“The Gospel must be taken without sedatives!” said Pope Francis to Superiors General on November 25, 2016, in the Vatican, appealing to live their religious consecration in all its radicalness. These proposals, which remained private, were published in the Italian edition of L’Osservatore Romano on February 10, 2017. The Pontiff also spoke of the role of religious in the renewal of the Church and of the need to discern the affective maturity of postulants.
In a three-hour exchange with 140 Superiors General of masculine Religious Congregations, the Holy Father encouraged consecrated persons to be “radicals in prophecy.” It is “the famous sine glossa [literally ‘without gloss’], the Rule without gloss, the Gospel without gloss,” he explained. “That is to say, without sedatives! The Gospel must be taken without sedatives. It’s what our Founders did.”
In other words, he continued, “we are called to come out of our zones of comfort and security, of all that is worldliness: in the way of life, but also in thinking of new ways for our Institutes (…). We must recognize personally and communally what our worldliness is.”
Asceticism itself can be worldly, warned Pope Francis: the hair shirt – garment of mortification – “must not help me to show how courageous and strong I am. Veritable asceticism must make me freer.” This is the criteria: “If something helps one, do it, even the hair shirt! But only if it helps you to be freer.”
Before the Superiors present at the Vatican, in the framework of the 88th General Assembly of the Union of Superiors General, the Jesuit Pontiff also evoked life in community.
An antidote to the “princely” atmosphere
The religious, he assured, can contribute “to the renewal of structures and of the mentality of the Church.” In fact, their example can “destroy the harmful atmosphere,” “worldly and princely” that slips into ecclesial structures.
However, for this to happen, the Religious must be “fully inserted in the diocesan Churches. Their “style of life” is a source of inspiration, said the Pontiff mentioning, for instance, the communal life of diocesan priests, to avoid solitude.
“One can study and re-think so many things,” he said, mentioning notably “the time of service as parish priest, which seems brief to me: priests are changed too easily.”
Consecrated persons should also give an example of poverty: “The Lord so wants Religious to be poor,” he added, before joking: “When they are not, the Lord sends a bursar who leads the Institute to bankruptcy!”
In this context, the fundamental criteria for a bursar is to not be attached personally to money. It is also necessary to verify how the banks invest the money. There must never be investments in arms, for example, never,” he added.
Discernment on affective maturity
During the discussion, the Pontiff also addressed the question of sexual abuses committed within ecclesial structures: “If priests or Religious are implicated, it is clear that the presence of the devil, who ruins Jesus’ work by the intermediary of him who should proclaim Jesus, is in action.”
“It is a sickness. If we are not convinced that it is a sickness, we will not be able to solve the problem,” stressed the Pope. Hence, it is necessary to be careful not to receive candidates “in the formation to the religious life without being certain of their adequate affective maturity.” And “never receive in religious life or in a diocese candidates who have been sent from another seminary or from another Institute, without asking for very clear and detailed information on the reasons for their being sent.”
The Church was born “outgoing”
“The Church was born outgoing,” Pope Francis reminded the Superiors General. She was shut in in the Cenacle and then she went out. And she must remain outgoing. She must not return to shut herself in the Cenacle.”
The Holy Father encouraged the Superiors to act in favor of the poor of the “existential and social peripheries,” among others, the reception of migrants and refugees. In this service, he noted, “it is possible to find an excellent terrain for the ecumenical dialogue: it is the poor that unite the divided Christians!”
“Mercy is God going out,” added the Pope. You, too, must go out!”
It was the Jesuit Review La Civilta Cattolica that made the transcription of this long dialogue, which remained private up to now.