Recently, Pope Francis declared that 2015 will be the Year of Consecrated Life. Twenty years after the Synod of the Consecrated Life (1994) and in the month of the World Day for Consecrated Life it is appropriate to remember the intervention of Sr. Juana Elizondo, our former Superioress General, addressed to the Bishops.
In the service of the poor, we live a poor lifestyle
This is just a few words on an important subject that is common to all of us who have the joy of belonging to the Church of the Poor and especially to those of us who have received the call to give ourselves completely to God to serve him in our poor brethren. I am referring to a poor and simple lifestyle that resembles as closely as possible the lifestyle of the poor and which draws us as close as possible to them.
It is not according to the spirit of the Gospel to serve the poor from a distance. Our Lord, Jesus, whom we serve, showed us the way… “took flesh and dwelt among us….” (Jn. 1:14).
It is important to lessen distances in order to come closer to the Poor and to make it easier for them to approach us. We can create distances by our attitudes, our structures, our way of life. Our vocation demands that we do all in our power to remove any obstacles that might block the way to our coming closer to the Poor. So it is vitally important that we strip ourselves of everything that is superfluous in order to live like the poor and to serve them. St. Vincent, the Father of the Poor, made radical demands on his daughters, “You have a right only to food and clothing; the surplus belongs to the service of the Poor.” (SV. Jan. 25, 1643, Eng. ed., 81). The practice of detachment and individual poverty would prevent the community as a whole from accumulating riches.
The freedom inherent in a poor lifestyle gives us the mobility and the flexibility we need if we are to reach out continually to the most needy. In addition to the geographical aspect of this availability, a lifestyle is called for, in which poverty is lived out “in spirit and in truth” and is experienced as an everyday reality.
A simple lifestyle and the greatest possible level of detachment will lead us to keep in mind and give their rightful place to those human and Gospel values that motivate our service of the poor, values that are not tied to material things, values such as concern for the individual: a simple and humble welcome for all, understanding, and generous and joyful commitment. All these attitudes are based on the acknowledgement of every person’s dignity as a child of God, who, moreover, chose to identify himself with the humble and the simple; “Whatever you do to the least of these my brethren, you do unto me.” (Mt. 25:40). Saint Vincent expresses this same truth when he says to his daughters, “A Sister will go and visit the poor ten times a day, and ten times a day she will find God there.” (SV. Feb. 13, 1946, Eng. ed., 223).
Poverty, and the simple lifestyle that follows from this, will help us recover for the world those values which technical progress is destroying. People in general are looking for this; the Poor have need of it. We are often called on to live and to serve in areas where cold, hard, dehumanizing technology prevails, where machines and equipment take over in an impersonal way and where a large part of humanity, the Poor, are manipulated or at least disorientated. They cannot claim their rights because they do not know what these rights are. What is our mission in such a world? It is for us to humanize technology, to re-establish human relationships, provide information, infuse some warmth, and promote the participation of each person in decisions that affect his life, to give a sense of security. And all this will be achieved by simple means such as a caring look, a sensitive gesture, a kindly word so that all this becomes not just our professional service but the vehicle of God’s love for all men and women and of God’s loving presence in a suffering world.
Some years ago, our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, in a general audience granted to our Company on the occasion of a General Assembly, strongly recommended us “to live our identity come winds or high water.” In an earlier audience he had said to us, “Have eyes and hearts only for the Poor.” While I now take the opportunity of thanking many of the bishops here present for using the Company to serve the Poor, I would ask them to help us to live out our charism and our identity. Continue to ask for us to help the Poor and the abandoned. Thank you!
Sister Juana Elizondo, DC
Intervention during the Synod of the Consecrated Life – Rome, October 1994
(Echoes – January, 1995)