“Remain free of ties to works and things, free to love those you encounter, wherever the Spirit leads you,” Pope Francis told the participants in the 11th General Chapter of the Little Sisters of Jesus. His remarks came on October 2, 2017, in the Consistory Hall of the Vatican Apostolic Palace.
The Holy Father explained that remaining free means “free to fly, free to dream.” He noted that the sister must “share the sorrows of so many brothers” and “know the trial of age, of solitude and of suffering”
Speaking of the mission of the Sisters, Pope reminded listeners that “they are not there primarily to take care, to educate and to catechize – although they do these things well — but to love, to be with the littlest ones, as Jesus did, to proclaim the Gospel with a simple life made up of work, presence, friendship, and unconditional hospitality.”
The Holy Father told the sisters that “the love you bear in your hearts makes you free women attached to the essential.” And he concluded by encouraging them in their work: “Naturally, you can’t change the world by yourselves, but you can illuminate it by bringing the joy of the Gospel to neighborhoods, streets, mixed in the crowds always close to the littlest ones.”
Here is a ZENIT translation of the Pope’s address to the Little Sisters of Jesus
I’m happy to receive you on the occasion of your General Chapter. I greet the Superior General and, through you, I greet all the Little Sisters of Jesus.
The holding of a General Chapter is a moment of grace for every Institute of Consecrated Life. The Religious come together, in an atmosphere of prayer and fraternal affection, to address together the many questions and challenges that the Institute faces in a specific moment of its history. However, before being a moment of reflection on the practical questions, a Chapter is the common spiritual experience of a return to the source of the personal and communal call.
And, at the source of your Institute, is the overwhelming experience of the tenderness of God made by your Founder, Little Sister Magdalene of Jesus. In the footprints of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, she perceived that Almighty God, Creator and Lord of the universe, was not afraid to make Himself a small, trusting child in Mary’s arms, out of love for us and He wants to give Himself again to each one of us, humbly, out of love. Today, almost 80 years since the foundation of the Institute, more than a thousand Little Sisters are spread around the world. They find themselves in humanly difficult situations, with the littlest and the poorest. They are not there primarily to take care, to educate and to catechize – although they do these things well –, but to love, to be with the littlest ones, as Jesus did, to proclaim the Gospel with a simple life made up of work, presence, friendship, and unconditional hospitality. It’s important, it’s of vital importance for you to return constantly to this original experience of the closeness of God, who gives Himself meek and humble to us, to save us and fill us with His love. And this love of God must be expressed more in the evangelization of gestures than of words: a smile, silence, adoration, patience. There comes to mind that dialogue between the oak and the almond tree. The oak said to the almond tree: “Speak to me of God,” and the almond tree flowered. This is what the Church asks of you: to flower, to flower with gestures of love of God.
Above all, dear Sisters, do it in such a way as to maintain your spiritual life fervent. Because it’s from this love, received from God incessantly and always new, that your love overflows for brothers and sisters. It’s of this spiritual life that young people have thirst and that enables them to respond in turn to the Lord’s invitation. It’s from this spiritual life that the evangelical testimony gushes that the poor await. Recipes are useful, but after; if this doesn’t exist, they have no effect.
Don’t be afraid to go forward, carrying in your hearts little Baby Jesus in all the places where the littlest ones are in our world. Remain free of ties to works and things, free to love those you encounter, wherever the Spirit leads you. Free to fly, free to dream. The difficulties of the present time make you share the sorrows of so many brothers: you also, together with them, sometimes find yourselves constrained to close or abandon your houses to flee elsewhere; you also know the trial of age, of solitude and of suffering; you also experience the harshness of the journey when it’s about trying to remain faithful while crossing deserts. However, in all of this, the love you bear in your hearts makes you free women attached to the essential.
Have at heart the quality of fraternal life in your communities. Despite the trials, Little Sister Magdalene, following Jesus, poor among the poor, found true joy, a joy that she shared with all, beginning with her Sisters. Simplicity and joy belong to consecrated life, and to yours in a particular way. The Child Jesus was joyful at Nazareth; He surely played and laughed with Mary and Joseph, with the children of His age and with his neighbors. To rediscover the taste of community life, it’s necessary to always seek simplicity, affection, little attentions, service, wonder.
It’s from this fraternity between you that the service of authority is born. The exercise of responsibility, in the Church, is rooted in the common and fraternal will to listen to the Lord, to put oneself in His school and to live from His Spirit, so that His Kingdom can spread to all hearts. It’s in this context of common and fraternal listening that dialogue and obedience find a place. And in such obedience all the Little Sisters grow, as the Child Jesus, “in wisdom, age and grace before God and men” (Luke 2:52).
Fraternity lived among you opens your hearts to fraternity towards all. Your Founder invited you to be “Arabs among the Arabs, nomads among the nomads, laborers among the laborers and, above all, human among human beings” (Annie of Jesus, Little Sister Magdalene of Jesus. The Experience of Bethlehem to the End of the World, Cerf, 2008, p. 184). Lunaparkists with Lunaparkists, as here at Rome. And it’s thus that the Institute spread in many countries and you found so many of these little ones, of all races, languages and religions. Your hearts have no barriers. Naturally, you can’t change the world by yourselves, but you can illuminate it by bringing the joy of the Gospel to neighborhoods, streets, mixed in the crowds always close to the littlest ones.
You yourselves, being among the little ones that the Blessed Virgin presents to her Son Jesus our Lord, can count on her maternal intercession, as well as on the prayer of the Church for your Institute, especially on the occasion of this General Chapter.
I truly thank you; I thank you for your visit, and I ask you, please, to pray for me. Thank you.
[Original text: Italian]
© ZENIT’’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester