Pope's Address to Schoenstatt Fathers' General Chapter

‘Dialogue with God in prayer also leads us to listen to His voice in the persons and situations around us.’

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Below is a ZENIT translation of Pope Francis’ address to the participants in the 5th General Chapter of the Schoenstatt Fathers, on the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Institute:

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Dear Brother Priests,

I am happy to be with you at this meeting, and I thank Juan Pablo for his words, as well as the testimony of affection in the name of the members of the Movement. I also still keep alive last year’s meeting.

The 5th General Chapter that you have just held took place on the 50th anniversary of the Institute’s foundation by Father Joseph Kentenich. And over these years you have been concerned to keep alive the foundational charism and the capacity to be able to transmit it to the younger ones. I am also concerned that you maintain the charism and transmit it, so that it will continue to inspire and support your lives and your mission. You know that a charism is not a museum piece, which remains intact in a showcase, to be contemplated and that is all. Fidelity, to keep the charism pure, in no way means to shut it in a sealed bottle, as if it were distilled water, so that it is not contaminated by the outside. No, the charism is not preserved by keeping it put away. It must be opened and allowed to go out, so that it enters into contact with reality, with persons, with their anxieties and problems. And thus, in this fecund encounter with reality, the charism grows, is renewed and the reality is also transformed; it is transfigured by the spiritual force that the charism bears.

Father Kentenich expressed it very well when he said that one had to be “with the ear in God’s heart and the hand on the pulse of the time.” Here are the two pillars of an authentic spiritual life.

On one hand, contact with God; He has the primacy, He loves us first, before we thin of something, He has already preceded us with his immense love. And Saint Paul warns us not to attribute anything to ourselves, as if it were our own, but that our capacity comes to us from God (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:4-6). In the reading of the Divine Office today, Saint Gregory the Great speaks to us of the priest who is a watchman on the heights in the midst of the people so that he can see from a distance what approaches (cf. Homily in Ezekiel, Book 1, 11, 4). Thus is the priest. I am referring to the priest who is awake, because the one asleep, no matter how high up he is, sees nothing. So is the priest. As the rest of his brothers, he is also in the plain of his weakness, of his little strength. However, the Lord calls him so that he will arise, so that he will go up to the watchtower of prayer, to the height of God. He calls him to enter into dialogue with him: a dialogue of love, of a father with a son, of a brother with a brother, a dialogue in which is heard the beating of God’s heart and one learns to see further, more profoundly. And I have always been impressed by the figure of Moses, who was in the mist of the people, in the midst of rows, of fights with Pharaoh, with grave problems to be resolved. As when he was on the shore of the sea and he saw Pharaoh’s army coming: “What do I do now?” A man whom God was calling to be a watchtman. He led him on high and spoke with him face to face. What a giant!  — we would have said. And what does the Bible say: he was the humblest man on earth, There was no man as humble as Moses. When we allow ourselves to go up to the watchtower of prayer, to intimacy with God to serve our brethren, humility is the sign. . I don’t know; measure yourselves against this. Instead, when we are somewhat like “little roosters,” somewhat sufficient, it is because we are half way or think that we can make do.

The Lord awaits us in prayer — please, do not leave it –, in contemplation of His Word, in the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours. It is not good to neglect prayer or, worst still, to abandon it with the excuse of an absorbing ministry, because “if the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor” (Psalm 127:1) It would be a grave error to think that the charism is kept alive by concentrating on external structures, on schemes, on methods, on the form. God keep us from the spirit of functionalism! The vitality of the charism is rooted in the “first love” (cf. Revelation 2:4). Of Jeremiah’s second chapter: “I remember the years of your youth, when you followed me happy through the desert,” – the first love, to return to the first love. That first love renewed day by day, in the willingness to listen and to respond with enamoured generosity, in contemplation, opening ourselves to the novelty of the Spirit, to surprises, as you said. We let the Lord surprise us and open paths of grace in our life, and that healthy and necessary decentralization happens, in which we put ourselves aside, so that Christ can occupy the center of our life. Please, be de-centralized; never be at the center.

The second pillar is constituted by the expression: “take the pulse of the time,” of reality, of persons. One must not be afraid of reality, and reality must be taken as it comes, like the goalkeeper when the ball is kicked and from there, from there, from where it comes, he tries to intercept it. The Lord waits for us there, He communicates and reveals himself to us there.  They are not two different ears, one for God and the other for reality. When we meet with our brothers, especially with those who in our eyes or in the eyes of the world are less agreeable, what do we see? Do we realize that God loves them, who have the same flesh that Christ assumed or do we remain indifferent to their problems? What is the Lord asking of us in that situation? To take the pulse of reality requires contemplation, a familiar relation with God, constant prayer, so often boring but which ends in service. In prayer we learn not to look away from Christ who suffers in his brothers. In prayer we learn to serve.

Service, must be the dominant note in the life of a priest! Not in vain is ours a ministerial priesthood, at the service of the baptismal priesthood. You are, practically, the last reality of the Movement founded by Father Kentenich; and this entails a great lesson, it is something beautiful. This being the “last” reflects clearly the place that priests occupy in relation to their brothers: the priest is not above or before the rest, but walks with them, loving them with Christ’s love, who did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life in ransom for many (cf. Matthew 20:28). I believe that here, in essence, is what your founder wanted for priests: to serve the Church, all the communities, the Movement selflessly, to maintain its unity and mission. On one hand, the priest must go up to the watchtower of contemplation to enter into God’s heart and, on the other, he must come down — in Christina life to progress is to lower oneself — to lower himself in service, and to wash, cure and bandage the wounds of his brothers. They have so many moral and spiritual wounds, which keep them prostrated outside the path of life. Let us ask the Lord to give us shoulders like his, strong to carry on them those who do not have hope, those who seem to be lost, those to whom no one ever gives a look … and, please, that he may free us from “ladder of promotion” in our priestly life.

It is certainly a demanding task, which can be borne and even beautiful with priestly fraternity. Please, never do so alone. The presbyterial ministry cannot be conceived in an individual way or, worse still, individualist. Fraternity is the great school of discipleship. It implies much giving of oneself to God and to brothers; it helps us to grow in charity and in unity, and makes our life witness more fecund. We are not the ones who choose our brothers, but we are the ones who can make the conscious and fecund choice to love them as they are, with defects and virtues, with limitations and potentialiti
es. Please, may there never be indifference in your communities. Conduct yourselves as men; if disputes or differences of opinion arise, do not worry, the heat of discussion is better than the coldness of indifference, real sepulcher of fraternal charity. In the end, everything is surmounted with love, understanding, dialogue, sincere affection, prayer and penance, and fraternity take on new strength, new impetus, filling your priesthood with joy. Learn to endure one another, to quarrel and forgive each other. Above all, learn to love one another.

Contemplation, service, fraternity, I wanted to share these three aptitudes with you which can be of help in priestly life.

At the end of our meeting, allow me to humbly recommend three things. In the first place, support and take care of families, they need to be supported, to live holily their covenant of love and life, especially those going through moments of crisis or difficulty. In the second place, and thinking of the forthcoming Jubilee of Mercy, dedicate much time to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Please, be great forgivers. It does me good to recall a friar of Buenos Aires  who is a great forgiver. He is almost my age and sometimes he is gripped by scruples for having forgiven too much. And one day I asked him: “And what do you do when you are gripped by scruples?” – “I go to the chapel, I look at the Tabernacle, and I say: Lord, forgive me, today I forgave too much, but let it be clear that you gave me the bad example.” May you be witnesses of mercy and the tenderness of God in your communities. And, in the third place, I ask you to pray for me, because I need it. I entrust you affectionately to the care of our Thrice Admirable Mother, and may God bless you. Thank you.

[Original text: Spanish] [Translation by ZENIT]
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