(Vatican Radio) A vocation to religious life must always been seen as a call from
God to serve the poor, the sick, the lonely and those who find themselves on the margins
of society. That was Pope Francis’ message on Wednesday to 800 women who head religious
communities in countries around the world. The sisters met with the Pope at the conclusion
of their plenary assembly of the International Union of Superior Generals which has
been focused on the theme of leadership in light of Gospel values.
In his speech to them, Pope Francis spoke of their vows of obedience, poverty and chastity, saying the sisters are not spinsters, but rather spiritual mothers and icons of the Mother Church. Echoing the theme of their five day meeting, the Pope said true power is always service to others. While the world may see power in terms of possession, dominion and success, the authority of God is always synonymous with service, humility and love.
As he has done in the past, the Pope warned of the damage caused to the Church by men and women who seek to further their own careers and personal ambitions. Instead Pope Francis urged the sisters to always “feel with the Church” in faithfulness to the Magesterium, the Pastors and the Bishop of Rome as a visible sign of the unity of the Church. Finally the Pope thanked the sisters for their work and for the maternal intuition which they bring to the life of the Church.
Lilsten to Philippa Hitchen's report:
Please find below a summary of Pope Francis' address to the UISG participants:
I am happy to meet you today and I wish to greet each one of you, thanking you for what you do to make consecrated life a constant light in the life of the Church
First of all I thank my dear brother Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, for the words which he has just addressed to me. I am also pleased to see here the secretary of the Congregation: his name is ‘Pepe’…
The theme of your conference seems to me to be particularly important for the task which has been entrusted to you: “The service of leadership according to the Gospel.” In light of this, I would like to propose three simple thoughts which I leave for you to deepen on a personal and community level.
Jesus, at the Last Supper, turns to his Apostles with these words: You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you (John 15.16) which reminds us all, not just us priests, that a vocation is always God’s initiative. It is Christ who has called you to follow Him in the consecrated life and this means making a continual ‘exodus’ from yourselves to centre your existences on Christ and his Gospel, on God’s will, letting go of your projects so that you can say with St Paul “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.” This ‘exodus from oneself means placing oneself on a journey of adoration and service. An exodus which takes us on a journey of adoration of the Lord and service to the Lord in our brothers and sisters. To adore and to serve: two attitudes which can not be separated but which must always go together. Adore the Lord and serve others, without keeping anything for ourselves: this is the ‘letting go’ of those who exercise authority. Always live and recall the centrality of Christ, the evangelical identity of the consecrated life. Help your communities to live ‘the exodus’ of self on the journey of adoration and service, first of all through the three pivots of your existence.
Obedience as listening to God's will, in the interior motion of the Holy Spirit authenticated by the Church, accepting that obedience also passes through human mediations. … Poverty, which teaches solidarity, sharing, and charity and which is also expressed in a soberness and joy of the essential, to put us on guard against the material idols that obscure the true meaning of life. Poverty, which is learned with the humble, the poor, the sick, and all those who are at the existential margins of life. Theoretical poverty doesn't do anything. Poverty is learned by touching the flesh of the poor Christ in the humble, the poor, the sick, and in children.
And then chastity, as a precious charism, that enlarges the freedom of your gift to God and others with Christ's tenderness, mercy, and closeness. Chastity for the Kingdom of Heaven shows how affection has its place in mature freedom and becomes a sign of the future world, to make God's primacy shine forever. But, please, [make it] a 'fertile' chastity, which generates spiritual children in the Church. The consecrated are mothers: they must be mothers and not 'spinsters'! Forgive me if I talk like this but this maternity of consecrated life, this fruitfulness is important! May this joy of spiritual fruitfulness animate your existence. Be mothers, like the images of the Mother Mary and the Mother Church. You cannot understand Mary without her motherhood; you cannot understand the Church without her motherhood, and you are icons of Mary and of the Church.”
We must never forget that true power, at whatever level, is service, which has its bright summit upon the Cross. … 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them ... But it shall not be so among you.'—This is precisely the motto of your assembly, isn't it? It shall not be so among you.—'Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave'.”
“Your vocation is a fundamental charism for the Church's journey and it isn't possible that a consecrated woman or man might 'feel' themselves not to be with the Church. A 'feeling' with the Church that has generated us in Baptism; a 'feeling' with the Church that finds its filial expression in fidelity to the Magisterium, in communion with the Bishops and the Successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome, a visible sign of that unity,” the pontiff added, citing Paul VI: “It is an absurd dichotomy to think of living with Jesus but without the Church, of following Jesus outside of the Church, of loving Jesus without loving the Church. Feel the responsibility that you have of caring for the formation of your Institutes in sound Church doctrine, in love of the Church, and in an ecclesial spirit.”
“The centrality of Christ and his Gospel, authority as a service of love, and 'feeling' in and with the Mother Church: [these are] three suggestions that I wish to leave you, to which I again add my gratitude for your work, which is not always easy. What would the Church be without you? She would be missing maternity, affection, tenderness! A Mother's intuition.”