“I would like to say to you, first of all, that I appreciate in you the joy of being Augustinians: ‘Happy to serve the Most High in the spirit of humility’ — it would seem to be a Franciscan motto, but, in reality, it’s simply evangelical.”
These were the words of Pope Francis on September 12, 2019, as he received in audience — in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace — the participants in the 186th General Chapter of the Order of Discalced Augustinians.
The Holy Father recalled the long traditions of the group, starting with St. Augustine. And he stressed the importance of prayer and penance in the religious life of the Augustinians. He also commended the Augustinian vow of humility, which is a theme for their conference this year.
“Humility is something that cannot be taken in hand: it either is or is not; it’s a gift, it cannot be taken in hand, the Pope said. “Humility is something that comes on its own. Thanks be to God, but it comes, you can’t measure it.’
Here is a translation of the Pope’s address, in the course of the audience, to those present.
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The Holy Father’s Address
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Providence has willed that I meet with you today, Discalced Augustinians, and tomorrow with your brothers of the Order of Saint Augustine — brothers, cousins, friends, enemies, one never knows! Let us praise God for the charisms He has inspired and inspires in the Church through the testimony of the great Pastor and Doctor of Hippo.
I thank the Prior General for the words with which he introduced this meeting, which ends your congress on the occasion of what you call “Year of the Charism,” — beautiful!
I would like to say to you, first of all, that I appreciate in you the joy of being Augustinians: “Happy to serve the Most High in the spirit of humility” — it would seem to be a Franciscan motto, but, in reality, it’s simply evangelical. Moreover, Saint Augustine is one of those figures that makes one feel the fascination of God, that attracts to Jesus Christ, that attracts to the Word of God. He is a giant of Christian thought, but the Lord also gave him the vocation and the mission of fraternity. He does not close himself in the horizon, though vast, of his mind, but remains open to the People of God and to brothers that shared with him community life. Even as priest and Bishop he lived as a monk, notwithstanding his pastoral commitments and, at his death, he left many male and female monasteries.
In this long religious tradition initiated by Saint Augustine, you, Discalced Augustinians, have your roots, which the Prior General recalled a short while ago. I encourage you to love and to deepen these roots ever more — to go to the roots — seeking to draw from them, in prayer and community discernment, vital lymph for your presence in the today of the Church and of the world. To be modern, some think that it’s necessary to detach themselves from the roots. And this is ruin, because the roots, the tradition, are the guarantee of the future. It’s not a museum; it’s the true tradition, and the roots are the tradition that brings you the lymph to make the tree grow, flower and fructify. Never be detached from the roots to be modern, that is suicide. Prayer and penance never cease being pivots on which Christian witness stands, a witness that, in certain contexts, goes altogether against the current, but that, accompanied by humility and charity, is able to speak to the heart of many men and women, also in our time. Moreover, Popes asked your “ancestors” to be available for evangelization and thus, you have assumed that apostolic dimension, which is very present in the Founding Father. The qualification “discalced” expresses the need for poverty, detachment and trust in Divine Providence. There is a liturgical hymn, which is used on the feast of Saint John the Baptist, and it says that the people went “with a barefoot soul” to be baptized; discalced not only because you don’t wear shoes — I see that you have shoes, at least one of you does . . . A barefoot soul, this is the charism. This is an evangelical exigency, which in certain moments of the journey of the Church the Spirit makes felt with greater force. And we must always be attentive and docile to the voice of the Spirit: He is the protagonist; it’s He that makes the Church grow! Not us, but Him. The Holy Spirit is the wind that blows and makes the Church go forward, with that very great force of evangelization.
This year, in particular, you wished to highlight the vow of humility, the fourth vow that characterizes you. I congratulate you for this choice and I share the discernment of which the Father Prior made himself spokesman: this vow of humility is a “key,” a key that opens God’s heart and men’s heart. And it opens first of all your own hearts to be faithful to the original charism, to feel yourselves always missionary-disciples, available to God’s calls.
Humility is something that cannot be taken in hand: it either is or is not; it’s a gift, it cannot be taken in hand. I remember a very vain religious, very vain –this is historical –, he is still alive. His Superiors always said to him: “You must be more humble, more humble . . . “ And, in the end, he said: “I will do thirty days of Exercises so that the Lord gives me the grace of humility.” And when he returned he said: Thank God. I was so vain, so vain, but after the Exercises, I have overcome all my passions!” He had found humility. Humility is something that comes on its own. Thanks be to God, but it comes, you can’t measure it.
The Spirit blows the sails of the Church and also the wind of the emission ad gentes, and you were able to be ready to go. We live at a time in which the mission ad gentes is being renewed, also through a crisis that we hope is of growth, of fidelity to the mandate of the Risen Lord, mandate that keeps all its force and timeliness. I also join you emotionally in recalling the Augustinian missionaries that gave their lives for the Gospel in different parts of the world. And I see with pleasure that you treasure these testimonies of the past to renew your availability for the mission today, in the ways that Vatican Council II and the present challenges ask of you.
Dear brothers, remembering gratefully your journey, or better, the journey that the Lord has made you do (Cf. Deuteronomy 8:2), understood fully is the meaning of this “Year of the Charism.” It’s not something self-referential — no, it must not be this –, but a living community that wants to walk with Christ alive, this is what you want; it’s not self-referential but the will to walk in Christ, Christ alive.
“Happy to serve the Most High in a spirit of humility.” Go forward thus! May the Lord bless you, and Our Lady and Saint Augustine protect you. And, please, don’t forget to pray for me. Thank you!
© Libreria Editrice Vatican[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]