Dear sisters and brothers,
I prepared a speech for this occasion on topics regarding consecrated life and on the three pillars; there are others, but three [words] are important to consecrated life. The first is prophecy, another is proximity and the third is hope. Prophecy, proximity hope. I have given the text to the Cardinal Prefect, because reading it is a little dull, and I prefer to speak to you from my heart. Okay?
Men and women religious, that is men and women consecrated to the Lord’s service, who in the Church pursue this path of arduous poverty, of a chaste love that leads to a spiritual fatherhood and motherhood for all the Church, of obedience…. There is always something lacking in our obedience, because perfect obedience is that of the Son of God, who emptied himself, who became man out of obedience, unto death on the Cross. There are men and women among you who live out an intense form of obedience, an obedience — not military, no, not that; that is discipline, another thing — an obedience of giving of the heart. This is prophecy. “Don’t you wish to do something, something else?…” — “Yes, but according to the rules I must do this, this and this. And according to regulations, this, this and this. And if I don’t see something clearly, I speak with the superior and, after the dialogue, I obey”. This is prophecy, as opposed to the seed of anarchy, which the devil sows. “What do you do?” — “I do whatever I please”. The anarchy of will is the daughter of the demon, it is not the daughter of God. The Son of God was not an anarchist, he did not call his [disciples] to mount a force of resistance against his enemies; he said to Pilate: “Were I a king of this world I would have called my soldiers to protect me”. Instead, he was obedient to the Father. He said only: “Father, please, no, not this chalice…. But Thy will be done”. When out of obedience you accept something which perhaps often you do not like… [he makes a swallowing gesture]… that obedience must be swallowed, and it is done. Thus, prophecy. Prophecy is telling people that there is a path to happiness and grandeur, a path that fills you with joy, which is precisely the path to Jesus. It is the path to be close to Jesus. Prophecy is a gift, it is a charism and it must be asked of the Holy Spirit: that I may know that word, in the right moment; that I may do that thing in the right moment; that my entire life may be a prophecy. Men and women prophets. This is very important. “Let’s do what everyone else does…”. No. Prophecy is saying that there is something truer, more beautiful, greater, a greater good to which we are all called.
Then another word is proximity. Men and women, consecrated, but not so as to distance themselves from people and have all the comforts, no, [but rather] to draw close and understand the life of Christians and of non-Christians — the suffering, the problems, the many things that are understood only if a consecrated man and woman is close: in proximity. “But Father, I am a cloistered nun, what should I do?”. Think about St Thérèse of the Child Jesus, patron saint of the missions, who with her ardent heart was close, and the letters she received from missionaries made her closer to the people. Proximity. Becoming consecrated does not mean climbing one, two, three steps in society. It is true, so often we hear parents say: “You know, Father, my daughter is a nun, my son is a brother!”. And they say it with pride. And it’s true! There is satisfaction for parents to have consecrated children, this is true. But for consecrated people it is not a life status that makes me look at others like this [with detachment]. Consecrated life should lead me to closeness with people; physical, spiritual proximity, to know the people. “Ah yes Father, in my community the superior gave us permission to go out, to go into the poor neighbourhoods with the people…” — “And in your community, are there elderly sisters?” — “Yes, yes… there is a nurse, on the third floor” — “And how often during the day do you go to visit your sisters, the elderly ones, who could be your mother or your grandmother?” — “But you know, Father, I am very busy with work and I can’t go…”. Closeness! Who is the first neighbour of a consecrated man or woman? The brother or sister of the community. This is your first neighbour. A kind, good, loving closeness, too. I know that in your communities there is never gossip, never, ever…. A way of distancing oneself [is] to gossip. Listen carefully: no gossip, the terrorism of gossip. Because those who gossip are terrorists. They are terrorists in their own community, because like a bomb they drop a word against this one or that one, and then they go calmly. Those who do this destroy, like a bomb, and they distance themselves. This, the Apostle Santiago said, was perhaps the most difficult virtue, the most difficult human and spiritual virtue to have, that of bridling the tongue. If it comes to you to say something against a brother or sister, to drop a bomb of gossip, bite your tongue! Hard! No terrorism in the community! “But Father, what if there is something, a defect, something to correct?”. You say it to the person: you have an attitude that bothers me, or that isn’t good. If this isn’t appropriate — because sometimes it isn’t prudent — you say it to the person who can remedy, who can resolve the problem and to no one else. Understood? There is no use for gossip. “But in the chapter house?”. There, yes! In public, what you feel you have to say; because there is temptation not to say things in the chapter house, and then outside: “Did you see the prioress? Did you see the abbess? Did you see the mother superior?…”. Why didn’t you say it there in the chapter house?… Is this clear? These are virtues of proximity. The Saints, the consecrated Saints had this. St Thérèse of the Child Jesus never, ever complained about work, about the bother it was to bring that sister to the dining room every evening: from the choir to the dining room. Never! Because that poor nun was very old, almost paralyzed, she had difficulty walking, she was in pain — I understand her too! — she was even a bit neurotic…. Never, ever did she go to another sister to say: “How she bothers me!”. What did she do? She helped her sit down, brought her a napkin, broke the bread and did so with a smile. This is called proximity. Closeness! If you drop the bomb of gossip in your community, this is not closeness: this is waging war! This is distancing yourself, this is creating distance, creating anarchy in the community. In this Year of Mercy, if each one of you could manage to never be a gossiping terrorist, it would be a success for the Church, a success of great holiness! Take courage! Proximity
And now hope. I admit that it pains me a great deal 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 — men’s and women’s — you have a novice or two… and the community ages, it ages…. When there are monasteries, great monasteries, and Cardinal Amigo Vallejo [turning to him] can tell us how many there are in Spain, that are carried on by four or five elderly nuns, until the end…. This leads me to the temptation to lose hope: “Lord, what is happening? Why is the womb of consecrated life becoming so barren?”. Several congregations are experimenting with “artificial insemination”. What are they doing? They accept…. “Yes, come, come, come…”. And then there are internal problems…. No. One must accept with seriousness! One must carefully discern whether this is a true vocation and help it to grow. I believe that in order to fight the temptation to lose hope, which gives us this barrenness, we have to pray more. And pray tirelessly. It does me a lot of good to read the passage of Scripture in which Hannah, Samuel’s mother, prayed and asked for a son. She prayed and moved her lips, and prayed…. And the elderly priest, who was a little blind and who didn’t see well, thought she was a drunken woman. But that woman’s heart [she said to God]: “I want a son!”. I ask you: does your heart, facing this drop in vocations, pray with this intensity? “Our congregation needs sons, our congregation needs daughters…”. The Lord, who has been so generous, will not fail in his promise. But we have to ask him for it. We have to knock at the door of his heart. Because there is a danger — this is terrible, but I have to say it — when a religious congregation sees that it has no children and grandchildren and begins to be smaller and smaller, it grows attached to money. And you know that money is the devil’s dung. When they cannot receive the grace of having vocations and children, they think that money will save its life; and they think of old age: that this not be lacking, that that is not lacking…. Thus, there is no hope! Hope is only in the Lord! Money will never give it to you. On the contrary: it will bring you down! Understood?
I wanted to tell you this, instead of reading the pages that the Cardinal Prefect will give you later….
I thank you so much for what you do, consecrated people, each with your own charism. And I want to point out the consecrated women, the sisters. What would the Church be without nuns? I have said this before: when you go to hospitals, colleges, parishes, neighbourhoods, missions, men and women who have given their lives…. In my last journey to Africa — I believe I recounted this in an audience — I met an 83-year-old Italian nun. She told me: “I’ve been here since I was — I don’t remember if she told me 23 or 26. I am a hospital nurse”. Let’s think: from age 26 to 83! “And I wrote to my family in Italy that I would never return”. When you go to a cemetery and see that there are so many religious missionaries and so many nuns dead at age 40 because they caught diseases, the fevers of those countries, their lives burnt out…. You say: these are saints. These are seeds! We must tell the Lord to come down to some of these cemeteries and see what our ancestors have done and give us more vocations, because we need them!
I thank you very much for this visit. I thank the Cardinal Prefect, the Monsignor Secretary, the Undersecretaries, for what they have done in this Year of Consecrated Life. But please, do not forget prophecy, obedience, proximity, the most important neighbour, the closest neighbours are the brothers and sisters of the community, and then hope. May the Lord bring forth more sons and daughters in your congregations. And pray for me. Thank you!