VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Monday received thousands of men and women religious in a special audience, in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, for the Jubilee Day for Consecrated Life.
Addressing the international gathering at the close of the Year for Consecrated Life, the pope’s prepared address focused on what he called “three important pillars of consecrated life”: prophecy, closeness and hope.
But setting aside his prepared remarks, he decided instead to to speak directly to the religious, saying: “I gave the Cardinal Prefect the text, because reading it is somewhat boring, and I prefer to speak with you about what comes from my heart. Agreed?”
And speak directly from the heart he did, calling disobedience “the daughter of the devil”; telling religious not to become “gossip terrorists” and warning communities of the dangers of experimenting with a kind of “artificial insemination” to boost vocations.
Here below we publish the pope’s off-the-cuff remarks to religious (headings added).
Disobedience: “The daughter of the Devil”
Religious (i.e., men and women consecrated to the Lord’s service) who exercise in the Church this path of powerful poverty, of chaste love that leads them to a spiritual paternity and maternity for the whole Church, of an obedience …
But we are always lacking something in this obedience, because perfect obedience is the Son of God, who emptied himself, and became man through obedience, unto death on the Cross.
But there are some among you who live out obedience powerfully … not military [obedience], no, this no; that’s discipline, it’s something else — but rather the obedience of giving one’s heart.
And this is prophecy. “But you don’t want to do something or other? …” — Yes, but according to the rules I have to do this, that, or the other. … And if I don’t see something clearly, I speak with the superior and after our conversation, I obey.”
This is prophecy against the seed of anarchy, which the devil sows. “And you, what do you do?” — “I do what I please.” — The anarchy of the will is the daughter of the Devil. The Son of God was not an anarchist, he didn’t call his followers to lead a resistance force against his enemies. He himself said to Pilate: “If I were a king of this work I would have called my soldiers to defend me.” But he was obedient to the Father. He asked only: “Father, please, no, not this chalice. … But yes, may it be done according to your will.” When one accepts something through obedience [he gestures as though swallowing] … one has to swallow that obedience, but one does it.
Therefore, prophecy. Prophecy is telling people that there is a path of happiness, of greatness, a path that fills you with joy, which is the path of Jesus. It is the path of being close to Jesus. It’s a gift, it’s a charism of prophecy and one must ask the Holy Spirit for it: that I may know how to say the word in the right moment; that I may do that thing at the right moment; that my life, all of it, may be prophetic. Men and women who are prophets. And this is very important. “But we do what everyone is doing …” No. Prophecy is saying that there is something truer, more beautiful, greater and better to which we are all called.
The other word is closeness. Men and women who are consecrated, but not to distance myself from people and to be comfortable, no, to draw near and to understand the lives of Christians and non-Christians, their suffering, their problems, the man things that one understands only if a consecrated man or woman becomes their neighbor: in closeness. “But Father, I am a cloistered sister, what should I do?” Think of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, patroness of missions, who through her ardent heart was close, and the letters she received from missionaries made her closer to people. Closeness.
Who is your first neighbor?
To be consecrated doesn’t mean ascending one, two, three steps in society. It’s true that often we hear parents say: “You know, Father, I have a daughter who is a religious sister, and a son who is a friar!” And they say it with pride. And it’s true! It’s a satisfaction for parents to have consecrated children, this is true. But for consecrated it isn’t a state of life that ought to make me look at others like this [in a detached way]. Consecrated life must bring me close to people: physical closeness, and spiritual, to know people. “Ah, yes, Father, in my community, the superior gave us permission to go out, to go into the poorest areas with the people …” — “And in your community, are there elderly sisters?” — “Yes, yes … the infirmary is on the third floor” — “And how many times a day to you go to see your sisters, the elderly ones, who could be your mother or grandmother?” — “But, you know, Father, I am very busy with work and can’t manage to go…”
Closeness! Who is the first neighbor of a consecrated man or woman? A brother or sister in your community. This is your first neighbor.
Don’t be a “gossip terrorist”
And let it be a closeness that is dear, good, with love. I know that in your communities you never gossip, never, never. … Gossiping is a way of distancing yourselves. Listen well: No gossiping, the terrorism of gossip. Because whoever gossips is a terrorist. He or she is a terrorist in the community, because a word against this one, against that one, is as ugly as a bomb … it destroys! The one who does this destroys, like a bomb, and he distances himself.
The apostle Santiago said having dominion over one’s tongue was perhaps the most difficult virtue, the most difficult human and spiritual virtue to acquire. If you think of saying something against a brother or sister, to lob a gossip bomb, mortify your tongue! Be strong! No terrorism in community! “But Father, if there’s something, a defect, something to correct?” Tell the person: you have this attitude that bothers me, or that I don’t like. Or if it’s convenience — because sometimes it’s not prudent — tell the person who can make it better, who can resolve the problem, and no one else. Understand? Gossip is useless.
“But in chapter?” There yes! [Say] everything that you feel you need to say in public, because there is a temptation not to say things in chapter, and then to say them outside: “Did you see the prioress? Did you see the abbess? Did you see the superior …?” But why didn’t you say it in chapter? Is this clear?
Learn from St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus
They are virtues of closeness. And the saints had them, the consecrated saints had them. St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus never, never complained about work, about how much that sister bothered her whom she had to take to the refectory, every evening: from choir to the refectory. Never! Because that poor, very elderly sister, who was almost paralyzed, could barely walk, she had pain — I understand her! — she was also a little neurotic.
Never, never did [St. Thérèse] go to another sister and say: “But how this sister bothers me!” What did she do? She helped her to sit down, she brought her a napkin, he broke the bread and he gave her a smile. This is called closeness. Closeness! If you lob a gossip bomb in your community, this isn’t closeness, this provokes distance, it provokes anarchy in community. And if, during this Year of Mercy, each of you were to resolve never to be a gossip terrorist, it would be a success for the Church, a success of great holiness! Be courageous. Closeness.
What to do when the womb of consecrated life is barren
And then there’s hope. And I confess that it pains me greatly when I see the decline in vocations, when I receive bishops and ask them: “How many seminarians do you have?” — “Four, five …” When you, in your religious communities — male and female — have one novice or two … and the community is getting older and older. … When there are monasteries, large monasteries, and Cardinal Amigo Vallejo [he turns to him] can tell us, in Spain, how many there are that carry on with four of five elderly sisters, right to the end.
And this makes a temptation against hope come to me: “Lord, what’s happening? Why is the womb of consecrated life becoming so barren?” Some congregations experiment with “artificial insemination.” What do they do? “But yes, come, come, come …” And then the problems that are there within … no. You have to welcome [aspirants] in a serious manner. You need to discern well if this is a true vocation and help it grow.
I believe we need to pray much against the temptation to lose hope, which this sterility gives us. And we have to pray without ceasing. It does me great good to read this passage from the Scriptures, in which Anna — the mother of Samuel — prayed and asked for a son. She prayed moving her lips, and she prayed … and the old priest, who was somewhat blind and couldn’t see well, thought she was drunk. But the heart of that woman [she said to God]: “I want a son!”
I ask you: does your heart, faced with this decline in vocations, pray with this intensity? “Our Congregation needs sons, our Congregation needs daughters …”
Don’t get attached to “the dung of the Devil”
The Lord who has been so generous will not fail in his promise. But we have to ask him. We have to knock at the door of his heart. Because it’s a danger — and this is unpleasant, but I have to say it: when a religious Congregation sees it doesn’t have children or grandchildren and starts becoming smaller and smaller, it gets attached to money. And you know that money. And you know that money is the dung of the Devil. When they can’t have the grace to have vocations and sons and daughters, they think that money will save their life; and they thing of old age: that they don’t lack this or that … And thus there’s no hope! Hope is only in the Lord! Money will never give it to you. To the contrary: it will throw you down! Understand?
This is what I wanted to tell you, instead of reading the pages that the Cardinal Prefect will give you later …
And I thank you very much for what you do. Consecrated — each with its own charism. And I want to highlight the consecrated women, the sisters. What would the Church be without sisters? I once said: when you go to the hospitals, colleges, parishes, neighborhoods, missions, men and women who have given their lives. … In the last visit to Africa — I think I recounted this in an audience — I met an 83-year-old Italian sister. She told me: “And since I was — I don’t remember if I was 23 or 26 years old — I’ve been here. I am a nurse in a hospital.” Think about it: from age 26 to 83! “And I wrote to my relatives in Italy saying I won’t be returning again.” When you go to a cemetery and see the many religious missionaries and many sisters who died at the age 40 due to illness, the fevers in those countries, they burned out their lives … you say: They are saints! They are seeds! We must tell the Lord to come down a little on these cemeteries and see what our ancestors have done and give us more vocations, because we need them!
I thank you so much for this visit. I thank the Cardinal Prefect, the Secretary, the Undersecretaries for what you have done during this Year of Consecrated Life. But please, don’t forget prophecy in obedience, closeness, the most important neighbor, the closest neighbor is your brother and sister in community and then hope. May the Lord allow sons and daughters to be born in your congregations. And pray for me. Thank you!
The Year for Consecrated Life concludes on February 2, with a papal Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.