On Saturday, Pope Francis met with consecrated men and women of the Diocese of Rome.
The Pope answered questions posed to him by some of those taking part in the meeting.
Here is a ZENIT translation of the transcription of the dialogue.
First question (Sister Fulvia Sieni, Augustinian of the convent of the Four Crowned Saints)
The convents live a delicate balance between hiddenness and visibility, cloister and involvement in diocesan life, prayerful silence and the proclamation of the word. In what way can an urban convent enrich and be enriched by the spiritual life of the diocese and by other forms of consecrated life, keeping itself firm in its monastic prerogatives?
You speak of a delicate balance between hiddenness and visibility. I would say more: a tension between hiddenness and visibility. The monastic vocation is this tension, tension in the vital sense, tension of fidelity. The balance can be understood as “we balance so much here, so much there …” Instead, the tension is God’s call to the hidden life and God’s call to make oneself visible in a certain way. However, how must this visibility be and how must this hidden life be? It is this tension that you live in your soul. This is your vocation: you are women “in tension”: in tension between an attitude of seeking the Lord and of hiding yourself in the Lord, and a call to give a sign. The walls of the convent are not sufficient to give a sign. I received a letter some six or seven months ago, from a cloistered nun who began to work with the poor, in the porter’s lodge; and then she went out to work outside with the poor; and then she went farther and father, and in the end she said: “My cloister is the world.” I answered her: “Tell me, dear, do you have a portable grille?” This is a mistake.
Another error is not to want to feel anything, to see anything. “Father, can news come into the convent?” It must! But not the news – let’s say – of media “gossip”; the news of what is happening in the world, the news – for instance – of wars, of sicknesses, of people’s suffering. Therefore one of the things that you must never, never leave is a time to listen to the people! — also in the hours of contemplation, of silence. Some convents have a telephone secretariat and people call, they ask for prayer for this, for that: this connection with the world is important! In some convents the television news is watched; I don’t know, this is the discernment of every convent, according to the Rule. In others the newspaper arrives and is read; in others this connection is made in another way. Because your vocation isn’t a refuge; it is in fact to go into the battlefield, it is struggle, it is to knock at the Lord’s heart for that city. It is like Moses who held up his arms, praying, while the people fought (cf. Exodus 17:8-13).
So many graces come from the Lord in this tension between the hidden life, prayer, and hearing the news of the people. In this area prudence, discernment, will make you understand how much time to spend on one thing, how much time on another. There are also convents that work half an hour a day, an hour a day feeding those who come to ask for this, and this does not go against hiddenness in God. It is a service; it is a smile. The smile of nuns opens the heart! The smile of nuns feeds those who come more than bread! This week it is your turn to give that half hour to feed the needy! Don’t forget this. A Sister who is unable to smile is lacking something.
There are problems, fights in the convent – as in every family – little fights, a jealousy, this thing or that thing. And this makes you understand how much people suffer in families, the fights in families; when husband and wife quarrel and when there are jealousies; when families separate … When you also have this type of trial – there are always these things — to know that that is not the way and to offer it to the Lord, seeking a path of peace, within the convent, that the Lord may make peace in families, among people.
“But tell me, Father, we often read that in the world, in the city, there is corruption; can there be corruption also in convents?” Yes, when memory is lost; when memory is lost! –the memory of the vocation, of the first encounter with God, of the charism that founded the convent. When this memory is lost and the soul begins to be worldly, thinks of worldly things and loses that zeal of the prayer of intercession for people. You have said a very good, good, good word: the convent is present in the city, God is in the city and we hear the noises of the city. Those noises, which are noises of life, noises of problems, noises of so many people who are going to work, who are returning form work, who think these things, who love …; all these noises must push you to fight with God with the courage that Moses had. Remember when Moses was sad, because the people were going on a mistaken path. The Lord lost patience and said to Moses: “I will destroy this people!. But you stay calm, I will make you head of another people.” What did Moses say? What did he say? “No! If you destroy this people, destroy me also!” (cf. Exodus 32:9-14). The city is your bond with your people. To say to the Lord: “This is my city; it is my people. They are my brothers and my sisters.” This means to give one’s life for the people. This delicate balance, this delicate tension means all this.
I don’t know how you Augustinians of the Four Saints do this: is there the possibility to receive people in the Parlour … How many grilles do you have, four or five? Or is there no longer a grille. It is true that one can slip into some imprudence, give too much time to talking – Saint Teresa says many things on this – but to see your joy, to see the promise of prayer, of intercession, does so much good to people! And you, after a half hour of chatting, return to the Lord. This is very important, very important! — because the cloister is always in need of this human connection. This is very important.
The last question is: how can a convent let itself be enriched by the spiritual life of the diocese and of the other ways of consecrated life, keeping itself firm in its monastic prerogatives? Yes, the diocese: to pray for the Bishop, for the Auxiliary Bishops and for the priests. There are good confessors everywhere! Some are not so good …. but there are good ones! I know priests who go to convents to hear what a nun has to say, and you do so much good to priests. Pray for the priests. In this delicate balance, in this delicate tension there is also prayer for priests. Think of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus … Pray for priests, but also listen to priests, listen to them when they come, in those minutes in the Parlour. Listen. I know many, many priests that – allow me the word – who find relief in speaking with a cloistered nun. And then the smile, the little word and the Sister’s assurance of prayer renews them and they return happy to the parish. I don’t know if I’ve answered …
Second question (Iwona Langa, Ordo virginum, Ain Karim Family-Home)
Christian marriage and virginity are two ways to carry out the vocation to love. Fidelity, perseverance, unity of heart, are commitments and challenges be it for Christian spouses be it for us, consecrated: how can we illumine the way for one another and walk together toward the Kingdom?
Like the first Sister, Sister Fulvia Sieni, was – let’s say – “in prison,” this other Sister is “on the street.” Both bring the word of God to the city. You asked a good question” “Is love in marriage and love in consecrated life the same love? Does it have that quality of perseverance, of fidelity, of unity of heart? Are there commitments and challenges? Because of this the consecrated call themselves Brides of the Lord. They marry the Lord. I had an uncle whose daughter became a nun and he said: “Now I am the brother-in-law of the Lord! My daughter has married the Lord.” There is a spousal dimension in feminine consecration. Also in masculine consecration: it is said of the Bishop that he is “spouse of the Church,” because he takes Jesus’ place, spouse of the Church. However this feminine dimension – I’m going somewhat outside the question, to turn to you – is very important in women. The Sisters are the icon of the Church and of Our Lady. Don’t forget that the Church is feminine. And, therefore, the Church is the Bride of Jesus. We forget this so often; and we forget this maternal love of a Sister, because the love of the Church is maternal; this maternal love of a Sister, because Our Lady’s love is maternal. Fidelity, the expression of love of the consecrated woman, must – but not be a duty but must be co-natural — to reflect fidelity, love, the tenderness of Mother Church and of Mother Mary. A woman that does not enter on this way to consecrate herself, in the end errs. The maternity of the consecrated woman! Think a lot about this. How Mary is maternal and how the Church is maternal.
And you were asking: how to illumine the way of one another, for one another, and to walk towards the Kingdom? The love of Mary and the love of the Church is a concrete love! Concreteness is the quality of this maternity of women, of Sisters. But what did Saint Teresa do? What advice did the great Saint Teresa give the Superior? “Give her a beefsteak and then we’ll talk.” Make her come down to reality. Concreteness. And the concreteness of love is very difficult. It’s very difficult. And more so when one lives in Community, because we all know the problems of a Community: jealousies, gossip, that this Superior is this, and the other is that … These are concrete things, but not good! The concreteness of goodness, of love, that forgives everything! If a truth must be said, it is said to the face, but with love; pray before reprimanding and then ask the Lord to take the correction forward. It is concrete love! A Sister cannot have a love in the clouds. No, love is concrete.
And how is the concreteness of the consecrated woman? How is it? You can find it in two passages of the Gospel. In the Beatitudes: they tell you what you must do. Jesus’ program is concrete. I often think that the Beatitudes are the first Encyclical of the Church. It’s true, because the whole program is there. And then you find concreteness in the protocol on which we will all be judged: Matthew 25. The concreteness of the consecrated woman is there. With these two passages you can live the whole of consecrated life; with these two rules, with these two concrete things, making these things concrete. And by making these things concrete you can arrive also to a degree, to a very great height of sanctity and of prayer. But what is needed is concreteness: love is concrete! And your love as women is a concrete maternal love. A mother never runs down her children. But if you are a Sister, in a convent or in a lay Community, you have this maternal consecration and it is not licit for you to run down the other Sisters! No. Always excuse them, always!
That passage of the autobiography of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus is beautiful, when she met the Sister who hated her. What did she do? She smiled and went on. A smile of love. And what did she do when she had to accompany that Sister who was always unhappy, because she was lame in both legs and the poor thing was sick: what did she do? She did the best! She carried her well and then also cut her bread, she did something more for her. But never a hidden criticism! That destroys maternity. A mother that criticizes, who runs down her children isn’t a mother! I believe they say “stepmother” in Italian. She is not a mother. I’ll say this to you: love – and you see that it is also conjugal; it is the same figure, the figure of the maternity of the Church – it is concreteness. Concreteness. I recommend that you do this exercise: read the Beatitudes often, and read Matthew 25 often, the protocol of the Judgment. This does so much good for the concreteness of the Gospel. I don’t know, shall we finish here?
Third question (Father Gaetano Sarackino, Scalabrini Missionary, Parish Priest of the Most Holy Redeemer)
How to put in common and make fruitful the gifts of which the different charisms in this local Church so rich in talents are bearers? Often the communication alone is difficult of the different ways, we are incapable of putting together the strengths among the Congregations, parishes, other pastoral organisms, lay Associations and Movements, almost as if there were competitiveness instead of shared service. Sometimes, then, we consecrated feel like “stopgaps.” How can we “walk together”?
I was in that parish and I know what this revolutionary priest does: he works well! He works well! You have begun to speak of celebration. It is one of the things that we Christians forget: celebration. But celebration is a theological category; it is also in the Bible. When you go home, take Deuteronomy 26. There Moses says in the name of the Lord what the farmers must do every year: to take the first fruits of the harvest to the Temple. He says thus: “You go to the Temple, take the basket with the first fruits to offer in thanksgiving.” And then? First, remember. And he makes him recite a little creed: “A wandering Aramaean was my father, God called him; we were slaves in Egypt, but the Lord freed us he and gave us this land …” (cf. Deuteronomy 26:5-9). First, the memory; second, give the basket to the one in charge. Third, he thanks the Lord. And fourth he returns home and celebrates. He celebrates and invites those who don’t have a family; he invites the slaves, those who aren’t free, he also invites his neighbor to the celebration. Celebration is a theological category of life. And consecrated life can’t be lived without this festive dimension. One celebrates. But to celebrate is not the same as to make a din, noise To celebrate is what is in that passage that I quoted. Remember it: Deuteronomy 26. It is the end of a prayer: it is the joy of remembering all that the Lord has done for us; all that he has given me, also that fruit for which I labored and celebrate.
In the Communities, also in parishes as is your case, where there is no celebration – when there should be – something is lacking! They are too rigid: “It will be good for discipline.” Everything is ordered: the children make their very beautiful Communion, a good catechism is taught, but something is lacking: din is lacking, noise is lacking, celebration is lacking! The festive heart of a community is lacking. Celebration. Some spiritual writers say that also the Eucharist, the celebration of the Eucharist is a feast: yes, it is a festive dimension in commemorating the Death and Resurrection of the Lord. I did not want this lost, because it wasn’t in fact in your question, but in your interior reflection.
And then you speak of competitiveness between this and that parish, this and that Congregation. One of the most difficult things for a Bishop is to have harmony in the diocese! And you say: “But for the Bishop the Religious are stopgaps? This can happens sometimes …. However, I ask you another question. When they make you a Bishop, for instance – put yourself in the place of the Bishop – there is a parish, with a very good religious parish priest; three years later the Provincial comes and says to you: “I am changing this one and sending you another.” The Bishops also suffer because of this attitude. Very often – not always, because there are Religious who enter into dialogue with the Bishop – we must do our part. “We have had a Chapter and the Chapter has decided this …” So many women and men Religious spend their life if not in Chapters in verses …But they always spend it thus! I take the liberty to speak this way, because I am a Bishop and a Religious. And I understand both sides, and I understand the problems. It’s true: unity among the different charisms, the unity of the presbytery, unity with the Bishop. And this isn’t easy to find: each one pulls for his own interest, I don’t say always, but there is this tendency, it’s human. And there is some sin behind it, but it is like this.
Therefore, at this time the Church is thinking of offering an old document, to revive it, on the relations between the Religious and the Bishop. The ’94 Synod requested that it be reformed, the Mutuae relationes” (May 14, 1978). So many years have passed and it has not been done. The relation of the Religious with the Bishop, with the diocese or with non-Religious priests isn’t easy. However, it is necessary to commit oneself to common work. In the prefectures, how is work done on the pastoral plane in these quarters, all together? Thus the Church is made. The Bishop must not use the Religious as stopgaps, but the Religious must not use the Bishop as if he were the boss of a firm that gives work. I don’t know … But the celebration, I want to return to the main thing: when there is a Community, without personal interests, there is always a spirit of celebration. I have seen your parish and it’s true. You are able to do it! Thank you.
Fourth question (Father Gaetano Greco, Capuchin Tertiary of the Addolorata, Chaplain of the Minors Prison of Casal del Marmo)
Consecrated life is a gift of God to the Church, a gift of God to his People. However, this gift is not always appreciated and valued in its identity and its specificity. Often Communities, especially the feminine ones of our local Church, have difficulty in finding serious men and women supporters, formators, spiritual directors and confessors. How can this richness be rediscovered? 80% of consecrated life has a feminine face. How is it possible to appreciate the presence of woman and, in particular, of the consecrated woman in the Church?
In his reflection, while telling his story, Father Gaetano spoke of that “substitution of 2-3 weeks” that he had to do in the minors prison. He has been there for 45 years, I believe. He has done so out of obedience. “Your place is there,” his Superior said to him. And he obeyed him reluctantly. Then he saw that that act of obedience, what the Superior had requested of him, was the will of God. Before answering the question, permit me to say a word about obedience. When Paul wants to tell us the mystery of Jesus Christ he uses this word: when he wants to tell how the fruitfulness of Jesus Christ was he uses this word: “he became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (cf. Philippians 2:8). He humbled himself. He obeyed. The mystery of Christ is a mystery of obedience, and obedience is fruitful. It’s true that as every virtue, as every theological place, it can be tempted to become a disciplinary attitude. However, obedience in consecrated life is a mystery. And just as I said that a consecrated woman is an icon of Mary and of the Church, we can say that obedience is the icon of Jesus’ way. When Jesus was incarnated out of obedience, was made man out of obedience, to the cross and to death. The mystery of obedience is not understood except in the light of this way of Jesus. The mystery of obedience is a being similar to Jesus in the way he wished to follow. And the fruits are seen. And I thank Father Gaetano for his testimony on this point, because many words are said about obedience – the previous dialogue, yes all these things are good, they are not bad – but what is obedience? Go to Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, chapter 2: it is the mystery of Jesus. Only there can we understand obedience. Not at General or Provincial Chapters: there it can be reflected upon further, but it can only be understood in the mystery of Jesus.
Now we pass to the question: consecrated life is a gift, a gift of God to the Church. It’s true. It’s a gift of God. You speak of prophecy: it is a gift of prophecy. It is God present. God who wishes to make himself present with a gift: he chooses men and women, but it is a gift, a free gift. A vocation is also a gift; it is not an enlistment of people that want to take that way. No, it is a gift to the heart of a person; the gift to a Congregation; and that Congregation is also a gift. However, this gift is not always appreciated and valued in its identity and in its specificity. This is true. There is the temptation to homologize the consecrated as if they were all the same thing. In Vatican II there was a proposal of this sort, to homologize the consecrated. No, it is a gift with a particular identity, which comes through the charismatic gift that God makes to a man or a woman to form a Religious Family.
And then there is a problem: the problem of how to support the Religious. Often the Communities, especially the feminine, in our local Church have difficulty in finding serious men and women supporters, formators, spiritual Fathers and confessors. Either because they don’t understand what consecrated life is, or because they want to get into the charism and give interpretations that harm the heart of a Sister. We are speaking of the Sisters that have difficulties, but the men also have them. And it isn’t easy to accompany. It’s not easy to find a confessor, a spiritual Father. It’s not easy to find a man with rectitude of intentions: and that spiritual direction, confession not become a good chat between friends but without profundity; or to find those that are rigid, who don’t understand well where the problem lies, because they don’t understand the religious life. In the other dioceses I had, I always advised the Sisters who came for advice: “Tell me, in your Community or in your Congregation, isn’t here a wise Sister, a Sister who lives the charism well, a good Sister of experience? Have your spiritual direction with her!” “But she’s a woman!” “But it is a charism of the laity!” Spiritual direction is not an exclusive charism of the presbyters: it is a charism of the laity!” In primitive monasticism the laity were the great directors. Now I’m reading the doctrine, in fact, on obedience of Saint Silvanus, a monk of Mount Athos. He was a carpenter, he did carpentry, then a bursar, but he wasn’t even a deacon; he was a great spiritual director! It’s a charism of the laity. And when the Superiors see that a man or a woman in a Congregation or Province has that charism of spiritual Father, they must try to have him formed for this service. It’s not easy. A spiritual director is one thing, and a confessor is another. I go to the confessor, tell my sins, feel the blow, then he forgives me everything and I go forward. However, I must tell the spiritual director what is in my heart. The examination of conscience is not the same for confession and for spiritual direction. For confession you must see where you have failed, lost patience, if you have had cupidity, these things, concrete things, which are sinful. But for spiritual direction you must examine what has happened in your heart, the motions of the spirit, if I have had desolation, if I have had consolation, if I am tired, why I am sad: these are the things of which to speak with a male or female spiritual director. These are the things. Superiors have the responsibility to see who in the Community, in the Congregation, in the Province has this charism, then give them this mission and form them, help them in this. To accompany on the way and to go step by step with a consecrated brother or sister. I believe that in this we are still immature. We haven’t matured in this, because spiritual direction comes from discernment. However, when you find yourself before consecrated men and women who are not able to discern what is happening in their heart, who do not know how to discern a decision, it is a lack of spiritual direction. And only a wise man or a wise woman can do this.
But they must also be formed! Today one cannot proceed only with good will: today the world is very complex and the human sciences also help us, without falling into psychologism, but they help us to see the way. They must be formed by reading the great, the great men and women spiritual directors, especially of monasticism. I don’t know if you have contact with the works of primitive monasticism: how much wisdom of spiritual direction there was there! It’s important to form them with this.
How to rediscover this richness? 80% of consecrated life has a feminine face: it’s true, there are more consecrated women than men. How is it possible to appreciate the presence of woman, and in particular of consecrated woman, in the Church? But I repeat a bit in what I’m about to say: to also give consecrated woman this function that many believe is only of priests; and also to give concreteness to the fact that a consecrated woman is the face of Mother Church and of Mother Mary and, namely, to go forward with maternity, and maternity is not only to make children! Maternity is to accompany to grow; maternity is to spend hours at the side of a sick person, a sick child, a sick brother; it is to spend life in love, with a love of tenderness and of maternity. We will find the role of women in the Church increasingly on this way.
Father Gaetano has touched on several subjects, so it is difficult for me to answer … But when they say to me: “No! Women should be heads of dicasteries in the Church, for instance!” Yes, they can, they can be in some dicasteries; but what you ask is simple functionalism. It is not to rediscover the role of woman in the Church. It’s more profound and it goes on this path. Yes, she can do these things, which are promoted – we now have in Rome one who is Rector of a University, and we welcome her! – but this isn’t the triumph. No, no. This is a great thing, it’s a functional thing, but the essential of woman’s role goes – I will say it in non-theological terms – in being so that she expresses her feminine genius. When we address a problem among men, we come to a conclusion; however, if we address the same problem with women, the conclusion is different. It goes on the same path, but richer, stronger, more intuitive. Therefore, woman must have this role in the Church; it must be made explicit, help to make explicit the feminine genius in many ways.
I think that with this I have been able to answer the questions and yours. And in connection with the feminine genius, I have spoken of smiling, of patience in the life of the Community, and I would like to say a word to this 97-year-old Sister that I greeted. She is there, I see her well. Raise your hand, so that all can see you. I exchanged two or three words with her; she looked at me with limpid eyes; she looked at me with that smile of a sister, a mother, a grandmother. I wish to render homage in her to perseverance in the consecrated life. Some think that consecrated life is paradise on earth. No! — perhaps Purgatory, but not Paradise. It’s not easy to go forward. And when I see a person who has spent her life, I thank the Lord. Through you, Sister, I thank all the consecrated women and men. Thank you so much!