The crisis of religious vocations is not only the effective diminution of consecrations but also the high rate of abandonments. The phenomenon poses a problem of “fidelity” and is not framed only in the context of an “epoch of change” but in a “change of epoch,” noted Pope Francis during his audience today, in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, to participants in the Plenary Session of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
In fact, “fidelity” to one’s vocation was the subject chosen by the assembly: an “important” topic, stressed the Pope, at a time in which this “fidelity” is being “put to the test,” as the statistics also demonstrate.
He said the Church is facing a “hemorrhage” that weakens consecrated life and the life itself of the Church, and noted that these abandonments are “very worrying.”
As verified by the participants in the Plenary Session, we are not living a simple “epoch of change” but a “change of epoch,” in which it is difficult to assume serious and definitive commitments, also because of a “cultural and social context,” which immerses us in the “culture of the fragment, of the provisional, which can lead to living a la carte and to being slaves of fashions” and of “consumerism,” forgetting the beauty of a simple and austere life” and causing many times a great existential void.
Hence, the Holy Father lamented the “strong practical relativism, according to which everything is judged dependent upon a self-fulfilment that is often foreign to the values of the Gospel, where “economic rules substitute moral <rules>, dictating laws and imposing one’s own systems of reference at the expense of the values of life.
In “a society where the dictatorship of money or profit advocates a vision of existence by which one who does not produce is discarded,” it is evident that “one must first let oneself be evangelized to then be committed in evangelization,” glossed Francis.
In face of this, it is necessary to deal with the “world of youth,” which is “complex” and, at the same time, “rich and challenging”: on one hand, there are “not a few” young people who are “very generous, solidaristic and committed at the religious and social level”; many of them “seek a true spiritual life” and “hunger for something different from what the world offers.”
Other young people, however, are “victims of the logic of worldliness,” or “of success at any price, of easy money and easy pleasure”: it is the Church’s task, affirmed the Pontiff, “to be alongside them to infect them with the joy of the Gospel and of belonging to Christ. This culture must be evangelized if we do not want young people to succumb.”
The Pontiff did not fail to stigmatize “situations of counter-testimony, which render fidelity difficult” within consecrated life itself: “routine, exhaustion, the burden of the management of structures, internal divisions, the quest for power, a worldly way of governing the Institutes, a service of authority that sometimes becomes authoritarianism and at other times ‘laissez-faire.’
If consecrated life wants to keep “its prophetic mission and its attraction” and continue to be a “school of fidelity to “those who are near and those who are far off (cf. Ephesians 2:17),” it must “maintain the freshness and novelty of the centrality of Jesus, the attraction of spirituality and the strength of the mission, show the beauty of the following of Christ and radiate hope and joy,” affirmed Francis.
“Fraternal life in community” is nourished “by community prayer, by prayerful reading of the Word, by active participation in the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation, by fraternal dialogue and by sincere communication among its members, by fraternal correction, by mercy towards a brother or sister who sins, by the sharing of responsibilities,” accompanied “by an eloquent and joyous testimony of a simple life alongside the poor and by a mission that favors the existential peripheries.” When a man or woman Religious does not find the support of their Community, they will go to “seek it outside, with all that this implies,” admonished the Pope.
A religious vocation is a true and proper “treasure,” gift of Jesus Christ and, therefore, is preserved from the logics of “worldliness” and from little deviations and distractions that, in the long run, can give way to “great infidelities”: the antidote is to “keep one’s gaze fixed on the Lord,” so that “no one robs us of this treasure and so that it does not lose its beauty with the passing of time,” he added.
Needed are “brothers and sisters experts in the ways of God, to be able to do what Jesus did with the disciples of Emmaus: to accompany them on the journey of life and in the moment of disorientation and to rekindle faith and hope in them, through the Word and the Eucharist (cf. Luke 24:13-35).
“Accompaniment” and “spiritual direction” specified Francis, are “lay” charisms, which can be carried out by priests or by non-presbyterial figures, such as laymen or Sisters
The Holy Father lamented that many vocations “are lost because of a lack of valid ‘accompaniers’”: to be avoided, therefore, are all forms of accompaniment that create dependencies, which protect, control and render infantile; we cannot be resigned to walk on our own. Close, frequent and fully adult accompaniment is necessary.
Therefore, an accompanier must be “completely detached from prejudices and personal or group interests and foster a discernment that is not limited to the choice “between the good and the bad, but between the good and the better between what is good and that which leads to identification with Christ,” concluded Francis.