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Pope’s Off-the-Cuff Address to Consecrated

“If, in this Year of Mercy, each one of you succeeds in never being a gossip terrorist, it would be a success for the Church, a success of great sanctity”

Here is a translation of the off-the-cuff address Pope Francis gave today when he received in audience the participants in the Jubilee of Consecrated Life, at the end of the Year of Consecrated Life.

A translation of his prepared text, which he gave to Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life, can be read here.

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Dear Sisters and Brothers,

I prepared an address for this occasion on topics of consecrated life and on three pillars. There are others, but three are important for consecrated life. The first is prophecy, the other is proximity and the third is hope — prophecy, proximity, and hope. I have given the text to the Cardinal Prefect, because it is somewhat tedious to read it, and I prefer to talk to you of what comes from the heart. All right?

Men and women Religious, that is, men and women consecrated to the service of the Lord, who exercise in the Church the way of intense poverty, of a chaste love that leads them to a spiritual paternity and maternity for the whole Church, and obedience … but in this obedience, something is always lacking, because perfect obedience is that of the Son of God, who annihilated Himself, made Himself man out of obedience, to death on the Cross. But there are men and women among you who live intense obedience, an obedience, which is not military, no, not this; that is discipline, something else – an obedience of donation of the heart. And this is prophecy. “But don’t you wish to do something, something else? … “Yes, but according to the rules, I must do this, and this, and this – and, according to the dispositions, this, and this and this. And if I don’t see something clearly, I speak with the Superior, and, after our conversation, I obey.” This is prophecy, against the seed of anarchy, which the devil sows. “What do you do?” “I do what I like.” The anarchy of the will is the daughter of the devil, not the daughter of God. The Son of God was not anarchic; He did not call His own to be a force of resistance against his enemies. He Himself said so to Pilate: “If I were a king of this world I would have called my soldiers to defend me.” But He obeyed His Father, He only asked: “Father, please, not this chalice, no … But let what you will be done.” When you accept something out of obedience, which perhaps you often don’t like … [he did the gesture of swallowing] … that obedience must be swallowed, yet it’s carried out, therefore, <it is> prophecy. Prophecy is to tell people that there is a way of happiness, of grandeur, a way that fills one with joy, which is precisely the way of Jesus. It is the way of being close to Jesus. It is a gift; prophecy is a charism and it must be asked of the Holy Spirit: that I be able to say that word, at the right moment; that I do something at the right moment; that my whole life be a prophecy – men and women prophets. And this is very important. ”But we do what everyone does …” No. Prophecy is to say that there is something that is more true, more beautiful, greater, more good to which we are all called.

Then the other word is proximity. Consecrated men and women, must not distance themselves from people and have all comforts. No, <they must> get close to understand the life of Christians and of non-Christians, the sufferings, the problems, the many things that are understood only if a consecrated man or woman gets close: in proximity. “But, Father, I’m a cloistered Sister, what must I do?” Think of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, Patroness of the Missions, who with her ardent heart was close, and the letters she received from missionaries made her closer to the people. Proximity. To become consecrated does not mean to go up one, two, <or> three steps in society. It’s true, very often we hear parents say: “You know, Father, I have a daughter who is a Sister, I have a son who is a friar!” And they say it with pride. And it’s true! It is a satisfaction for parents to have consecrated children; this is true. However, for the consecrated it’s not their state of life that makes them look at others like this [with detachment]. Consecrated life should lead them to closeness with people: physical, spiritual closeness, to know the people. “Ah yes, Father, in my Community the Superior has given us permission to go out, to go to the poor districts with the people … “And, in your Community, are there elderly Sisters?” “Yes, yes, there is the nurse on the third floor.” “And how often during the day do you meet your Sisters, the elderly, who can be your mother or your grandmother?” “But, you know, Father, I am very committed to my work and I’m unable to go …” Proximity! Who is the first neighbor of a consecrated man or woman? The Brother or the Sister of the Community. He is your first neighbor – and <you must also have an> agreeable, good proximity with love. I know that in your Communities there never is gossip, never, never … A way of moving away from gossip. Listen well: no gossip, no terrorism of gossip, because one who gossips is a terrorist. He is a terrorist in his Community, because he throws a word like a bomb against this, against that, and then goes away tranquil. He destroys! One who does this destroys, as a bomb, and he moves away. This, the Apostle James said, is perhaps the most difficult virtue, the most difficult human and spiritual virtue to have, that of controlling the tongue. If you feel like saying something against a Brother or a Sister, to throw a bomb of gossip, bite your tongue! Intensely! No terrorism in the Communities! “But Father, if there’s something, a defect, something to correct?” You say it to the person: you have this attitude that annoys me, or is not right. Or if it’s not appropriate – because sometimes it’s not prudent – you say it to the person who can remedy it, who can resolve the problem and to no one else. Understood? Gossip is useless. “But in chapter?” There yes! In public, you say everything you feel you must say, because there is the temptation not to say things in chapter, and then <to do so> outside: “Have you seen the Prioress? Have you seen the Abbess? Have you seen the Superior? …” But why didn’t you say it there in chapter? … Is this clear?

They are virtues of proximity, and the Saints had this, the consecrated Saints had this. Saint Therese of the Child Jesus never, never complained about work, about the annoyance she felt with the Sister she had to take to the dining room every evening: from the choir to the dining room. Never! Because that poor Sister was very elderly, almost paralytic, she didn’t walk well, she had pains – I also understand her! – she was a bit neurotic as well … She <Saint Therese> never, never went to another Sister to say: “But how annoying she is!” What did she do? She helped her to get comfortable, she took her to the table, she sliced her bread and smiled at her. This is called proximity. Proximity! If you throw a bomb of gossip in your Community, this isn’t proximity: this is to make war! This is to distance oneself, this is to cause distancing, to cause anarchism in the Community. And if, in this Year of Mercy, each one of you succeeds in never being a gossip terrorist, it would be a success for the Church, a success of great sanctity! Be courageous! Proximities.

And then, hope. And I confess to you that it costs me much when I see the drop in vocations, when I receive Bishops and ask them: “How many seminarians do you have?” “Four, five …” When in your Religious Communities – masculine and feminine – you have a novice, two … and the Community is growing old, growing old … When there are convents , great convents in Spain, and Cardinal Amigo Vallejo [he turns to him] can tell you how many there are that keep going with four or five elderly Sisters, to the end … And this awakens in me a temptation against hope: “But, Lord, what’s happening? Why has the womb of consecrated life become so sterile?” Some Congregations are doing the experiment of “artificial insemination.” What do they do? They receive: “But yes, come, come, come …” And then the problems <begin> that exist inside there … No. One must receive with seriousness! One must discern well if it’s a true vocation and help it to grow. And I believe that. Against this temptation of losing hope, caused by this sterility, we must pray more. And we must pray without getting tired. It does me much good to read that passage of Scripture, in which Anna – Samuel’s mother – prayed and asked for a son. She prayed and moved her lips, and prayed … And the old priest, who was somewhat blind and couldn’t see well, thought she was drunk. But the heart of that woman [said to God]: “I want a son!” I ask you: in face of this drop in vocations does your heart pray with this intensity? “Our Congregation is in need of sons, our Congregation is in need of daughters …” The Lord who is so generous, will not fail in His promise, but we must ask for it. We must knock on the door of His heart. Because there is a danger – and this is awful, but I must say it –: when a Congregation sees that it doesn’t have children and grandchildren, and begins to be ever smaller, it attaches itself to money. And you know that money is the devil’s dung. When they do not have the grace to have vocations and children, they think that money will save their life; and they think of old age: that they may not lack this, that they may not lack that … And thus there is no hope! Hope is only in the Lord! Money will never give you <hope>, on the contrary, it will bring you down! Understood?

I wanted to say this to you, instead of reading the pages that the Cardinal Prefect will give you later …

And I thank you, the consecrated, for what you do, each one with his/her charism. And I want to stress the consecrated women, the Sisters. What would the Church be if there were no Sisters? I said this once: when one goes to hospital, to schools, to parishes, to neighborhoods, to missions <there are > men and women that have given their life. In my last trip to Africa – I have said this, I believe, in an Audience – I met an 83-year-old Italian Sister. She said to me: “I have been here – I can’t remember if she said 23 or 26 years. I’m a nurse in a hospital.” Just think: for 26 years to 83! “And I have written to my own in Italy that I will never return.” When you go to a cemetery and see that there are so many dead missionary Religious and so many dead Sisters at 40 because they caught sicknesses, the fevers of those countries, burnt their life … One says: these are saints! These are seeds! We must ask the Lord to come down a bit to these cemeteries and see what our forbearers have done and give us more vocations, because we are in need of them!

I thank you very much for this visit. I thank the Cardinal Prefect, the Monsignor Secretary, the Under-Secretaries for what you have done in this Year of Consecrated Life. But, please, don’t forget the prophecy of obedience, proximity, that the most important neighbor, the closest neighbor is your Brother and Sister of the Community, and then hope. May the Lord have sons and daughters born in your Congregations, and pray for me. Thank you!

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]

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