The Pope: consecrated life must be close to the people

Vatican City, 2 February 2016 (VIS) – The following are extensive extracts of the Holy Father's extemporaneous address to the participants in the Jubilee of Consecrated Life, which took place yesterday in the Paul VI Hall. This afternoon in St. Peter's Basilica he will celebrate the Mass to conclude the Year of Consecrated Life.

"I have prepared a text for this occasion regarding the themes of consecrated life and three of its most important pillars: prophecy, closeness and hope.

"Men and women religious – that is, men and women consecrated to the service of the Lord who follow in the Church this road of poverty and of chaste love that leads to a paternity and maternity for all the Church, an obedience … that is not military, no; that is discipline, it is something else. It is the obedience of giving one's heart. And this is prophecy. 'But don't you want to do something else?' 'Yes, but according to the rules I must do this. … And if something isn't clear to me, I speak with the superior, and after dialogue, I obey'. This is prophecy, against the seed of anarchy, that the devil sows. … Prophecy means telling people that there is a road of happiness, greatness, a road that fills you with joy, that is indeed Jesus' way. It is the road of being close to Jesus. Prophecy is a gift, it is a charism that must be asked for from the Holy Spirit: that I might know how to say that word, at the right moment; that I do the right thing at the right moment; that all my life may be a prophecy".

The other word is closeness. Men and women are consecrated, not to distance themselves from people and to live in comfort; no, to become closer to and to understand the life of Christians and non-Christians, their suffering, their problems, the many things that can be understood only if a consecrated man or woman is close to them. … Consecrated life is not a status that allows us to watch others from a distance. Consecrated life must lead us to closeness to the people: physical and spiritual closeness, knowing the people. … Who is the person closest to a consecrated man or woman? His brother or her sister in the community. And also a pleasant, a good closeness, with love. … One way of alienating people is to gossip … the terrorism of gossip. A person who gossips is a terrorist in his or her own community, who throws words against others like a bomb, and then moves on. … The apostle James said that the most difficult virtue, the most difficult human and spiritual virtue to have, is that of controlling one's tongue. … 'But Father, if there is something, a defect, something to be corrected?'. You say it directly to the person: you have this attitude that bothers me, or is not good. Or if this would not be appropriate – because at times it is not prudent – then you can say it to the person who can remedy the situation, who can resolve the problem, and to no-one else. 'What? In the chapter?' Yes! In public, all that you feel you must say, because there is the temptation not to say things there, and then outside: 'Have you seen the superior? Than why didn't you say it there, in the chapter? Is this clear? These are virtues of closeness".

"And then, hope. I confess that it troubles me greatly when I see the decline in vocations, when I receive bishops and ask them, 'How many seminarians do you have?', and they tell me, 'Four or five...'. When, in your religious communities – male or female – you have one or two novices, and the community is ageing … When there are monasteries, great monasteries … that are kept going by four or five elderly nuns … Faced with all this, I am tempted to ask, against hope, 'Lord, what is happening? Why has the womb of consecrated life become so barren? Some congregations have experimented … what do they do? They welcome, 'Come, come, come!'. And then there are problems inside. No. It is necessary to welcome in a serious way. We must discern well if this is a true vocation and help it to grow. And I think that, counter to the temptation to lose hope, that leads us to this barrenness, we must pray more, and pray tirelessly. ...'Our congregation needs sons, daughters …': the Lord Who has been so generous will not fail to keep His promise. But we must ask Him. We must knock on the door of His heart. Because there is a danger – it is unpleasant, but I have to say it – when a religious Congregation sees that it has no sons and starts to become increasingly small, it becomes attached to money. And you know that money is the dung of the devil. When they cannot have the grace of vocations and sons, they think that money will save their lives, and they think about their old age; that they may not lack this or that. And this is not hope! Hope comes only from the Lord! Money will never give you this".

"I thank you for what you do. Consecrated persons, each one with his or her own charism. And I would like to underline what women religious and nuns do. What would the Church be without nuns? I have said this before: when you go to hospital, to colleges, parishes, neighbourhoods, missions, there are men and women who have given their lives. ...When you go to a cemetery and see the many missionaries and nuns who died at the age of forty, from sicknesses, from the fevers they caught, who burned their lives. These are saints, these are seeds! We must ask the Lord to look to these cemeteries and to see what our antecedents did, and to give us more vocations, because we need them".