The Second International Bursars’ Symposium, organized by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, concluded Sunday. It was dedicated to the theme “To Rethink the Economy in Fidelity to the Charism.”
Here is a ZENIT translation of the message Pope Francis sent to the participants in the Symposium, which was released Saturday.
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To Rethink the Economy in Fidelity to the Charism
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I thank you for your willingness to come together to reflect and pray on such a vital topic for consecrated life as is the economic management of your goods. I thank the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life for the preparation of this second symposium and, in addressing you, I am guided by the words that make up the title of your meeting: charism, fidelity, to rethink the economy.
The charisms in the Church are not something static and rigid, they are not “museum pieces.” Rather, they are rivers of living water (cf. John 7:37-39), which flow in the terrain of history to irrigate it and to have seeds of Goodness sprout. In certain moments, a certain sterile nostalgia being an accomplice, we can be tempted to undertake “charismatic archaeology.” Let it not be that we yield to this temptation! The charism is always a living reality and, precisely because of this, is called to fructify, as the parable of the gold coins indicates, which the king consigned to his servants (cf. Luke 19:11-26), to be developed in creative fidelity, as the Church reminds us continually (cf. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Consecrated Life, 37).
By its nature, consecrated life is a sign and prophecy of the Kingdom of God. Therefore, its twofold characteristic cannot be lacking in any of its forms, provided that we, the consecrated, remain vigilant and attentive in scrutinizing the horizons of our life and of the present moment. This attitude is such as to see that the charisms, given by the Lord to His Church through our men and women Founders, are maintained vital and can respond to the concrete situations of places and times in which we are called to share and witness the beauty of the sequela Christi.
To speak of a charism means to speak of a gift, of gratuitousness and of grace; it means to move in an area of significance illuminated by the root charis. I know well that for many work in the economic field seems like irrelevant words, to be relegated to the private and religious sphere. Instead, it is well known, even among economists as well, that a society without charis cannot function well and ends up dehumanized. The economy and its management are never ethically and anthropologically neutral: either they concur to build relations of justice and solidarity or they generate situations of exclusion and rejection.
As consecrated <individuals>, we are called to become prophecy beginning with our life animated by the charis, by the logic of gift, of gratuitousness; we are called to create fraternity, communion, solidarity with the poorest and the neediest. As Pope Benedict XVI well recalled, if we want to be authentically human, we must “make room for the principle of gratuitousness as an expression of fraternity” (Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, 34).
However, the evangelical logic of gift calls to support oneself with an interior attitude of openness to the reality and of listening to God who speaks to us in it. We must ask ourselves if we are willing to “soil our hands,” working in today’s history; if our eyes are able to scrutinize the signs of the Kingdom of God in the unfolding of events, which are certainly complex and conflicting, but which God wants to bless and save; if we are truly companions on the way of the men and women of our time, particularly of the many that lie wounded along our streets, so that we can share with them the expectations, the fears, the hopes and also what we have received, which belongs to all; if we are able to overcome the diabolic logic of earning (the devil often enters by the wallet or the credit card); if we defend ourselves by fleeing from what we do not understand, or are able to stay within in virtue of the Lord’s promise, with His look of benevolence and His depths of mercy, <then we> become Good Samaritans for the poor and the excluded.
To read the questions in order to respond, to listen to the cry in order to console, to recognize injustices and also share our economy, to discern insecurities in order to offer peace, to look at fears in order to reassure: these are different facets of the multi-faceted treasure which is consecrated life. Accepting that we do not have all the answers and, sometimes, by remaining silent, perhaps we are also uncertain, but never, never without hope.
To be faithful means to ask oneself what the Lord asks us to be and to do today, in this situation. To be faithful commits us to an assiduous work of discernment, so that the works, consistent with the charisms, continue to be effective instruments to have God’s tenderness reach many.
The goods themselves, with which this Symposium is concerned, are not only a means to ensure the sustainability of one’s Institute, but they belong to the fecundity of the charism. This implies asking ourselves if our works do or do not manifest the charism that we professed, if they do or do not respond to the mission entrusted to us by the Church. The main criterion for the evaluation of the works is not their profitability, but their correspondence to the charism and to the mission that the Institute is called to carry out.
An act of courage is often required to be faithful to the charism: it is not about selling everything or of <cancelling> all the goods, but of undertaking a serious discernment, having one’s gaze well turned to Christ, one’s ears attentive to His Word and to the voice of the poor. In this way our works can be, at the same time, fecund for the Institute’s journey and express God’s predilection for the poor.
To Rethink the Economy
All this implies rethinking the economy, through an attentive reading of the Word of God and of history. To listen to God’s whisper and the cry of the poor, of the everlasting poor and of the new poor; to understand what the Lord asks today and, after having understood Him, to act with that courageous trust in the Father’s providence (cf. Matthew 6:19ff), which our men and women Founders had. In certain cases, discernment might suggest to keep alive a work that causes losses – being well aware that these are not generated by incapacity or unskillfulness – but give back dignity to weak and fragile persons, victims of rejection: the unborn, the poorest, the elderly sick and the gravely disabled. It is true that there are problems stemming from the advanced age of many consecrated <persons> and of the complexity of the management of some works, but openness to God will make us find solutions.
It can happen that discernment suggests rethinking a work, which perhaps has become too great and complex, but then we can find ways of collaboration with other Institutes or perhaps transform the work itself so that it continues, even if in other ways, as work of the Church. Also because of this, communication and collaboration within the Institutes, with other Institutes and with the local Church is important. The different provinces within the Institute cannot conceive themselves in a self-referential way, as if each one lived for itself, nor can the general governments ignore the different peculiarities.
The logic of individualism can also cut into our communities. The tension between the local and general reality, which exists at the level of inculturation of the charism, exists also at the economic level, but it must not cause fear, it must be lived and addressed. Communion must be made to grow between the different Institutes; and the legislative, juridical and economic instruments must also be known well, which today make possible the creation of networks, to identify new answers, to bring together the strengths, the professionalisms and the capacities of the Institutes at the service of the Kingdom and of humanity. It is also very important to dialogue with the local Church so that, in so far as possible, the ecclesiastical goods remain goods of the Church.
To rethink the economy means to express the discernment that, in this context, looks at the direction, the purposes, the meaning and the social and ecclesial implications of the economic choices of the Institutes of Consecrated Life. A discernment that begins from the evaluation of the economic possibilities derived from financial and personal resources; which makes use of the work of specialists for the use of instruments that make possible a prudent management and control of the management that is not improvised, which operates in respect of the laws and is placed at the service of an integral ecology. A discernment that, above all, goes against the current because it makes use of money and does not serve money for any reason, not even that which is more just and holy. In this case, it would be the devil’s dung, as the Holy Fathers said.
To rethink the economy requires specific competencies and capacities, but it is a dynamic that concerns the life of each and all. It is not a task that can be delegated to someone, but entails the responsibility of every person. Here too we are faced with an educational challenge, which cannot leave the consecrated outside; a challenge that certainly touches economists in the first place and those that are involved personally in the Institute’s choices. Of them is required the capacity to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (cf. Matthew 10:16). And Christian wisdom enables one to distinguish between a wolf and a sheep, because there are so many wolves dressed up as sheep, especially when money is at stake!
It is not necessary, then, to be silent <about the fact that> the Institutes of Consecrated Life themselves are not exempt from some risks pointed out in the Encyclical Laudato Si’: “the principle of the maximization of profit, which tends to isolate itself from any other consideration, is a distortion of the economy” (n. 195). How many consecrated <persons> continue yet today to think that the laws of the economy are independent of every ethical consideration? How many times the evaluation of the transformation of a work or the sale of a property is seen only on the basis of a cost-profit analysis and market value? God deliver us from the spirit of functionalism and from falling into the snare of avarice! Moreover, we must be educated to a responsible austerity. It is not enough to have made our religious profession to be poor. It is not enough for me to entrench myself behind the affirmation that I do not posses anything because I am a man or woman Religious, if my Institute allows me to manage and enjoy all the goods I desire, and to control the civil Foundations erected to support my works, thus avoiding the controls of the Church. The hypocrisy of the consecrated that live as rich <persons> wounds the conscience of the faithful and damages the Church.
It is necessary to begin with little daily choices. Everyone is called to do his part, to use the goods to make solidaristic choices, to look after Creation, to measure oneself against the poverty of families that no doubt live next to us. It is about acquiring a habitus, a style in the sign of justice and of sharing, making an effort – because the contrary would often be more comfortable – to make honest choices, knowing that it is simply what we should do (cf. Luke 17:10).
Brothers and sisters, two biblical texts come to mind, which I would like to leave with you for your reflection. In his First Letter, John writes: “But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth” (3:17-18). The other text is well known. I am referring to Matthew 25:31-46: “as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me. […] as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.” Rethink your economy in fidelity to the charism.
I thank you. Do not forget to pray for me. May the Lord bless you and the Holy Virgin look after you.
From the Vatican, November 25, 2016
[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]