Vatican City, 17 September 2015 (VIS) – This morning the Holy Father received in audience the participants in the World Meeting of Young Consecrated Men and Women, which took place within the context of the Year of Consecrated Life. During the audience, and after special greetings for those from Syria and Iraq in which he recalled the martyrs of these countries, the Pope answered three questions posed to him by those present.
The first question, asked by a woman religious, related to the problem of instability and mediocrity in the vocational path. Francis recalled that, according to St. Teresa of Jesus, strict observance removed freedom. “The Lord calls you – and calls all of us – to the ‘prophetic way’ of freedom, that is the freedom that is to be united with witness and fidelity. A mother who raises her children in a strict fashion … and does not let them dream … annuls their creative future, rendering them barren. Consecrated life, too, can be barren, when it is not truly prophetic, when dreaming is not permitted. … Prophecy, the capacity to dream, is the opposite of rigidity. And observance must not be rigid: if it is, it is personal egoism. … Always keep your heart open to what the Lord says to you and bring it into your dialogue with the superior, the teacher or your spiritual guide, the Church, the bishop. Openness, an open heart, dialogue, and also community dialogue. … I tell you sincerely, one of the sins I most frequently encounter in community life is the incapacity for forgiveness between brothers and sisters. … Gossip in a community obstructs forgiveness and puts distance between people. … It is the scourge of community life. … It is a bomb that destroys the reputation of others who are unable to defend themselves as gossip takes place in obscurity, not in the light of day”.
The Pope went on to affirm that ever since the beginning of consecrated life there have been moments of instability. “There will always be temptations … and returning to St. Teresa of Jesus, she said that one must pray for those who are about to die, as this is the moment of greatest instability, in which the temptations arise with force. Culturally it is true, we live in a very unstable time … we live in a culture of the provisional. … And this culture has also entered into the Church, into religious communities, into the family and marriage. … Instead there is the culture of the definitive – God sent His Son for ever, not in a temporary way, to one generation or country, but rather to all and forever. And this is a criterion of spiritual discernment … taking on definitive commitments so as not to disintegrate”.
In response to another question on evangelisation, the Pope emphasised that apostolic zeal comes from a wish to evangelise that inflames the heart. “Evangelising is not the same as proselytism”, he remarked. “We are not a football team seeking members and supporters. … Evangelisation is not about simply convincing, it is about bearing witness that Jesus lives. … And this witness is given with the flesh, with one’s own life. And here – forgive me if I am a bit of a feminist – I would like to give thanks for the witness of consecrated women. You always have the wish to go to the front line, as you are mothers, you have the maternity of the Church, that brings you close to people. … You are the icons of the Church’s tenderness and love, of the maternity of the Church and of Our Lady”.
“Another key word in consecrated life is memory. I do not think that James and John ever forgot their first encounter with Jesus, and nor did the other apostles. … The memory of one’s own vocation. In the darkest moments, the moments of temptation, in the difficult moments of our consecrated life, return to the source, treasure the memory and wonder of when the Lord looked upon us”.
The Pope was asked to share his memory of the first calling he received. “I don’t know how it was. I entered the Church by chance, I saw a confessional and I left changed, I left in a different way. My life changed then. And what attracted me to Jesus and the Gospel? I don’t know … their closeness to me. The Lord has never left me alone, not even in dark and difficult moments, nor in moments of sin … because the Lord always meets us definitively. He is not part of the culture of the provisional: He loves us for ever and He accompanies us always”.
“So, proximity to the people, prophecy in our witness, with an ardour, with the apostolic zeal that warms the hearts of others, even without words … and memory, always returning to the source”.
“I would like to end with two words”, Francis concluded. “One is … among the worst attitudes of the religious: gazing upon one’s own reflection in the mirror, narcissism. Be on your guard against this. … And yes, instead, to the contrary, to what despoils us of all narcissism, yes to adoration. I think this is one of the central themes. We all pray and give thanks to the Lord, we ask favours, we praise the Lord … but do we adore the Lord? The prayer of silent adoration: ‘You are the Lord’, is the opposite of narcissism. I would like to finish with this word, adoration. Be men and women of adoration”.