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Pope’s Address to Clergy, Men and Women Religious, Seminarians of Ecuador

“Do not fall into spiritual Alzheimer’s, do not lose your memory, above all, the memory of where you were taken from.”

Here is a translation of the Pope’s improvised address to the clergy, men and women religious and seminarians of Ecuador today at the Shrine of Our Lady of El Quinche.

* * *

Good morning brothers and sisters:

In these two days, these 48 hours that I have been in contact with you, I’ve noticed something odd – forgive me – something odd in the Ecuadorian people. In all the places I go, the welcome is always joyful, happy, cordial, religious, pious. Everywhere. But here, there was something in the piety, in the way of acting, for example, in asking for the blessing, from the oldest person to even the baby! That the first thing they learn is to be like this (gestures with his hands folded in prayer).

There was something different. I also had the temptation, like the bishop of Sucumbíos, of asking: what’s the secret of this people? And I was thinking in my mind and prayed. And I asked Jesus several times in prayer: “What do these people have that is different?” And praying this morning it came to me: that consecration to the Sacred Heart. I think I should say it as a message from Jesus. All this richness that you have, the spiritual richness of piety, of depth, comes from having had the courage – even though there were very difficult times – of consecrating the nation to the heart of Christ, that divine and human heart that loves us so much. And I notice it with a little bit of that, divine and human [nature]. Of course, you are sinners, so am I, but the Lord forgives all. And you guard this. Then, several years later, there was the consecration to the heart of Mary. Do not forget that consecration is a milestone in the history of the people of Ecuador. And from that consecration I feel how that grace that you have comes, that piety, that thing that makes you different.

Today I have to speak to the priests, to the seminarians, men and women religious and tell you something. I have an address prepared. But I do not feel like reading it. So, I’ll give it to the president of the Conference of Religious Men and Women so that he can publish it later.

I thought of the Virgin, of Mary, two words of Mary. My memory is failing me, but I don’t know if she said anything else. “Be it done to me [according to Your Word]”. Well, yes, she asked the angel for an explanation as to why She was chosen. “Be it done to me.” And the other word is: “Do what He tells you.”

Mary did not star in anything. She “discipled” Her whole life. The first disciple of her Son. She was aware that everything that came through Her was by God’s pure gratuitousness. She was aware of [that] gratuity. Therefore, make manifest the gratuitousness of God. Men and women religious, priests, seminarians, every day, return, make this journey back towards the gratuitousness with which God has chosen you. You did not pay an entrance fee to enter the seminary, to enter religious life. You did not deserve it. If any religious, priest, seminarian or nun here believes that they deserve it, raise your hand. Everything [was given] freely. And the life of a man or woman religious, a priest, a seminarian that goes on that path – and now that we’re talking, bishops as well – must go on this path of gratuitousness, to return every day [and pray]: “Lord, today I did this, this was good, I had this difficulty, all this, but everything comes from you.” Everything is free. That gratuitousness, we are objects of gratuity of God. If we forget this, slowly we start feeling important. “Look at what that one is doing, or look at that one they made a bishop in that place, how important. Or this one was made a Monsignor. Or that one” … And there slowly we depart from the foundation from which Mary never departed: the gratuity of God. [Here is] some brotherly advice: every day, maybe in the evening, before going to sleep, look to Jesus and tell Him: “Everything you gave me freely” and situate yourself once again. Then, when I am relocated or when there is a difficulty, I do not kick and scream because everything is given freely. I do not deserve anything; that is what Mary did.

Saint John Paul II, in Redemptoris Mater – I recommend that you read it; get it, read it. It is true, Saint John Paul II had circular way of thinking; he was a professor and a man of God.  So it must be read several times to extract all its juice. And it says that maybe Mary – I don’t remember the phrase too well – I want to cite the gist of it. In the moment of the Cross in her faithfulness, She may have had the desire to say: “And they told me that this one would be a King? I was tricked!” She didn’t allow Herself to say that, because she was the woman who knew that she received everything freely. Some brotherly and fatherly advice: every night re-situate yourselves in this gratuity. And say: “Be it done to me, thank you because You gave me everything.”

A second thing that I wanted to say is to take care of your health but above all, be careful not to fall into a sickness: a sickness that is somewhat dangerous, or rather very dangerous to those who the Lord has called freely to follow him or to serve him.

Do not fall into spiritual Alzheimer’s, do not lose your memory, above all, the memory of where you were taken from. That scene of the prophet Samuel when he is sent to anoint the King of Israel. He goes to Bethlehem, to the house of a man called Jesse, who has seven or eight sons. And God tells him that among those sons is the king. Of course, he sees them and says, “it must be this one,” this is the oldest one: tall, big, handsome, he looked courageous. God tells him: “No, not that one.” God’s gaze is different from that of man. And he sees all the sons and God tells him, “No, not that one.” And the prophet doesn’t know what to do. And he asks the father: “Do you not have another one?” And he tells him: “Yes, the youngest one there taking care of sheep.” “Call him over.” And this little guy comes, he must be 17, 18 years old. And God says: “That’s the one.” They take him from the back of the flock.

And another prophet, when God says to do certain things, he says: “And who am I if I was taken from the back of the flock.” They did not forget where they were taken from, they do not deny their roots.

Saint Paul sensed the danger of losing this memory, and to his beloved child, the bishop Timothy who he ordained, he gives pastoral advice. But there is one that touches the heart. “Do not forget the faith that your grandmother and mother had,” that is, do not forget where you were taken from, do not forget your roots, do not feel promoted.

Gratuity is a grace that cannot coexist with promotion. And when a priest, a seminarian, a man or woman religious, enters into a career, not evil, but a human career, they begin to be sick with spiritual Alzheimer’s. And they begin to lose the memory of where they were taken from. Two principles for you priests, consecrated men and women: every day renew the feeling that everything is given freely. The feeling of gratuitousness in each of your elections. None of us deserved it. And ask for the grace of not losing the memory, of not feeling more important [than others].

It is very sad when one sees a priest or a consecrated man or woman who in their home spoke a dialect, another language, one of those noble ancient languages that the people of Ecuador have. It is very sad when you forget the language. It is very sad when you do not want to speak it. That means that you forget where you were taken from. Do not forget that. Ask for that grace.

Those are the two principles that I wish to highlight. And those two principles if you live them every day, it is a work of every day, of every night to remember those two principles and to ask for the grace. Those two principles, if they are lived, will give in life, make one live with two attitudes.

The first is service. God chose me, he took me out. For what? To serve and that service that is peculiar to me: “I have my time, I have my things, I have this, no, I am going to close the office. Yes, I should go to bless the houses but I am too tired.” Today, there is a good soap opera on the television – for the nuns.

And so service, to serve, to serve and not do anything else. And to serve when we are tired. And serve when we are fed up with people.

An old priest once told me, who was a professor his whole life, in colleges and universities, he taught literature, he was a genius. When he retired he asked the provincial to send him to a poor neighborhood, one of those neighborhoods that are formed by outsiders, who migrate looking for work, very simple people. And this religious man would go once a week to his community and speak, he was very intelligent; it was a community of the faculty of theology. He would speak to the other priests on theology at the same level, and one day he says to one: “Who here teaches ecclesiology?” One professor [stood up]. He then says: “You are missing two theses.” Which ones? “The holy faithful people of God is essentially Olympian, because they do what they want, and ontologically tiresome.” And that is full of wisdom, because he who goes on the path of service has to let themselves be fed up without losing patience because they are at the service of others. No moment belongs to them. No moment belongs to them. I am here to serve, to serve in what I must do, to serve in front of the Tabernacle, praying for my people, praying for my work, for the people God has entrusted to me. Service mixed with gratuitousness and then that of Jesus: “what you have received freely, give freely.”

Please, please, do not charge for grace. Please. May our pastoral [ministry] be free; it is awful when one begins to lose this sense of gratuity, it’s transformed. Yes, they do good things but they have lost that.

And the second attitude that is seen in a consecrated man or woman, a priest that lives this gratuity and memory, these two principles, gratuity and memory, is joy and happiness. That is gift from Jesus. It is a gift that is given if we ask for it and if we do not forget those two pillars of our priestly or religious life; that is the sense of gratuity, renewed every day, and to not lose the memory of where we were taken from.

I wish this for you, “Yes Father, you spoke to us that the secret of our people was because of the Sacred Heart.” Yes, that is true. I propose to you another secret that is in the same line of Jesus’ heart:  a sense of gratuitousness. He made Himself nothing, He lowered Himself, He humbled Himself, He made Himself poor to enrich us with his poverty. Pure gratuitousness. The sense of memory: let us remember the wonders that the Lord did in our life.

May the Lord give you this grace to all of  you; may he give it to all of us who are here, and that He continue to – I was going to say awarding –  that he continues blessing this Ecuadorian people whom you must serve and are called to serve, may He continue to bless you with that peculiarity that I noticed in the beginning when I arrived here.

May Jesus bless and the Virgin Mary care for you.

 

[Translation by Junno Arocho Esteves]

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