“Every day, you live the life of someone who lives in the world, and at the same time protect the dimension of contemplation, in relation to the Lord and to the world; contemplating reality, contemplating the beauty of the world, and also the great sins of society, deviations, all these things, and always in spiritual tension,” said Pope Francis. “For this reason, your vocation is fascinating, as it is a vocation that is located right there, where the salvation of not only people but also institutions is at play.”
“In the heart of human history: the challenges of a complex society” was the theme of the assembly of the Institutes of Secular Life, a form of consecrated life that has more adherents in Italy than in any other country in the world, and which was established “with a revolutionary gesture in the Church” by Pope Pius XII with the apostolic constitution “Provida Mater Ecclesia” in 1947.
The Holy Father, receiving in audience the participants in the assembly Saturday morning, set aside his official address and spoke to them off-the-cuff, underlining that the secular Institutes are “effectively an act of bravery on the part of the Church in that moment, giving structure and institutional character” to them.
“Do not forget: be revolutionaries!” he said.
Saying he wished for them hope, he reminded them “that many of our forefathers have taken that road and have not seen the results, but they perceived them from afar.” They, likewise have and can have an impact on the Church, said Francis, thanking them for what they’ve done for the Church and for their prayer, action and hope.
“I hope that you will always maintain this attitude of going beyond, not only beyond, but even further, where everything is at play: politics, the economy, education, the family.
Saying it is possible that “at times you are tempted to think, ‘But what can I do?’” the Pope added that “when this temptation rears, remember that the Lord has spoken to us about the grain of wheat. And your life is like the grain of wheat. It is like leaven. Do everything possible so that the Kingdom might come, grow and be great, and that it may protect many people, like the mustard tree. Think about this.”
He noted that even the small things count. “A small life, a small gesture; a normal life, but it is leaven, it is a seed, it allows growth. And this brings consolation. The results in the balance of the Kingdom of God cannot be seen, but only the Lord enables us to perceive something … We will see the results there, above.”
“This is why it is important to have so much hope! It is a grace that you must ask of the Lord, always: the hope that never disappoints. A hope that goes ahead.”
Turning to secular institutes’ contributions, Francis discussed the “great good” they have done for the Church, saying they have done so “with bravery, as it takes bravery to live in the world.” (D.C.L.)
The Pope then handed the participants a copy of his official discourse, extensive extracts from which are published below:
The vocation of the Secular Institutes is “one of the most recent forms of consecrated life recognised and approved by the Church and which is therefore perhaps not fully understood. Do not be discouraged: you form part of that poor and outgoing Church that I dream of!”
“By vocation, you are laypeople and priests, others and in the midst of others, you lead a normal life, without any outward signs, without the support of community life, without the visibility of an organised apostolate or specific works. You are rich only in the totalising experience of God’s love and are therefore capable of knowing and sharing the burden of life in its many expressions, fermenting them with the light and strength of the Gospel. You are a sign of that Church in dialogue that Paul VI spoke of … Your vocation makes you interesting to every person and to their deepest yearnings, which often remain unexpressed or masked.”
“Through the strength of God’s love, that you have encountered and known, you are capable of proximity and tenderness … Like the Samaritan who passed by, saw and had compassion. This is the moment to which your vocation commits you: to place yourself next to each man and to make yourselves close to every person you meet; because your stay in the world is not simply a sociological condition, but rather a theological reality that calls you to a conscious, careful presence, in which you are able to perceive, see and touch your brother’s flesh.”
“If this does not happen, if you became distracted, or worse still, you do not know this contemporary world but instead know and frequent only the world that is most comfortable to you, or that most entices you, then conversion is urgent! Yours is a vocation that is by nature outgoing, not only because it brings you to others, but also and above all because it requires to you dwell where all men reside.”
“Never lose the impulse to walk the streets of the world, with the knowledge that walking, even with faltering steps or limping, is always better than standing still, closed up in our own questions or our own certainties. Missionary passion, the joy of the encounter with Christ that leads us to share the beauty of faith with others, is a bulwark against the risk of being paralysed by individualism.”