany of reciprocal belonging, an interplay of intense empathy, ferment and vital connection. These are not superficial, cloying words, therefore, but mercy and deep-seated concern, an embrace giving strength and patient accompaniment in the rediscovery of faithful pathways.

To bring God’s embrace

“People today certainly need words, but most of all they need us to bear witness to the mercy and tenderness of the Lord which warms the heart, rekindles hope, and attracts people towards the good. What a joy it is to bring God’s consolation to others!”45

Pope Francis entrusts this mission to consecrated men and women: to discover the Lord who comforts us like a mother, and to comfort the people of God.

Service in the Church arises out of the joy of meeting the Lord and from his call. This mission is to bring to the men and women of our time the consolation of God, to bear witness to his mercy.46

In Jesus’ view, consolation is a gift of the Spirit, the Paraclete, the Consoler who comforts us in our trials and awakes a hope that does not disappoint. Thus Christian consolation becomes comfort, encouragement, hope. It is the active presence of the Spirit (cf Jn 14:16-17), the fruit of the Spirit. And the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal5:22).

In a world of distrust, discouragement and depression, in a culture in which men and women are enveloped by fragility and weakness, individualism and self-interest, we are asked to introduce belief in the possibility of true happiness, in the feasibility of hope that does not depend solely on talent, superiority or knowledge, but on God. All are given the possibility of encountering him, if they only seek him with a sincere heart.

The men and women of our time are waiting for words of consolation, the availability of forgiveness and true joy. We are called to bring to everyone the embrace of God, who bends with a mother’s tenderness over us – consecrated women and men, signs of the fullness of humanity, facilitators and not controllers of grace,47 stooped down in a gesture of consolation.

Tenderness is good for us

Since we are witnesses of a communion beyond our vision and our limits, we are called to wear God’s smile. Community is the first and most believable gospel that we can preach. We are asked to humanize our community. “Build friendship between yourselves, family life, love among you. May the monastery not be a Purgatory but a family. There are and there will be problems but like in a family, with love, search for a solution with love; do not destroy this to resolve that; do not enter competitions. Build community life, because in the life of a community it is this way, like a family, and it is the very Holy Spirit who is in the middle of the community. [...] And community life always with a big heart. Let things go, do not brag, be patient with everything, smile from the heart. And a sign of this is joy.48

Joy is confirmed in the experience of community, that theological space where each one is responsible for their fidelity to the Gospel and for the growth of all. When a community is fed by the same Body and Blood of Jesus, it gathers around the Son of God, to share the journey of faith, guided by the Word. It becomes one with him, together in communion, experiencing the gift of love and festive celebration in freedom and joy, full of courage.

“A joyless community is one that is dying out. [...] A community rich in joy is a genuine gift from above to brothers and sisters who know how to ask for it and to accept one another, committing themselves to community life, trusting in the action of the Spirit”.49

In these days when fragmentation justifies widespread sterile individualism and when the weakness of relationships breaks up and ruins the care of the human person, we are invited to humanize community relationships, to encourage communion of heart and spirit in the Gospel sense, because “there is a communion of life among all those who belong to Christ. It is a communion that is born of faith” that makes “the Church, in her most profound truth, communion with God, intimacy with God, a communion of love with Christ and with the Father in the Holy Spirit, which extends to brotherly communion”.50

For Pope Francis, the sign of fraternity is tenderness, a “Eucharistic tenderness” because “tenderness is good for us”. Fraternity has “an enormous power to call people together. [...] Fraternity, with all its possible diversity, is an experience of love which goes beyond conflicts”.51

Closeness as companionship

10. We are called to undertake an exodus out of our own selves, setting out on a path of adoration and service.52 “We must go out through that door to seek and meet the people! Have the courage to go against the tide of this culture of efficiency, this culture of waste. Encountering and welcoming everyone, solidarity and fraternity: these are what make our society truly human. Be servants of communion and of the culture of encounter! I would like you to be almost obsessed about this. Be so without being presumptuous”.53

“The ghost to fight against is the image of religious life understood as an escape and consolation in face of an ‘external’ difficult and complex world”.54 The Pope urges us to “leave the nest”,55 to live the life of the men and women of our times, to hand ourselves over to God and to our neighbour.

“Joy is born from the gratuitousness of an encounter! [...] And the joy of the encounter with him and with his call does not lead to shutting oneself in but to opening oneself; it leads to service in the Church. St Thomas said: bonum est diffusivum sui. Good spreads. And joy also spreads. Do not be afraid to show the joyof having answered the Lord’s call, of having responded to his choice of love and of bearing witness to his Gospel in service to the Church. And joy, true joy, is contagious; it is infectious... it impels one forward”.56

Faced with this contagious witness of joy, serenity, fruitfulness, the testimony of tenderness and love, humble charity, without arrogance, many people feel the need to “come and see”.57

Many times Pope Francis has pointed out the path of attraction, of contagion, the path for the growth of the Church, the path of the new evangelization. “The Church must be attractive. Wake up the world! Be witnesses of a different way of acting, of living! It is possible to live differently in this world. [...] It is this witness I expect from you”.58

Entrusting to us the task of waking up the world, the Pope urges us to approach the stories of the men and women of today in the light of two pastoral categories that have their roots in the newness of the Gospel: closeness and encounter, two ways through which God himself is revealed in history up to the Incarnation.

On the road to Emmaus, like Jesus with his disciples, we welcome in daily companionship the joys and sorrows of the people, giving them ‘heart warmth’,59 while we tenderly care for the tired and the weak, so that our journey together has light and meaning in Christ.

Our journey together “matures towards pastoral fatherhood, towards pastoral motherhood, and when a priest is not a father to his community, when a sister is not a mother to all those with whom she works, he or she becomes sad. This is the problem. For this reason I say to you: the root of sadness in pastoral life is precisely in the absence of fatherhood or motherhood that comes from living this consecration unsatisfactorily, which on the contrary should lead us to fertility”.60

The restlessness of love

As living icons of the motherhood and of the closeness of the Church, we go out to those who are waiting for the Word of consolation and we bend down with motherly love and fatherly spirit towards the poor and the weak.

The Pope invites us not to privatize love, but with the restlessness of the seeker: “tirelessly seeking the good of the other, of the beloved”.61

The crisis of meaning of the modern person and the economic and moral crisis of western society and its institutions are not temporary phenomena of the times in which we live but they outline an historical moment of outstanding importance. We are called now, as the Church, to go outside in order to arrive at the margins, geographic, urban and existential – the margins of the mystery of sin, pain, injustice and misery, - to the hidden places of the soul where each person experiences the joys and sufferings of life.62

“We live in a culture of conflict, a culture of fragmentation, a culture of waste [...]. The discovery of a tramp who has died of cold is not news”. Yet poverty for us is a theological category, “because our God, the Son of God, abased himself, he made himself poor to walk along the road with us. [...] A poor Church for the poor begins by reaching out to the flesh of Christ. If we reach out to the flesh of Christ, we begin to understand something, to understand what this poverty, the Lord’s poverty, actually is”.63

To experience in one’s own life the beatitude of the poor means to be a sign that the anguish of loneliness and limitation has been conquered by the joy of the person who is indeed free in Christ and has learned how to love.

During his pastoral visit to Assisi, Pope Francis was asked what the Church must strip away. And he replied: “[Strip away] every action that is not for God, is not of God; strip away the fear of opening the doors and going out to encounter all, especially the poorest of the poor, the needy, the remote, without waiting. Certainly not to get lost in the shipwreck of the world, but to bear with courage the light of Christ, the light of the Gospel, even in the darkness, where one can’t see, where one might stumble. Strip away the seeming assurance structures give, which, though certainly necessary and important, should never obscure the one true strength it carries within: God. He is our strength!”64

This resonates like an invitation for us “to not be afraid of the newness the Holy Spirit works within us, not to be afraid of the renewal of structures. The Church is free. She is sustained by the Holy Spirit. It is this that Jesus teaches us in the Gospel: the freedom we need always to find the newness of the Gospel in our life and in structures, the freedom to choose new wineskins for this newness”.65

We are invited to be audacious, frontier men and women: “Ours is not a ‘lab faith,’ but a ‘journey faith,’ an historical faith. God has revealed himself as history, not as a compendium of abstract truths. [...] You cannot bring home the frontier, but you have to live on the border and be audacious.”66

Besides the challenge of the beatitude of the poor, the Pope invites us to visit the frontiers of thought and culture, to promote dialogue, even at the intellectual level, to give reasons for hope on the basis of ethical and spiritual criteria, questioning ourselves about what is good. Faith never restricts the space for reason, but opens it to a holistic vision of the human person and of reality, and defends it against the danger of reducing the human person to “human material”.67

Authentic culture, constantly called to serve humanity in all its conditions, opens unexplored paths, opens doors to allow hope to breathe, strengthens the meaning of life and watches over the common good. An authentic cultural process “promotes an integral humanism and the culture of encounter and relationship: this is the Christian way of promoting the common good, the joy of living. Here, faith and reason unite, the religious dimension and the various aspects of human culture – art, science, labour, literature…”.68 Authentic cultural research encounters history and opens up ways of seeking the face of God. The places where knowledge is developed and communicated are also the places where a culture of closeness, of encounter and dialogue can be created that lowers defenses, opens doors and builds bridges.69

For reflection

As a global network in which we are all connected, where no local tradition can aspire to a monopoly of the truth, where technologies affect everyone, the world throws down a continuous challenge to the Gospel and to those who shape their lives in accordance with the Gospel.

In this historical process, through choices and ways of living, Pope Francis is building up a living hermeneutic of the dialogue between God and the world. We are introduced to a style of wisdom rooted in the Gospel and in human eschatology, which interprets pluralism, searches for equilibrium, invites us to facilitate the capacity of being responsible for change so that the truth of the Gospel might be better communicated, while we move “within the limits of language and of circumstances”.70 Aware of these limits each one of us becomes weak with the weak ... all things to all people (1 Cor 9:22)”.

We are invited to promote a generative, not simply administrative, dynamic to embrace the spiritual events present in our communities and in the world, movements and grace that the Spirit works in each individual person, viewed as a person. We are invited to commit ourselves to dismantle lifeless models, to describing the human person as marked by Christ, who is never revealed absolutely in speech or actions.

Pope Francis invites us to a wisdom that should be demonstrated by flexible consistency, the ability of consecrated people to respond in accord with the Gospel, to act and to choose in accord with the Gospel, without losing ourselves among the different spheres of life, language or relationships, maintaining an awareness of responsibility, of the networks that bind us together, of the finitude of our limits, of the infinite number of ways in which life is expressed. A missionary heart is a heart that has known the joy of Christ’s salvation and shares it as consolation: “[This heart] realizes that it has to grow in its own understanding of the Gospel and in discerning the paths of the Spirit, and so it always does what good it can, even if in the process, its shoes get soiled by the mud of the street.”71

Let us welcome the encouragement that the Pope offers us to see ourselves and the world with the eyes of Christ and to remain concerned about it.

Questions from Pope Francis

I want to say one word to you and this word is “joy”. Wherever there are consecrated people, seminarians, men and women religious, young people, there is joy, there is always joy! It is the joy of freshness, the joy of following Jesus; the joy that the Holy Spirit gives us, not the joy of the world. There is joy! but — where is joy born?72

Look into the depths of your heart, look into your own inner depths and ask yourself: do you have a heart that desires something great, or a heart that has been lulled to sleep by things? Has your heart preserved the restlessness of seeking or have you let it be suffocated by things that end by hardening it?

God awaits you, he seeks you; how do you respond to him? Are you aware of the situation of your soul? Or have you nodded off? Do you believe God is waiting for you or does this truth consist only of “words”?73

We are victims of this culture of the temporary. I would like you to think about this: how can I be free, how can I break free from this “culture of the temporary”?74

This is a primary responsibility of all adults, of educators: to set an example of consistency to the youngest. Do we want consistent young people? Are we consistent? On the contrary, the Lord will say to us what he said to the

People of God about the Pharisees: “Do what they say but not what they do!” Consistency and authenticity!75

We may ask ourselves: am I anxious for God, anxious to proclaim him, to make him known? Or do I allow that spiritual worldliness to attract me which impels people to do everything for love of themselves? We consecrated people think of our personal interests, of the functionality of our works, of our careers. Well, we can think of so many things.... Have I, so to speak, made myself ‘comfortable’ in my Christian life, in my priestly life, in my religious life, and also in my community life? Or do I retain the force of restlessness for God, for his Word that makes me “step out” of myself towards others?76

Do we feel the restlessness of love? Do we believe in love for God and for others? Or are we unconcerned by this? Not in an abstract manner, not only in words, but the real brother we come across, the sister who is beside us! Are we moved by their needs or do we remain closed in on ourselves, in our communities which are often “comfortable communities” for us?77

This is a beautiful, beautiful way to holiness! Do not speak badly of others.

“But father, there are problems”. Tell the superior, tell the Bishop, who can rectify them. Do not tell a person who cannot help. This is important: brotherhood! But tell me, would you speak badly of your mother, your father, your siblings? Never. So why do you do so in the consecrated life, in the seminary, in your priestly life? Only this: think, think.... Brotherhood! This brotherly love.78

At the foot of the Cross, Mary is at the same time the woman of sorrow and of watchful expectation of a mystery far greater than sorrow, which is about to be fulfilled. It seemed that everything had come to an end; every hope could be said to have been extinguished. She too, at that moment, remembering the promises of the Annunciation could have said: they did not come true, I was deceived. But she did not say this. And so she who was blessed because she believed, sees blossom from her faith a new future and awaits God’s tomorrow with expectation. At times I think: do we know how to wait for God’s tomorrow? Or do we want it today? For her the tomorrow of God is the dawn of Easter morning, the dawn of the first day of the week. It would do us good to think, in contemplation, of the embrace of mother and son. The single lamp lit at the tomb of Jesus is the hope of the mother, which in that moment is the hope of all humanity. I ask myself and I ask you: is this lamp still alight in monasteries? In your monasteries are you waiting for God’s tomorrow?79

The restlessness of love is always an incentive to go towards the other, without waiting for the other to manifest his need. The restlessness of love gives us the gift of pastoral fruitfulness, and we must ask ourselves, each one of us: is my spiritual effectiveness healthy, is my apostolate fruitful?80

An authentic faith always involves a profound desire to change the world. Here is the question we must ask ourselves: do we also have great vision and impetus? Are we also daring? Do our dreams fly high? Does zeal consume us (cf. Ps 68:9)? Or are we mediocre and satisfied with our “made in the lab” apostolic programmes? 81

 


 

Hail, Mother of Joy

Rejoice, full of grace (Lk1:28), “the greeting of the angel to Maria is an invitation to joy, to a deep joy, announcing the end of sadness [...]. It is a greeting that marks the beginning of the Gospel, the Good News”.82

Alongside Mary joy expands. The Son she carries in her womb is the God of joy, of contagious, engaging delight. Mary throws open the doors of her heart and runs to Elizabeth.

“Joyful in achieving her desires, sensitive in her duty, thoughtful in her joy, she hurries towards the mountain. Where, if not towards the summit, should she set out so kindly, she who was already full of God?83

She went in great haste (Lk 1: 39) to bring the happy news to the world, to bring all the uncontainable joy she held in her womb: Jesus, the Lord. In great haste: it is not only the speed with which Mary went. We are told of her diligence, the careful attention with which she undertakes the journey, her enthusiasm.

Behold the servant of the Lord (Lk 1: 38). The Lord’s servant ran in great haste, tobecome the servant of all people.

In Mary the Church is all who journey together: in the love of those who go out to the most fragile; in the hope of those who know that they will be accompanied in their going out and in the faith of those who have a special gift to share. In Mary each one of us, driven by the wind of the Spirit, fulfils our own vocation to move out!

 

Star of the new evangelization,

help us to bear radiant witness to communion, service, ardent and generous faith,

justice and love of the poor, that the joy of the Gospel

may reach to the ends of the earth, illuminating even the fringes of the world.

Mother of the living Gospel,

Wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones,

Pray for us. Amen. Alleluia!84

 

Rome, 2 February 2014, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

 

João Braz Card. de Aviz

Prefect

X José Rodríguez Carballo, OFM

Archbishop Secretary

 

1 FRANCIS, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 24 November 2013, LEV, Città del Vaticano, 2013, n. 1.

2 ANTONIO SPADARO, "Wake up the World!”. Conversation with Pope Francis about the Religious Life, in: La Civiltà Cattolica, 165 (2014/I), 5. (English translation by Fr. Donald Maldari SJ)

3 Cf. FRANCIS, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 24 November 2013, LEV, Città del Vaticano, 2013, n. 47.

4 FRANCIS, Meeting with the Young People of Umbria, Assisi, 4 October 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Sunday 6 October 2013, CLIII (229), p. 7.

5 JOHN PAUL II, post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata, (25 March 1996), n. 27, in: AAS 88 (1996), 377-486.

6 Cfr. S. TERESA DI GESÙ BAMBINO, Opere complete, Libreria Editrice Vaticana-Ed. OCD, Città del Vaticano-Roma, 1997: Manoscritto A, 76v°; B, 1r°; C, 3r°; Lettera 196.

7 FRANCIS, Meeting with Seminarians and Novices, Rome, 6 July 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Monday-Tuesday 8-9 July 2013, CLIII (155), p. 6.

8 Ibid.

9 FRANCIS, Homily for Holy Mass with Seminarians and Novices, Rome, 7 July 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Monday-Tuesday 8-9 July 2013, CLIII (155), p. 7.

10 FRANCIS, Meeting with Seminarians and Novices, Rome, 6 July 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Monday-Tuesday 8-9 July 2013, CLIII (155), p. 6.

11 FRANCIS, Address to the Participants at the Plenary Assembly of the International Union of Superiors General, Rome, 8 May 2013, in: AAS 105 (2013), 460-463.

12 FRANCIS, Message to the Carmelites on the Occasion of the General Chapter, Rome, 22 August 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Friday 6 September 2013, CLIII (203), p. 7.

13 FRANCIS, Meeting with Seminarians and Novices, Rome, 6 July 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano,

Monday-Tuesday 8-9 July 2013, CLIII (155), p. 6.

14 Ibid.

15 FRANCIS, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 24 November 2013, LEV, Città del Vaticano, 2013, n. 3.

16 FRANCIS, Homily for the Opening of the General Chapter of the Order of St. Augustine, Rome, 28 August 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Friday 30 August 2013, CLIII (197), p. 8.

17 FRANCIS, Homily at the Holy Mass in the Gesù on the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola, Rome, 31 July 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Thursday 1 August 2013, CLIII (175), p. 8.

18 FRANCIS, Encyclical Letter Lumen fidei, (29 June 2013), n. 8, in: AAS 105 (2013), 555-596.

Ibid, n. 9.

19 FRANCIS, Homily at the Holy Mass for the Day for Catechists, Rome, 29 September 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano 30 September-1 October 2013, CLIII (224), p. 7.

20 FRANCIS, Address to the Participants at the Plenary Assembly of the International Union of Superiors General, Rome, 8 May 2013, in: AAS 105 (2013), 460-463.

21 FRANCIS, Angelus, All Saints Day Rome, 1 November 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Saturday-Sunday 2-3 November 2013, CLIII (252), p. 8.

22 JOHN PAUL II, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata (25 March 1996), n. 22, in: AAS 88 (1996), 377-486.

24 FRANCIS, Homily at the Holy Mass with Bishops, Priests, Religious and Seminarians on the XXVIII World Youth Day, 27 July 2013, Rio de Janeiro, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Monday-Tuesday 29-30 July2013, CLIII (173), p. 4.

25 FRANCIS, Address to the Participants at the International Congress on Catechesis, Rome, 27 September 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Sunday 29 September 2013, CLIII (223), p. 7.

26 AMBROSE, De Isaac et anima, 75: PL 14, 556-557.

27 FRANCIS, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 24 November 2013, LEV, Città del Vaticano, 2013, n. 265.

28 Cf. Ibid, n. 8.

29 FRANCIS, Address to the Participants at the International Congress on Catechesis, Rome, 27 September 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Sunday 29 September 2013, CLIII (223), p. 7.

30 FRANCIS, Homily at the Holy Mass in the Gesù on the Feast of St. Ignatius Loyola, Rome, 31 July 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Thursday 1 August 2013, CLIII (175), p. 8.

31 FRANCIS, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 24 November 2013, LEV, Città del Vaticano, 2013, n. 265.

32 FRANCIS, Homily for the Opening of the General Chapter of the Order of St. Augustine, Rome, 28 August 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Friday 30 August 2013, CLIII (197), p. 8.

33 FRANCIS, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 24 November 2013, LEV, Città del Vaticano, 2013, n. 8.

34 Ibid, n. 1.

35 FRANCIS, Homily at the Holy Mass with the Cardinals, 14 March 2013, in: AAS 105 (2013), 365-

36 FRANCIS, Homily for Holy Mass with Seminarians and Novices, Rome, 7 July 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Monday-Tuesday 8-9 July 2013, CLIII (155), p. 7.

37 FRANCIS, Address to the Participants at the International Congress on Catechesis, Rome, 27 September 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Sunday 29 September 2013, CLIII (223), p. 7.

38 FRANCIS, Homily at the Eucharistic Celebration at St. Paul Outside the Walls, Rome, 14 April 2013], in: L’Osservatore Romano, Monday-Tuesday15-16 April 2013, CLIII (88), p. 8.

39 FRANCIS, Homily for Holy Mass with Seminarians and Novices, Rome, 7 July 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Monday-Tuesday 8-9 July 2013, CLIII (155), p. 7.

40 CONGREGATION FOR INSTITUTES OF CONSECRATED LIFE AND SOCIETIES OF APOSTOLIC LIFE, Instruction Starting Afresh from Christ: A Renewed Commitment to Consecrated Life in the Third Millennium (19 May 2002), n. 25, in: EnchVat 21, 372-510.

41 FRANCIS, Daily Meditation in the Chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae, 16 December 2013, in: L'Osservatore Romano, Monday-Tuesday 16-17 December 2013, CLIII (289), p. 7.

42 FRANCIS, Meeting with the Clergy, Consecrated People and Members of Diocesan Councils, Assisi, 4 October 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Sunday 6 October 2013, CLIII (229), p. 6.

43 FRANCIS, Meeting with Seminarians and Novices, Rome, 6 July 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Monday-Tuesday 8-9 July 2013, CLIII (155), p. 6.

44 BENEDICT XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus caritas est (25 December 2005), n. 11, in: AAS 98 (2006), (217-252).

45 FRANCIS, Homily for Holy Mass with Seminarians and Novices, Rome, 7 July 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Monday-Tuesday 8-9 July 2013, CLIII (155), p. 7.

46 Cf. FRANCIS, Meeting with Seminarians and Novices, Rome, 6 July 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Monday-Tuesday 8-9 July 2013, CLIII (155), p. 6.

47 Cf. FRANCIS, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 24 November 2013, LEV, Città del Vaticano, 2013, n. 47.

48 FRANCIS, Address to the Cloistered Nuns, Assisi, 4 October 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Sunday 6 October, CLIII (229), p. 6.

49 CONGREGATION FOR INSTITUTES OF CONSECRATED LIFE AND SOCIETIES OF APOSTOLIC LIFE, Instruction: Fraternal Life in Community. "Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor", (2 February 1994), n. 28: in EnchVat 14, 345-537.

50 FRANCIS, General Audience, Rome, 30 October 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Thursday31 October 2013, CLIII (250), p. 8.

51 ANTONIO SPADARO, "Wake up the World!”. Conversation with Pope Francis about the Religious Life, in: La Civiltà Cattolica, 165 (2014/I), 13. (English translation by Fr. Donald Maldari SJ).

52 Cf. FRANCIS, Address to the Participants at the Plenary Assembly of the International Union of Superiors General, Rome, 8 May 2013, in: AAS 105 (2013), 460-463.

53 FRANCIS, Homily at the Holy Mass with Bishops, Priests, Religious and Seminarians on the XXVIII World Youth Day, 27 July 2013, Rio de Janeiro, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Monday-Tuesday 29-30 July2013, CLIII (173), p. 4.

54 ANTONIO SPADARO, "Wake up the World!”. Conversation with Pope Francis about the Religious Life, in: La Civiltà Cattolica, 165 (2014/I), 10. (English translation by Fr. Donald Maldari SJ).

55Cf. ibid, 6.

56 FRANCIS, Meeting with Seminarians and Novices, Rome, 6 July 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Monday-Tuesday 8-9 July 2013, CLIII (155), p. 6.

57 Cf. FRANCIS, Morning Meditation in the Chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae, 1 October 2013, in: L'Osservatore Romano, 2 October 2013, CLIII (225), p. 8.

58 ANTONIO SPADARO, "Wake up the World!”. Conversation with Pope Francis about the Religious Life, in: La Civiltà Cattolica, 165 (2014/I), 5. (English translation by Fr. Donald Maldari SJ).

59 Cf. FRANCIS, Meeting with the Brazilian Bishops, 27 July 2013, Rio de Janeiro, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Monday-Tuesday 29-30 July 2013, CLIII (173), pp. 6-7.

60 FRANCIS, Meeting with Seminarians and Novices, Rome, 6 July 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Monday-Tuesday 8-9 July 2013, CLIII (155), p. 6.

61 FRANCIS, Homily for the opening of the General Chapter of the Order of St. Augustine, Rome, 28 August 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Friday 30 August 2013, CLIII (197), p. 8.

62 Cf. FRANCIS, Vigil of Pentecost with the Movements, New Communities, Associations and Lay Groups, Rome, 18 May 2013, in: AAS 105 (2013), 450-452.

63 Ibid.

64 FRANCIS, Meeting with the Poor Assisted by Caritas, Assisi, 4 October 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Saturday 5 October 2013, CLIII (228), p. 7.

65 FRANCIS, Morning Meditation in the Chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae, 6 July 2013, in: L'Osservatore Romano, Sunday 7 July 2013, CLIII (154), p. 7.

66 ANTONIO SPADARO, Interview with Pope Francis, in: La Civiltà Cattolica, 164(2013/III), 474.

67 Cf. FRANCIS, Meeting with the World of Culture, Cagliari, 22 September 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Monday-Tuesday 23-24 September 2013, CLIII (218), p. 7.

68 FRANCIS, Meeting with the Brazilian Leaders, Rio de Janeiro, 27 July 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, 29-30 July 2013, CLIII (173), p. 4.

69 Cf. FRANCIS, Address to the Community of Writers ofLa Civiltà Cattolica", Rome, 14 June 2013, in: L'Osservatore Romano, Saturday 15 June 2013, CLIII (136), p. 7.

70 FRANCIS, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 24 November 2013, LEV, Città del Vaticano, 2013, n. 45.

71 Ibid.

72 FRANCIS, Meeting with Seminarians and Novices, Rome, 6 July 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Monday-Tuesday 8-9 July 2013, CLIII (155), p. 6.

73 FRANCIS, Homily for the opening of the General Chapter of the Order of St. Augustine, Rome, 28 August 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Friday 30 August 2013, CLIII (197), p. 8.

74 FRANCIS, Meeting with Seminarians and Novices, Rome, 6 July 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Monday-Tuesday 8-9 July 2013, CLIII (155), p. 6.

75 Ibid.

76 FRANCIS, Homily for the Opening of the General Chapter of the Order of St. Augustine, Rome, 28 August 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Friday 30 August 2013, CLIII (197), p. 8.

77 Ibid.

78 FRANCIS, Meeting with Seminarians and Novices, Rome, 6 July 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Monday-Tuesday 8-9 July 2013, CLIII (155), p. 6.

79 FRANCIS, Celebration of Vespers with the Community of Camaldolese Benedictine Nuns, Rome, 21 November 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Saturday 23 November 2013, CLIII (269), p. 7.

80 FRANCIS, Homily for the Opening of the General Chapter of the Order of St. Augustine, Rome, 28 August 2013, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Friday 30 August 2013, CLIII (197), p. 8.

81 FRANCIS, Homily at the Holy Mass in the Church of the Gesù on the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, Rome, 3 January 2014, in: L’Osservatore Romano, Saturday 4 January 2014, CLIV (02), p. 7.

82 BENEDICT XVI, General Audience, Rome, 19 December 2012, in: L'Osservatore Romano, Thursday 20 December 2012, CLII (292), p. 8.

83 AMBROSE, Expositio Evangelii secundum Lucam, II, 19: CCL 14, p. 39.

84 FRANCIS, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 24 November 2013, LEV, Città del Vaticano, 2013, n. 288.

APOSTOLIC LETTER OF HIS HOLINESS  POPE FRANCIS
TO ALL CONSECRATED PEOPLE
ON THE OCCASION OF THE YEAR OF CONSECRATED LIFE






Dear Brothers and Sisters in Consecrated Life,

I am writing to you as the Successor of Peter, to whom the Lord entrusted the task of confirming his brothers and sisters in faith (cf.Lk 22:32). But I am also writing to you as a brother who, like yourselves, is consecrated to God.

Together let us thank the Father, who called us to follow Jesus by fully embracing the Gospel and serving the Church, and poured into our hearts the Holy Spirit, the source of our joy and our witness to God’s love and mercy before the world.

In response to requests from many of you and from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life, I decided to proclaim a Year of Consecrated Life on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, which speaks of religious in its sixth chapter, and of the Decree Perfectae Caritatis on the renewal of religious life. The Year will begin on 30 November 2014, the First Sunday of Advent, and conclude with the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple on 2 February 2016.

After consultation with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life, I have chosen as the aims of this Year the same ones which Saint John Paul II proposed to the whole Church at the beginning of the third millennium, reiterating, in a certain sense, what he had earlier written in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata: “You have not only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished! Look to the future, where the Spirit is sending you in order to do even greater things” (No. 110).


1. AIMS OF THE YEAR OF CONSECRATED LIFE

The first of these aims is to look to the past with gratitude. All our Institutes are heir to a history rich in charisms. At their origins we see the hand of God who, in his Spirit, calls certain individuals to follow Christ more closely, to translate the Gospel into a particular way of life, to read the signs of the times with the eyes of faith and to respond creatively to the needs of the Church. This initial experience then matured and developed, engaging new members in new geographic and cultural contexts, and giving rise to new ways of exercising the charism, new initiatives and expressions of apostolic charity. Like the seed which becomes a tree, each Institute grew and stretched out its branches.

During this Year, it would be appropriate for each charismatic family to reflect on its origins and history, in order to thank God who grants the Church a variety of gifts which embellish her and equip her for every good work (cf. Lumen Gentium, 12).

Recounting our history is essential for preserving our identity, for strengthening our unity as a family and our common sense of belonging. More than an exercise in archaeology or the cultivation of mere nostalgia, it calls for following in the footsteps of past generations in order to grasp the high ideals, and the vision and values which inspired them, beginning with the founders and foundresses and the first communities. In this way we come to see how the charism has been lived over the years, the creativity it has sparked, the difficulties it encountered and the concrete ways those difficulties were surmounted. We may also encounter cases of inconsistency, the result of human weakness and even at times a neglect of some essential aspects of the charism. Yet everything proves instructive and, taken as a whole, acts as a summons to conversion. To tell our story is to praise God and to thank him for all his gifts.

In a particular way we give thanks to God for these fifty years which followed the Second Vatican Council. The Council represented a “breath” of the Holy Spirit upon the whole Church. In consequence, consecrated life undertook a fruitful journey of renewal which, for all its lights and shadows, has been a time of grace, marked by the presence of the Spirit.

May this Year of Consecrated Life also be an occasion for confessing humbly, with immense confidence in the God who is Love (cf. 1Jn 4:8), our own weakness and, in it, to experience the Lord’s merciful love. May this Year likewise be an occasion for bearing vigorous and joyful witness before the world to the holiness and vitality present in so many of those called to follow Jesus in the consecrated life.

This Year also calls us to live the present with passion. Grateful remembrance of the past leads us, as we listen attentively to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church today, to implement ever more fully the essential aspects of our consecrated life.

From the beginnings of monasticism to the “new communities” of our own time, every form of consecrated life has been born of the Spirit’s call to follow Jesus as the Gospel teaches (cf. Perfectae Caritatis, 2). For the various founders and foundresses, the Gospel was the absolute rule, whereas every other rule was meant merely to be an expression of the Gospel and a means of living the Gospel to the full. For them, the ideal was Christ; they sought to be interiorly united to him and thus to be able to say with Saint Paul: “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21). Their vows were intended as a concrete expression of this passionate love.

The question we have to ask ourselves during this Year is if and how we too are open to being challenged by the Gospel; whether the Gospel is truly the “manual” for our daily living and the decisions we are called to make. The Gospel is demanding: it demands to be lived radically and sincerely. It is not enough to read it (even though the reading and study of Scripture is essential), nor is it enough to meditate on it (which we do joyfully each day). Jesus asks us to practice it, to put his words into effect in our lives.

Once again, we have to ask ourselves: Is Jesus really our first and only love, as we promised he would be when we professed our vows? Only if he is, will we be empowered to love, in truth and mercy, every person who crosses our path. For we will have learned from Jesus the meaning and practice of love. We will be able to love because we have his own heart.

Our founders and foundresses shared in Jesus’ own compassion when he saw the crowds who were like sheep without a shepherd. Like Jesus, who compassionately spoke his gracious word, healed the sick, gave bread to the hungry and offered his own life in sacrifice, so our founders and foundresses sought in different ways to be the service of all those to whom the Spirit sent them. They did so by their prayers of intercession, their preaching of the Gospel, their works of catechesis, education, their service to the poor and the infirm… The creativity of charity is boundless; it is able to find countless new ways of bringing the newness of the Gospel to every culture and every corner of society.

The Year of Consecrated Life challenges us to examine our fidelity to the mission entrusted to us. Are our ministries, our works and our presence consonant with what the Spirit asked of our founders and foundresses? Are they suitable for carrying out today, in society and the Church, those same ministries and works? Do we have the same passion for our people, are we close to them to the point of sharing in their joys and sorrows, thus truly understanding their needs and helping to respond to them? “The same generosity and self-sacrifice which guided your founders – Saint John Paul II once said – must now inspire you, their spiritual children, to keep alive the charisms which, by the power of the same Spirit who awakened them, are constantly being enriched and adapted, while losing none of their unique character. It is up to you to place those charisms at the service of the Church and to work for the coming of Christ’s Kingdom in its fullness”.[1]

Recalling our origins sheds light on yet another aspect of consecrated life. Our founders and foundresses were attracted by the unity of the Apostles with Christ and by the fellowship which marked the first community in Jerusalem. In establishing their own communities, each of them sought to replicate those models of evangelical living, to be of one heart and one soul, and to rejoice in the Lord’s presence (cf. Perfectae Caritatis, 15).

Living the present with passion means becoming “experts in communion”, “witnesses and architects of the ‘plan for unity’ which is the crowning point of human history in God’s design”.[2] In a polarized society, where different cultures experience difficulty in living alongside one another, where the powerless encounter oppression, where inequality abounds, we are called to offer a concrete model of community which, by acknowledging the dignity of each person and sharing our respective gifts, makes it possible to live as brothers and sisters.

So, be men and women of communion! Have the courage to be present in the midst of conflict and tension, as a credible sign of the presence of the Spirit who inspires in human hearts a passion for all to be one (cf. Jn 17:21). Live the mysticism of encounter, which entails “the ability to hear, to listen to other people; the ability to seek together ways and means”.[3] Live in the light of the loving relationship of the three divine Persons (cf. 1 Jn 4:8), the model for all interpersonal relationships.

To embrace the future with hope should be the third aim of this Year. We all know the difficulties which the various forms of consecrated life are currently experiencing: decreasing vocations and aging members, particularly in the Western world; economic problems stemming from the global financial crisis; issues of internationalization and globalization; the threats posed by relativism and a sense of isolation and social irrelevance… But it is precisely amid these uncertainties, which we share with so many of our contemporaries, that we are called to practice the virtue of hope, the fruit of our faith in the Lord of history, who continues to tell us: “Be not afraid… for I am with you” (Jer 1:8).

This hope is not based on statistics or accomplishments, but on the One in whom we have put our trust (cf. 2 Tim 1:2), the One for whom “nothing is impossible” (Lk 1:37). This is the hope which does not disappoint; it is the hope which enables consecrated life to keep writing its great history well into the future. It is to that future that we must always look, conscious that the Holy Spirit spurs us on so that he can still do great things with us.

So do not yield to the temptation to see things in terms of numbers and efficiency, and even less to trust in your own strength. In scanning the horizons of your lives and the present moment, be watchful and alert. Together with Benedict XVI, I urge you not to “join the ranks of the prophets of doom who proclaim the end or meaninglessness of the consecrated life in the Church in our day; rather, clothe yourselves in Jesus Christ and put on the armour of light – as Saint Paul urged (cf. Rom 13:11-14) – keeping awake and watchful”.[4] Let us constantly set out anew, with trust in the Lord.

I would especially like to say a word to those of you who are young. You are the present, since you are already taking active part in the lives of your Institutes, offering all the freshness and generosity of your “yes”. At the same time you are the future, for soon you will be called to take on roles of leadership in the life, formation, service and mission of your communities. This Year should see you actively engaged in dialogue with the previous generation. In fraternal communion you will be enriched by their experiences and wisdom, while at the same time inspiring them, by your own energy and enthusiasm, to recapture their original idealism. In this way the entire community can join in finding new ways of living the Gospel and responding more effectively to the need for witness and proclamation.

I am also happy to know that you will have the opportunity during this Year to meet with other young religious from different Institutes. May such encounters become a regular means of fostering communion, mutual support, and unity.


2. EXPECTATIONS FOR THE YEAR OF CONSECRATED LIFE

What in particular do I expect from this Year of grace for consecrated life?

That the old saying will always be true: “Where there are religious, there is joy”. We are called to know and show that God is able to fill our hearts to the brim with happiness; that we need not seek our happiness elsewhere; that the authentic fraternity found in our communities increases our joy; and that our total self-giving in service to the Church, to families and young people, to the elderly and the poor, brings us life-long personal fulfilment.

None of us should be dour, discontented and dissatisfied, for “a gloomy disciple is a disciple of gloom”. Like everyone else, we have our troubles, our dark nights of the soul, our disappointments and infirmities, our experience of slowing down as we grow older. But in all these things we should be able to discover “perfect joy”. For it is here that we learn to recognize the face of Christ, who became like us in all things, and to rejoice in the knowledge that we are being conformed to him who, out of love of us, did not refuse the sufferings of the cross.

In a society which exalts the cult of efficiency, fitness and success, one which ignores the poor and dismisses “losers”, we can witness by our lives to the truth of the words of Scripture: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).

We can apply to the consecrated life the words of Benedict XVI which I cited in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: “It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but by attraction” (No. 14). The consecrated life will not flourish as a result of brilliant vocation programs, but because the young people we meet find us attractive, because they see us as men and women who are happy! Similarly, the apostolic effectiveness of consecrated life does not depend on the efficiency of its methods. It depends on the eloquence of your lives, lives which radiate the joy and beauty of living the Gospel and following Christ to the full.

As I said to the members of ecclesial movements on the Vigil of Pentecost last year: “Fundamentally, the strength of the Church is living by the Gospel and bearing witness to our faith. The Church is the salt of the earth; she is the light of the world. She is called to make present in society the leaven of the Kingdom of God and she does this primarily by her witness, her witness of brotherly love, of solidarity and of sharing with others” (18 May 2013).

I am counting on you “to wake up the world”, since the distinctive sign of consecrated life is prophecy. As I told the Superiors General: “Radical evangelical living is not only for religious: it is demanded of everyone. But religious follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way.” This is the priority that is needed right now: “to be prophets who witness to how Jesus lived on this earth… a religious must never abandon prophecy” (29 November 2013).

Prophets receive from God the ability to scrutinize the times in which they live and to interpret events: they are like sentinels who keep watch in the night and sense the coming of the dawn (cf. Is 21:11-12). Prophets know God and they know the men and women who are their brothers and sisters. They are able to discern and denounce the evil of sin and injustice. Because they are free, they are beholden to no one but God, and they have no interest other than God. Prophets tend to be on the side of the poor and the powerless, for they know that God himself is on their side.

So I trust that, rather than living in some utopia, you will find ways to create “alternate spaces”, where the Gospel approach of self-giving, fraternity, embracing differences, and love of one another can thrive. Monasteries, communities, centres of spirituality, schools, hospitals, family shelters – all these are places which the charity and creativity born of your charisms have brought into being, and with constant creativity must continue to bring into being. They should increasingly be the leaven for a society inspired by the Gospel, a “city on a hill”, which testifies to the truth and the power of Jesus’ words.

At times, like Elijah and Jonah, you may feel the temptation to flee, to abandon the task of being a prophet because it is too demanding, wearisome or apparently fruitless. But prophets know that they are never alone. As he did with Jeremiah, so God encourages us: “Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you” (Jer 1:8).

Men and women religious, like all other consecrated persons, have been called, as I mentioned, “experts in communion”. So I am hoping that the “spirituality of communion”, so emphasized by Saint John Paul II, will become a reality and that you will be in the forefront of responding to “the great challenge facing us” in this new millennium: “to make the Church the home and the school of communion.”[5] I am sure that in this Year you will make every effort to make the ideal of fraternity pursued by your founders and foundresses expand everywhere, like concentric circles.

Communion is lived first and foremost within the respective communities of each Institute. To this end, I would ask you to think about my frequent comments about criticism, gossip, envy, jealousy, hostility as ways of acting which have no place in our houses. This being the case, the path of charity open before us is almost infinite, since it entails mutual acceptance and concern, practicing a communion of goods both material and spiritual, fraternal correction and respect for those who are weak … it is the “mystique of living together” which makes our life “a sacred pilgrimage”.[6] We need to ask ourselves about the way we relate to persons from different cultures, as our communities become increasingly international. How can we enable each member to say freely what he or she thinks, to be accepted with his or her particular gifts, and to become fully co-responsible?

I also hope for a growth in communion between the members of different Institutes. Might this Year be an occasion for us to step out more courageously from the confines of our respective Institutes and to work together, at the local and global levels, on projects involving formation, evangelization, and social action? This would make for a more effective prophetic witness. Communion and the encounter between different charisms and vocations can open up a path of hope. No one contributes to the future in isolation, by his or her efforts alone, but by seeing himself or herself as part of a true communion which is constantly open to encounter, dialogue, attentive listening and mutual assistance. Such a communion inoculates us from the disease of self-absorption.

Consecrated men and women are also called to true synergy with all other vocations in the Church, beginning with priests and the lay faithful, in order to “spread the spirituality of communion, first of all in their internal life and then in the ecclesial community, and even beyond its boundaries”.[7]

I also expect from you what I have asked all the members of the Church: to come out of yourselves and go forth to the existential peripheries. “Go into all the world”; these were the last words which Jesus spoke to his followers and which he continues to address to us (cf. Mk 16:15). A whole world awaits us: men and women who have lost all hope, families in difficulty, abandoned children, young people without a future, the elderly, sick and abandoned, those who are rich in the world’s goods but impoverished within, men and women looking for a purpose in life, thirsting for the divine…

Don’t be closed in on yourselves, don’t be stifled by petty squabbles, don’t remain a hostage to your own problems. These will be resolved if you go forth and help others to resolve their own problems, and proclaim the Good News. You will find life by giving life, hope by giving hope, love by giving love.

I ask you to work concretely in welcoming refugees, drawing near to the poor, and finding creative ways to catechize, to proclaim the Gospel and to teach others how to pray. Consequently, I would hope that structures can be streamlined, large religious houses repurposed for works which better respond to the present demands of evangelization and charity, and apostolates adjusted to new needs.

  1. I expect that each form of consecrated life will question what it is that God and people today are asking of them.

Monasteries and groups which are primarily contemplative could meet or otherwise engage in an exchange of experiences on the life of prayer, on ways of deepening communion with the entire Church, on supporting persecuted Christians, and welcoming and assisting those seeking a deeper spiritual life or requiring moral or material support.

The same can be done by Institutes dedicated to works of charity, teaching and cultural advancement, to preaching the Gospel or to carrying out specific pastoral ministries. It could also be done by Secular Institutes, whose members are found at almost every level of society. The creativity of the Spirit has generated ways of life and activities so diverse that they cannot be easily categorized or fit into ready-made templates. So I cannot address each and every charismatic configuration. Yet during this Year no one can feel excused from seriously examining his or her presence in the Church’s life and from responding to the new demands constantly being made on us, to the cry of the poor.

Only by such concern for the needs of the world, and by docility to the promptings of the Spirit, will this Year of Consecrated Life become an authentic kairos, a time rich in God’s grace, a time of transformation.


3. THE HORIZONS OF THE YEAR OF CONSECRATED LIFE

In this letter, I wish to speak not only to consecrated persons, but also to the laity, who share with them the same ideals, spirit and mission. Some Religious Institutes have a long tradition in this regard, while the experience of others is more recent. Indeed, around each religious family, every Society of Apostolic Life and every Secular Institute, there is a larger family, a “charismatic family”, which includes a number of Institutes which identify with the same charism, and especially lay faithful who feel called, precisely as lay persons, to share in the same charismatic reality.

I urge you, as laity, to live this Year for Consecrated Life as a grace which can make you more aware of the gift you yourselves have received. Celebrate it with your entire “family”, so that you can grow and respond together to the promptings of the Spirit in society today. On some occasions when consecrated men and women from different Institutes come together, arrange to be present yourselves so as to give expression to the one gift of God. In this way you will come to know the experiences of other charismatic families and other lay groups, and thus have an opportunity for mutual enrichment and support.

The Year for Consecrated Life concerns not only consecrated persons, but the entire Church. Consequently, I ask the whole Christian people to be increasingly aware of the gift which is the presence of our many consecrated men and women, heirs of the great saints who have written the history of Christianity. What would the Church be without Saint Benedict and Saint Basil, without Saint Augustine and Saint Bernard, without Saint Francis and Saint Dominic, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Angelica Merici and Saint Vincent de Paul. The list could go on and on, up to Saint John Bosco and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. As Blessed Paul VI pointed out: “Without this concrete sign there would be a danger that the charity which animates the entire Church would grow cold, that the salvific paradox of the Gospel would be blunted, and that the “salt” of faith would lose its savour in a world undergoing secularization” (Evangelica Testificatio, 3).

So I invite every Christian community to experience this Year above all as a moment of thanksgiving to the Lord and grateful remembrance for all the gifts we continue to receive, thanks to the sanctity of founders and foundresses, and from the fidelity to their charism shown by so many consecrated men and women. I ask all of you to draw close to these men and women, to rejoice with them, to share their difficulties and to assist them, to whatever degree possible, in their ministries and works, for the latter are, in the end, those of the entire Church. Let them know the affection and the warmth which the entire Christian people feels for them.

In this letter I do not hesitate to address a word to the consecrated men and women and to the members of fraternities and communities who belong to Churches of traditions other than the Catholic tradition. Monasticism is part of the heritage of the undivided Church, and is still very much alive in both the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church. The monastic tradition, and other later experiences from the time when the Church in the West was still united, have inspired analogous initiatives in the Ecclesial Communities of the reformed tradition. These have continued to give birth to further expressions of fraternal community and service.

The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life has planned a number of initiatives to facilitate encounters between members of different expressions of consecrated and fraternal life in the various Churches. I warmly encourage such meetings as a means of increasing mutual understanding, respect and reciprocal cooperation, so that the ecumenism of the consecrated life can prove helpful for the greater journey towards the unity of all the Churches.

Nor can we forget that the phenomenon of monasticism and of other expressions of religious fraternity is present in all the great religions. There are instances, some long-standing, of inter-monastic dialogue involving the Catholic Church and certain of the great religious traditions. I trust that the Year of Consecrated Life will be an opportunity to review the progress made, to make consecrated persons aware of this dialogue, and to consider what further steps can be taken towards greater mutual understanding and greater cooperation in the many common areas of service to human life.

Journeying together always brings enrichment, and can open new paths to relationships between peoples and cultures, which nowadays appear so difficult.

Finally, in a special way, I address my brother bishops. May this Year be an opportunity to accept institutes of consecrated life, readily and joyfully, as a spiritual capital which contributes to the good of the whole body of Christ (cf. Lumen Gentium, 43), and not simply that of the individual religious families. “Consecrated life is a gift to the Church, it is born of the Church, it grows in the Church, and it is entirely directed to the Church”.[8] For this reason, precisely as a gift to the Church, it is not an isolated or marginal reality, but deeply a part of her. It is at the heart of the Church, a decisive element of her mission, inasmuch as it expresses the deepest nature of the Christian vocation and the yearning of the Church as the Bride for union with her sole Spouse. Thus, “it belongs… absolutely to the life and holiness” of the Church (ibid., 44).

In the light of this, I ask you, the Pastors of the particular Churches, to show special concern for promoting within your communities the different charisms, whether long-standing or recent. I ask you to do this by your support and encouragement, your assistance in discernment, and your tender and loving closeness to those situations of suffering and weakness in which some consecrated men or women may find themselves. Above all, do this by instructing the People of God in the value of consecrated life, so that its beauty and holiness may shine forth in the Church.

I entrust this Year of Consecrated Life to Mary, the Virgin of listening and contemplation, the first disciple of her beloved Son. Let us look to her, the highly -beloved daughter of the Father, endowed with every gift of grace, as the unsurpassed model for all those who follow Christ in love of God and service to their neighbour.

Lastly, I join all of you in gratitude for the gifts of grace and light with which the Lord graciously wills to enrich us, and I accompany you with my Apostolic Blessing.


From the Vatican, 21 November 2014, Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Francis


[1] Apostolic Letter to the Religious of Latin America on the occasion of the Fifth Centenary of the Evangelization of the New World Los caminos del Evangelio (29 June 1990), 26.

[2]SACRED CONGREGATION FOR RELIGIOUS AND SECULAR INSTITUTES, Religious and Human Promotion (12 August 1980), 24:L’Osservatore Romano, Suppl., 12 November 1980, pp. I-VIII.

[3] Address to Rectors and Students of the Pontifical Colleges and Residences of Rome (2 May 2014).

[4] POPE BENEDICT XVI, Homily for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord(2 February 2013).

[5] Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (6 January 2001), 43.

[6]Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (24 November 2013), 87

[7] JOHN PAUL II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata (25 March 1996), 51.

[8] BISHOP J.M. BERGOGLIO, Intervention at the Synod on the Consecrated Life and its Mission in the Church and in the World, XVI General Congregation, 13 October 1994.


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