Consecrated Life

Pope Francis   

02.02.14  Rome, Letter to consecrated men and women

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Ruth 2: 13





A letter to consecrated men and women

A message from the teachings of Pope Francis

“I want to say one word

to you and this word is joy.

Wherever consecrated people are,

there is always joy!”.





Comfort, comfort my people,

says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Isaiah 40:1-2


…The words that Isaiah uses: Comfort... speak tenderly, are found regularly in the Old Testament. These recurrences are of particular value in dialogues of tenderness and affection. Thus Ruth recognises that Boaz has “comforted me and spoken kindly” (cf. Ruth 2:13... 


Pope Francis          

02.02.15  Holy Mass, Vatican Basilica   

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord and 

19th World Day for Consecrated Life   

Hebrews 2: 14-18,   Luke 2: 22-40 

Before our eyes we can picture Mother Mary as she walks, carrying the Baby Jesus in her arms. She brings him to the Temple; she presents him to the people; she brings him to meet his people.

The arms of Mother Mary are like the “ladder” on which the Son of God comes down to us, the ladder of God’s condescension. This is what we heard in the first reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews: Christ became “like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest” (Heb 2:17). This is the twofold path taken by Jesus: he descended, he became like us, in order then to ascend with us to the Father, making us like himself.

In our heart we can contemplate this double movement by imagining the Gospel scene of Mary who enters the Temple holding the Child in her arms. The Mother walks, yet it is the Child who goes before her. She carries him, yet he is leading her along the path of the God who comes to us so that we might go to him.

Jesus walked the same path as we do, and shows us the new way, the “new and living way” (cf. Heb 10:20) which is he himself. For us, consecrated men and women, this is the one way which, concretely and without alternatives, we must continue to tread with joy and perseverance.

Fully five times the Gospel speaks to us of Mary and Joseph’s obedience to the “law of the Lord” (cf. Lk 2:22-24,27,39). Jesus came not to do his own will, but the will of the Father. This way – he tells us – was his “food” (cf. Jn 4:34). In the same way, all those who follow Jesus must set out on the path of obedience, imitating as it were the Lord’s “condescension” by humbling themselves and making their own the will of the Father, even to self-emptying and abasement (cf. Phil 2:7-8). For a religious, to advance on the path of obedience means to abase oneself in service, that is, to take the same path as Jesus, who “did not deem equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Phil 2:6). By emptying himself he made himself a servant in order to serve.

For us, as consecrated persons, this path takes the form of the rule, marked by the charism of the founder. For all of us, the essential rule remains the Gospel, yet the Holy Spirit, in his infinite creativity, also gives it expression in the various rules of the consecrated life which are born of the sequela Christi, and thus from this journey of abasing oneself by serving.

Through this “law” which is the rule, consecrated persons are able to attain wisdom, not something abstract, but a work and gift of the Holy Spirit. An evident sign of such wisdom is joy. The evangelical happiness of a religious is the fruit of self-abasement in union with Christ… And, when we are sad, we would do well to ask ourselves, “How are we living this kenosis?”

In the account of Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple, wisdom is represented by two elderly persons, Simeon and Anna: persons docile to the Holy Spirit, led by him, inspired by him. The Lord granted them wisdom as the fruit of a long journey along the path of obedience to his law, an obedience which likewise humbles and abases, but which also lifts up and protects hope, making them creative, for they are filled with the Holy Spirit. They even enact a kind of liturgy around the Child as he comes to the Temple. Simeon praises the Lord and Anna “proclaims” salvation (cf. Lk 2:28-32, 38). As with Mary, the elderly man holds the Child, but in fact it is the Child who guides the elderly man. The liturgy of First Vespers of today’s feast puts this clearly and beautifully: “senex puerum portabat, puer autem senem regebat”. Mary, the young mother, and Simeon, the kindly old man, hold the Child in their arms, yet it is the Child himself who guides them both.

Here it is not young people who are creative: the young, like Mary and Joseph, follow the law of the Lord, the path of obedience. The elderly, like Simeon and Anna, see in the Child the fulfilment of the Law and the promises of God. And they are able to celebrate: the are creative in joy and wisdom. And the Lord turns obedience into wisdom by the working of his Holy Spirit.

At times God can grant the gift of wisdom to a young person, but always as the fruit of obedience and docility to the Spirit. This obedience and docility is not something theoretical; it too is subject to the economy of the incarnation of the Word: docility and obedience to a founder, docility and obedience to a specific rule, docility and obedience to one’s superior, docility and obedience to the Church. It is always docility and obedience in the concrete.

In persevering along the path of obedience, personal and communal wisdom matures, and thus it also becomes possible to adapt rules to the times. For true “aggiornamento” is the fruit of wisdom forged in docility and obedience.

The strengthening and renewal of consecrated life are the result of great love for the rule, and also the ability to look to and heed the elders of one’s congregation. In this way, the “deposit”, the charism of each religious family, is preserved by obedience and by wisdom, working together. By means of this journey, we are preserved from living our consecration in “lightly”, in an unincarnate manner, as if it were some sort of gnosis which would ultimately reduce religious life to caricature, a caricature in which there is following without renunciation, prayer without encounter, fraternal life without communion, obedience without trust, and charity without transcendence.

Today we too, like Mary and Simeon, want to take Jesus into our arms, to bring him to his people. Surely we will be able to do so if we enter into the mystery in which Jesus himself is our guide. Let us bring others to Jesus, but let us also allow ourselves to be led by him. This is what we should be: guides who themselves are guided.

May the Lord, through the intercession of Mary our Mother, Saint Joseph and Saints Simeon and Anna, grant to all of us what we sought in today’s opening prayer: to “be presented [to him] fully renewed in spirit”. Amen.


Pope Francis       

02.02.18  Holy Mass,Vatican Basilica  

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord   

22nd World Day for Consecrated Life,      

Luke 2: 22-40 

Forty days after Christmas, we celebrate the Lord who enters the Temple and comes to encounter his people. In the Christian East, this feast is called the “Feast of Encounter”: it is the encounter between God, who became a child to bring newness to our world, and an expectant humanity, represented by the elderly man and woman in the Temple.

In the Temple, there is also an encounter between two couples: the young Mary and Joseph, and the elderly Simeon and Anna. The old receive from the young, while the young draw upon the old. In the Temple, Mary and Joseph find the roots of their people. This is important, because God’s promise does not come to fulfilment merely in individuals, once for all, but within a community and throughout history. There too, Mary and Joseph find the roots of their faith, for faith is not something learned from a book, but the art of living with God, learned from the experience of those who have gone before us. The two young people, in meeting the two older people, thus find themselves. And the two older people, nearing the end of their days, receive Jesus, the meaning of their lives. This event fulfils the prophecy of Joel: “Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (2:28). In this encounter, the young see their mission and the elderly realize their dreams. All because, at the centre of the encounter, is Jesus.

Let us look to our own lives, dear consecrated brothers and sisters. Everything started in an encounter with the Lord. Our journey of consecration was born of an encounter and a call. We need to keep this in mind. And if we remember aright, we will realize that in that encounter we were not alone with Jesus; there was also the people of God, the Church, young and old, just as in today’s Gospel. It is striking too, that while the young Mary and Joseph faithfully observe the Law – the Gospel tells us this four times – and never speak, the elderly Simeon and Anna come running up and prophesy. It seems it should be the other way around. Generally, it is the young who speak enthusiastically about the future, while the elderly protect the past. In the Gospel, the very opposite occurs, because when we meet one another in the Lord, God’s surprises immediately follow.

For this to occur in the consecrated life, we have to remember that we can never renew our encounter with the Lord without others; we can never leave others behind, never pass over generations, but must accompany one another daily, keeping the Lord always at the centre. For if the young are called to open new doors, the elderly hold the keys. An institute remains youthful by going back to its roots, by listening to its older members. There is no future without this encounter between the old and the young. There is no growth without roots and no flowering without new buds. There is never prophecy without memory, or memory without prophecy. And constant encounter.

Today’s frantic pace leads us to close many doors to encounter, often for fear of others. Only shopping malls and internet connections are always open. Yet that is not how it should be with consecrated life: the brother and the sister given to me by God are a part of my history, gifts to be cherished. May we never look at the screen of our cellphone more than the eyes of our brothers or sisters, or focus more on our software than on the Lord. For whenever we put our own projects, methods and organization at the centre, consecrated life stops being attractive; it no longer speaks to others; it no longer flourishes because it forgets its very foundations, its very roots.

Consecrated life is born and reborn of an encounter with Jesus as he is: poor, chaste and obedient. We journey along a double track: on the one hand, God’s loving initiative, from which everything starts and to which we must always return; on the other, our own response, which is truly loving when it has no “ifs” or “buts”, when it imitates Jesus in his poverty, chastity and obedience. Whereas the life of this world attempts to take hold of us, the consecrated life turns from fleeting riches to embrace the One who endures forever. The life of this world pursues selfish pleasures and desires; the consecrated life frees our affections of every possession in order fully to love God and other people. Worldly life aims to do whatever we want; consecrated life chooses humble obedience as the greater freedom. And while worldly life soon leaves our hands and hearts empty, life in Jesus fills us with peace to the very end, as in the Gospel, where Simeon and Anna come happily to the sunset of their lives with the Lord in their arms and joy in their hearts.

How good it is for us to hold the Lord “in our arms” (Lk 2:28), like Simeon. Not only in our heads and in our hearts, but also “in our hands”, in all that we do: in prayer, at work, at the table, on the telephone, at school, with the poor, everywhere. Having the Lord “in our hands” is an antidote to insular mysticism and frenetic activism, since a genuine encounter with Jesus corrects both saccharine piety and frazzled hyperactivity. Savouring the encounter with Jesus is also the remedy for the paralysis of routine, for it opens us up to the daily “havoc” of grace. The secret to fanning the flame of our spiritual life is a willingness to allow ourselves to encounter Jesus and to be encountered by him; otherwise we fall into a stifling life, where disgruntlement, bitterness and inevitable disappointments get the better of us. To encounter one another in Jesus as brothers and sisters, young and old, and thus to abandon the barren rhetoric of “the good old days” – a nostalgia that kills the soul – and to silence those who think that “everything is falling apart”. If we encounter Jesus and our brothers and sisters in the everyday events of our life, our hearts will no longer be set on the past or the future, but will experience the “today of God” in peace with everyone.

At the end of the Gospels, there is another encounter with Jesus that can inspire the consecrated life. It is that of the women before the tomb. They had gone to encounter the dead; their journey seemed pointless. You too are journeying against the current: the life of the world easily rejects poverty, chastity and obedience. But like those women, keep moving forward, without worrying about whatever heavy stones need to be removed (cf. Mk 16:3). And like those women, be the first to meet the Lord, risen and alive. Cling to him (cf. Mt 28:9) and go off immediately to tell your brothers and sisters, your eyes brimming with joy (cf. v. 8). In this way, you are the Church’s perennial dawn. You, dear consecrated brothers and sisters, are the Church’s perennial dawn! I ask you to renew this very day your encounter with Jesus, to walk together towards him. And this will give light to your eyes and strength to your steps.


Pope Francis       

01.02.20 Eucharistic Concelebration, Vatican Basilica           

24th World Day for Consecrated Life

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord - Year A         

Luke 2: 22-40 

“My eyes have seen your salvation” (Lk 2:30). These are the words of Simeon, whom the Gospel presents as a simple man: “righteous and devout”, says the text (v. 25). But among all at the temple that day, he alone saw Jesus as the Saviour. What did he see? A child: a small, vulnerable, simple child. But in him he saw salvation, for the Holy Spirit allowed him to recognize in that tender new-born “the Lord’s Christ” (v. 26). Taking him in his arms, he sensed by faith that in him God was bringing his promises to fulfilment. And that he, Simeon, could now go in peace: he had seen the grace that was worth more than life (cf. Ps 63:4), and there was nothing further to wait for. 

You too, dear consecrated brothers and sisters, you are simple men and women who caught sight of the treasure worth more than any worldly good. And so you left behind precious things, such as possessions, such as making a family for yourselves. Why did you do this? Because you fell in love with Jesus, you saw everything in him, and enraptured by his gaze, you left the rest behind. Religious life is this vision. It means seeing what really matters in life. It means welcoming the Lord’s gift with open arms, as Simeon did. This is what the eyes of consecrated men and women behold: the grace of God poured into their hands. The consecrated person is one who every day looks at himself or herself and says: “Everything is gift, all is grace”. Dear brothers and sisters, we did not deserve religious life; it is a gift of love that we have received. 

My eyes have seen your salvation. These are the words we repeat each evening at Night Prayer. With them, we bring our day to an end, saying: “Lord, my salvation comes from you, my hands are not empty, but are full of your grace”. Knowing how to see grace is the starting point. Looking back, rereading one’s own history and seeing there God’s faithful gift: not only in life’s grand moments, but also in our fragility and weakness, in our insignificance. The tempter, the devil focuses on our “poverty”, our empty hands: “In all these years you haven’t got any better, you haven’t achieved what you could have, they haven’t let you do what you were meant to do, you haven’t always been faithful, you are not capable…”and so on. Each of us knows this story and these words very well. We see this is true in part, and so we go back to thoughts and feelings that disorient us. Thus we risk losing our bearings, the gratuitous love of God. For God loves us always, and gives himself to us, even in our poverty. Saint Jerome offered much to the Lord and the Lord asked for more. He said to the Lord: “But Lord, I have given you everything, everything, what else is lacking?” “Your sins, your poverty, offer me your poverty”. When we keep our gaze fixed on him, we open ourselves to his forgiveness that renews us, and we are reassured by his faithfulness. We can ask ourselves today: “To whom do I turn my gaze: to the Lord, or to myself?” Whoever experiences God’s grace above all else can discover the antidote to distrust and to looking at things in a worldly way.

There is a temptation that looms over religious life: seeing things in a worldly way. This entails no longer seeing God’s grace as the driving force in life, then going off in search of something to substitute for it: a bit of fame, a consoling affection, finally getting to do what I want. But when a consecrated life no longer revolves around God’s grace, it turns in upon itself. It loses its passion, it grows slack, becomes stagnant. And we know what happens then: we start to demand our own space, our own rights, we let ourselves get dragged into gossip and slander, we take offence at every small thing that does not go our way, and we pour forth litanies of lamentation – lamentation, “Father Lamentation”, “Sister Lamentation” – about our brothers, our sisters, our communities, the Church, society. We no longer see the Lord in everything, but only the dynamics of the world, and our hearts grow numb. Then we become creatures of habit, pragmatic, while inside us sadness and distrust grow, that turn into resignation. This is what a worldly gaze leads to. The Great Saint Teresa once said to the sisters: “woe to the sister who repeats these words, ‘they have treated me unjustly’, woe to her!”

To have the right kind of view on life, we ask to be able to perceive God’s grace for us, like Simeon. The Gospel says three times that he was intimately familiar with the Holy Spirit, who was upon him, inspired him, roused him (cf. v. 25-27). He was intimately familiar with the Holy Spirit, with the love of God. If consecrated life remains steadfast in love for the Lord, it perceives beauty. It sees that poverty is not some colossal effort, but rather a higher freedom that God gives to us and others as real wealth. It sees that chastity is not austere sterility, but the way to love without possessing. It sees that obedience is not a discipline, but is victory over our own chaos, in the way of Jesus. In one of the regions affected by earthquake in Italy – speaking of poverty and community life – there was a Benedictine monastery that was destroyed and another monastery that invited the Sisters to come and stay with them. But they were only there for a short while: they were not happy, they were thinking about their monastery, about the people there. In the end, they decided to go back to their monastery, which is now two caravans. Instead of staying in this big, comfortable monastery; they were like flies there, all of them together, but happy in their poverty. This happened just last year. It is a beautiful thing!

My eyes have seen your salvation. Simeon sees Jesus as small, humble, the one who has come to serve, not to be served, and defines himself as servant. Indeed he says: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace” (v. 29). Those who see things as Jesus does, learn how to live in order to serve. They do not wait for others to take the initiative, but themselves go out in search of their neighbour, as did Simeon who sought out Jesus in the temple. Where is one’s neighbour to be found in the consecrated life? This is the question: Where is one’s neighbour to be found? First of all in one’s own community. The grace must be sought to know how to seek out Jesus in the brothers and sisters we have been given. And that is precisely where we can begin to put charity into practice: in the place where you live, by welcoming brothers and sisters in their poverty, as Simeon welcomed Jesus meek and poor. Today, so many see in other people only hindrances and complications. We need to have a gaze that seeks out our neighbour, that brings those who are far-off closer. Men and women religious, who live to imitate Jesus, are called to bring their own gaze into the world, a gaze of compassion, a gaze that goes in search of those far-off; a gaze that does not condemn, but encourages, frees, consoles; a gaze of compassion. That repeated phrase in the Gospel, which, speaking about Jesus, says: “He had compassion”. This is the stooping down of Jesus towards each one of us.

My eyes have seen your salvation. The eyes of Simeon saw salvation because they were expecting it (cf. v. 25). They were eyes that were waiting, full of hope. They were looking for the light and then saw the light of the nations (cf. v. 32). They were aged eyes, but burning with hope. The gaze of consecrated men and women can only be one of hope. Knowing how to hope. Looking around, it is easy to lose hope: things that don’t work, the decline in vocations… There is always the temptation to have a worldly gaze, one devoid of hope. But let us look to the Gospel and see Simeon and Anna: they were elderly, alone, yet they had not lost hope, because they remained in communion with the Lord. Anna “did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” (v. 37). Here is the secret: never to alienate oneself from the Lord, who is the source of hope. We become blind if we do not look to the Lord every day, if we do not adore him. To adore the Lord.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us thank God for the gift of the consecrated life and ask of him a new way of looking, that knows how to see grace, how to look for one’s neighbour, how to hope. Then our eyes too will see salvation.


Pope Francis       

02.02.21 Holy Mass, Vatican Basilica      

Presentation of the Lord       

25th World Day For Consecrated Life           

Luke 2: 22-40

Simeon, so Saint Luke tells us, “looked forward to the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25). Going up to the Temple as Mary and Joseph were bringing Jesus there, he took the Messiah into his arms. The one who recognized in that Child the light that came to shine on the Gentiles was an elderly man who had patiently awaited the fulfilment of the Lord’s promises.

The patience of Simeon. Let us take a closer look at that old man’s patience. For his entire life, he had been waiting, exercising the patience of the heart. In his prayer, Simeon had learned that God does not come in extraordinary events, but works amid the apparent monotony of our daily life, in the frequently dull rhythm of our activities, in the little things that, working with tenacity and humility, we achieve in our efforts to do his will. By patiently persevering, Simeon did not grow weary with the passage of time. He was now an old man, yet the flame still burned brightly in his heart. In his long life, there had surely been times when he had been hurt, disappointed, yet he did not lose hope. He trusted in the promise, and did not let himself be consumed by regret for times past or by the sense of despondency that can come as we approach the twilight of our lives. His hope and expectation found expression in the daily patience of a man who, despite everything, remained watchful, until at last “his eyes saw the salvation” that had been promised (cf. Lk 2:30).

I ask myself: where did Simeon learn such patience? It was born of prayer and the history of his people, which had always seen in the Lord “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and fidelity” (Ex 34:6). He recognized the Father who, even in the face of rejection and infidelity, never gives up, but remains “patient for many years” (cf. Neh 9:30), constantly holding out the possibility of conversion.

The patience of Simeon is thus a mirror of God’s own patience. From prayer and the history of his people, Simeon had learned that God is indeed patient. By that patience, Saint Paul tells us, he “leads us to repentance” (Rom 2:4). I like to think of Romano Guardini, who once observed that patience is God’s way of responding to our weakness and giving us the time we need to change (cf. Glaubenserkenntnis, Würzburg, 1949, 28). More than anyone else, the Messiah, Jesus, whom Simeon held in his arms, shows us the patience of God, the merciful Father who keeps calling us, even to our final hour. God, who does not demand perfection but heartfelt enthusiasm, who opens up new possibilities when all seems lost, who wants to open a breach in our hardened hearts, who lets the good seed grow without uprooting the weeds. This is the reason for our hope: that God never tires of waiting for us. When we turn away, he comes looking for us; when we fall, he lifts us to our feet; when we return to him after losing our way, he waits for us with open arms. His love is not weighed in the balance of our human calculations, but unstintingly gives us the courage to start anew. This teaches us resilience, the courage always to start again, each day. Always to start over after our falls. God is patient.

Let us look to our patience. Let us look to the patience of God and the patience of Simeon as we consider our own lives of consecration. We can ask ourselves what patience really involves. Certainly it is not simply about tolerating difficulties or showing grim determination in the face of hardship. Patience is not a sign of weakness, but the strength of spirit that enables us to “carry the burden”, to endure, to bear the weight of personal and community problems, to accept others as different from ourselves, to persevere in goodness when all seems lost, and to keep advancing even when overcome by fatigue and listlessness.

Let me point to three “settings” in which patience can become concrete.

The first is our personal life. There was a time when we responded to the Lord’s call, and with enthusiasm and generosity offered our lives to him. Along the way, together with consolations we have had our share of disappointments and frustrations. At times, our hard work fails to achieve the desired results, the seeds we sow seem not to bear sufficient fruit, the ardour of our prayer cools and we are not always immune to spiritual aridity. In our lives as consecrated men and women, it can happen that hope slowly fades as a result of unmet expectations. We have to be patient with ourselves and await in hope God’s own times and places, for he remains ever faithful to his promises. This is the foundation stone: he is true to his promises. Remembering this can help us retrace our steps and revive our dreams, rather than yielding to interior sadness and discouragement. Brothers and sisters, in us consecrated men and women, interior sadness is a worm, a worm that eats us from within. Flee from interior sadness!

A second setting in which patience can become concrete is community life. We all know that human relationships are not always serene, especially when they involve sharing a project of life or apostolic activity. There are times when conflicts arise and no immediate solution can be expected, nor should hasty judgements be made. Time is required to step back, to preserve peace and to wait for a better time to resolve situations in charity and in truth. Let us not allow ourselves to be flustered by tempests. In the Breviary, for tomorrow’s Office of Readings, there is a fine passage on spiritual discernment by Diodochus of Photice. He says: “A tranquil sea allows the fisherman to gaze right to its depths. No fish can hide there and escape his sight. The stormy sea, however, becomes murky when it is agitated by the winds”. We will never be able to discern well, to see the truth, if our hearts are agitated and impatient. Never. Our communities need this kind of reciprocal patience: the ability to support, that is, to bear on our own shoulders, the life of one of our brothers or sisters, including his or her weaknesses and failings, all of them. Let us keep in mind that the Lord does not call us to be soloists – we know there are many in the Church – no, we are not called to be soloists but to be part of a choir that can sometimes miss a note or two, but must always try to sing in unison.

Finally, a third setting is our relationship with the world. Simeon and Anna cherished the hope proclaimed by the prophets, even though it is slow to be fulfilled and grows silently amid the infidelities and ruins of our world. They did not complain about how wrong things are, but patiently looked for the light shining in the darkness of history. To look for the light shining in the darkness of history; to look for the light shining in the darkness of our own communities. We too need that kind of patience, so as not to fall into the trap of complaining. Some people are masters of complaining, doctors of complaining, they are very good at complaining! No, complaining imprisons us: “the world no longer listens to us” – how often do we hear that - or “we have no more vocations, so we have to close the house”, or “these are not easy times” – “ah, don’t tell me!...”. And so the duet of complaints begins. It can happen that even as God patiently tills the soil of history and our own hearts, we show ourselves impatient and want to judge everything immediately: now or never, now, now, now. In this way, we lose that “small” but most beautiful of virtues: hope. I have seen many consecrated men and women who lose hope, simply through impatience.

Patience helps us to be merciful in the way we view ourselves, our communities and our world. In our own lives, do we welcome the patience of the Holy Spirit? In our communities, do we bear with one another and radiate the joy of fraternal life? In the world, do we patiently offer our service, or issue harsh judgements? These are real challenges for our consecrated life: we cannot remain stuck in nostalgia for the past or simply keep repeating the same old things or everyday complaints. We need patience and courage in order to keep advancing, exploring new paths, and responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. And to do so with humility and simplicity, without great propaganda or publicity.

Let us contemplate God’s patience and implore the trusting patience of Simeon and of Anna. In this way, may our eyes, too, see the light of salvation and bring that light to the whole world, just as these two elderly individuals did in their words of praise.


Pope Francis       

02.02.22 Holy Mass, St Peter’s Basilica  

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord   

26th World Day For Consecrated Life  Year C 

Luke 2: 22-40

Two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, await in the Temple the fulfilment of the promise that God made to his people: the coming of the Messiah. Yet theirs is no passive expectation, it is full of movement. Let us look at what Simeon does. First, he is moved by the Spirit; then he sees salvation in the Child Jesus and finally he takes him into his arms (cf. Lk 2:26-28). Let us simply consider these three actions and reflect on some important questions for us and in particular for the consecrated life.

First, what moves us? Simeon goes to the Temple, “moved by the spirit” (v. 27). The Holy Spirit is the protagonist in this scene. He makes Simeon’s heart burn with desire for God. He keeps expectation alive in his heart: He impels him to go to the Temple and he enables his eyes to recognize the Messiah, even in the guise of a poor little baby. That is what the Holy Spirit does: he enables us to discern God’s presence and activity not in great things, in outward appearances or shows of force, but in littleness and vulnerability. Think of the cross. There too we find littleness and vulnerability, but also something dramatic: the power of God. Those words “moved by the spirit” remind us of what ascetic theology calls “movements of the Spirit”: those movements of the soul that we recognize within ourselves and are called to test, in order to discern whether they come from the Holy Spirit or not. Be attentive to the interior movements of the Spirit.

We can also ask, who mostly moves us? Is it the Holy Spirit, or the spirit of this world? This a question that everyone, consecrated persons in particular, needs to ask. The Spirit moves us to see God in the littleness and vulnerability of a baby, yet we at times risk seeing our consecration only in terms of results, goals and success: we look for influence, for visibility, for numbers. This is a temptation. The Spirit, on the other hand, asks for none of this. He wants us to cultivate daily fidelity and to be attentive to the little things entrusted to our care. How touching is the fidelity shown by Simeon and Anna! Each day they go to the Temple, each day they keep watch and pray, even though time passes and nothing seems to happen. They live their lives in expectation, without discouragement or complaint, persevering in fidelity and nourishing the flame of hope that the Spirit has kindled in their hearts.

Brothers and sisters, we can ask, what moves our days? What is the love that makes us keep going? Is it the Holy Spirit, or the passion of the moment, or something else? How do we “move” in the Church and in society? Sometimes, even behind the appearance of good works, the canker of narcissism, or the need to stand out, can be concealed. In other cases, even as we go about doing many things, our religious communities can appear moved more by mechanical repetition – acting out of habit, just to keep busy – than by enthusiastic openness to the Holy Spirit. All of us would do well today to examine our interior motivations and discern our spiritual movements, so that the renewal of consecrated life may come about, first and foremost, from there.

A second question: What do our eyes see? Simeon, moved by the Spirit, sees and recognizes Christ. And he prays, saying: “My eyes have seen your salvation” (v. 30). This is the great miracle of faith: it opens eyes, transforms gazes, changes perspectives. As we know from Jesus’ many encounters in the Gospel, faith is born of the compassionate gaze with which God looks upon us, softening the hardness of our hearts, healing our wounds and giving us new eyes to look at ourselves and at our world. New ways to see ourselves, others and all the situations that we experience, even those that are most painful.  This gaze is not naïve but sapiential. A naïve gaze flees reality and refuses to see problems. A sapiential gaze, however, can “look within” and “see beyond”. It is a gaze that does not stop at appearances, but can enter into the very cracks of our weaknesses and failures, in order to discern God’s presence even there.

The eyes of the elderly Simeon, albeit dimmed by the years, see the Lord. They see salvation. What about us? Each of us can ask: what do our eyes see? What is our vision of consecrated life? The world often sees it as “a waste”: “look at that fine young person becoming a friar or a nun, what a waste! If at least they were ugly… but what a waste”! That is how we think. The world perhaps sees this as a relic of the past, something useless. But we, the Christian community, men and women religious, what do we see? Are our eyes turned only inward, yearning for something that no longer exists, or are we capable of a farsighted gaze of faith, one that looks both within and beyond? To have the wisdom to look at things – this is a gift of the Spirit – to look at things well, to see them in perspective, to grasp reality. I am greatly edified when I see older consecrated men and women whose eyes are bright, who continue to smile and in this way to give hope to the young. Let us think of all those times when we encountered such persons, and bless God for this. For their eyes are full of hope and openness to the future. And perhaps we would do well, in these days, to go make a visit to our elderly religious brothers and sisters, to see them, to talk with them, to ask questions, to hear what they are thinking. I consider this a good medicine.

Brothers and sisters, the Lord never fails to give us signs that invite us to cultivate a renewed vision of consecrated life. We need to do this, but in the light of the Holy Spirit and docile to his movements. We cannot pretend not to see these signs and go on as usual, doing the same old things, drifting back through inertia to the forms of the past, paralyzed by fear of change. I have said this over and over again: nowadays the temptation to go back, for security, out of fear, in order to preserve the faith or the charism of the founder… is a temptation. The temptation to go back and preserve “”traditions” with rigidity. Let’s get this into our head: rigidity is a perversion, and beneath every form of rigidity there are grave problems. Neither Simeon or Anna were rigid; no, they were free and had the joy of celebrating: Simeon by praising the Lord and prophesying with courage to the child’s mother. Anna, like a good old woman, kept saying: “Look at them!” “Look at this!” She spoke with joy, her eyes full of hope. None of the inertia of the past, no rigidity. Let us open our eyes: the Spirit is inviting us amid our crises – and crises there are –, our decreasing numbers – “Father, there are no vocations, now we will go to some island of Indonesia to see if we can find one” – and our diminishing forces, to renew our lives and our communities. And how do we do this? He will show us the way. Let us open our hearts, with courage and without fear. Let us look at Simeon and Anna: although they were advanced in years, they did not spend their days mourning a past that never comes back, but instead embraced the future opening up before them. Brothers and sisters, let us not waste today by looking back at yesterday, or dreaming of a tomorrow that will never come; instead, let us place ourselves before the Lord in adoration and ask for eyes to see goodness and to discern the ways of God. The Lord will give them to us, if we ask him. With joy, with courage, without fear.

Finally, a third question: what do we take into our own arms? Simeon took Jesus into his arms (cf. v. 28). It is a touching scene, full of meaning and unique in the Gospels. God has placed his Son in our arms too, because embracing Jesus is the essential thing, the very heart of faith. Sometimes we risk losing our bearings, getting caught up in a thousand different things, obsessing about minor issues or plunging into new projects, yet the heart of everything is Christ, embracing him as the Lord of our lives.

When Simeon took Jesus into his arms, he spoke words of blessing, praise and wonder. And we, after so many years of consecrated life, have we lost the ability to be amazed? Do we still have this capacity? Let us examine ourselves on this, and if someone does not find it, let him or her ask for the grace of amazement, amazement before the wonders that God is working in us, hidden, like those in the temple, when Simeon and Anna encountered Jesus. If consecrated men and women lack words that bless God and other people, if they lack joy, if their enthusiasm fails, if their fraternal life is only a chore, if amazement is lacking, that is not the fault of someone or something else. The real reason is that our arms no longer embrace Jesus. And when the arms of a consecrated man or woman do not embrace Jesus, they embrace a vacuum which they try to fill with other things, but it remains a vacuum. To take Jesus into our arms: this is the sign, the journey, the recipe for renewal. When we fail to take Jesus into our arms, our hearts fall prey to bitterness. It is sad to see religious who are bitter: closed up in complaining about things that do not go like clockwork. They are always complaining about something: the superior, their brothers or sisters, the community, the food… They live for something to complain about. But we have to embrace Jesus in adoration and ask for eyes capable of seeing the goodness and discerning the ways of God. If we embrace Christ with open arms, we will also embrace others with trust and humility. Then conflicts will not escalate, disagreements will not divide, and the temptation to domineer and to offend the dignity of others will be overcome. So let us open our arms to Christ and to all our brothers and sisters. For that is where Jesus is.

Dear friends, today let us joyfully renew our consecration! Let us ask ourselves what “moves” our hearts and actions, what renewed vision we are being called to cultivate, and above all else, let us take Jesus into our arms. Even if at times we experience fatigue and weariness – this too happens – , let us do as Simeon and Anna did.  They awaited with patience the fidelity of the Lord and did not allow themselves to be robbed of the joy of the encounter with him. Let us advance to the joy of the encounter: this is beautiful! Let us put the Lord back in the centre, and press forward with joy. Amen.

02.02.22   m

Pope Francis       

18.05.24 Meeting with Priests and Consecrated Persons,

Basilica of San Zeno, Verona

Dear men and women religious, good morning!

I thank you for being here. I thank the Bishop for the welcome and for all the work he carries out together with you. It is good to find ourselves in this Romanesque Basilica, one of the most beautiful in Italy, which also inspired poets like Dante and Carducci. Being here together, the Bishop, priests, women and men religious, looking at this splendid keeled ceiling makes us feel like we are inside a great boat, and makes us think of the mystery of the Church, the Lord's boat that sails the sea of history to bring the joy of the Gospel to all.

This Gospel image reminds us of at least two things I would like to dwell upon with you: the first is the call, the call received and always to be accepted; and the second is the mission, to be carried out with boldness.

First, welcome the call he received: the first point of our reflection. At the beginning of his ministry in Galilee, Jesus passes along the lakeshore and sets his gaze on a boat and two pairs of brother fishermen, the first casting their nets and the other tidying them. He approaches and calls them to follow him (cf. Mt 4:18-22; Mk 1:16-20). Let us not forget this: at the origin of the Christian life is the experience of encountering the Lord, which does not depend on our own merits or commitment, but on the love with which He comes seeking us, knocking on the door of our heart and inviting us into a relationship with Him. I ask myself, and I ask you: have I encountered the Lord? Do I let myself be encountered by the Lord? Even more, at the origin of consecrated life and priestly life, it does not depend on us, on our gifts or some special merit, but there is the amazing call of the Lord, His merciful gaze that has bent over towards us and chosen us for this ministry, even if we are no better than others, we are sinners like the others. This, sisters and brothers, is pure grace, pure grace. I like what Saint Augustine said: look here and there, search for merit, and you will find nothing, only grace. It is pure grace, pure gratuity, an unexpected gift that opens our hearts to amazement before the condescension of God. Grace provokes this: wonder. “But I never imagined something like this!...” The wonder when we are opened to grace and let the Lord work within us.

Dear brother priests, dear religious sisters and brothers: let us never lose the wonder of the call! Remember the day when the Lord called us. Perhaps some of us remember well how the calling was, or at least the time of the calling: remember it, this brings us joy, even weeping with joy at the moment of the calling. “You, come!” “Who? That other person?” “No, you!” “Yes, no… that other?” “No, you, you!” “But Lord, that other is better than me…” “You, wretch, sinner, however you are, but you!”. Let us never forget the time of the calling. This wonder, what a beautiful thing it is! And this is nourished by the memory of the gift received by grace: we must always have this memory within us.

This is the first foundation of our consecration and ministry: to accept the call we have received, to welcome the gift with which God has surprised us. If we lose this consciousness and this memory, we risk putting ourselves at the centre, instead of the Lord; without this memory we risk getting agitated about projects and activities that serve our cause more than that of the Kingdom; we even risk living the apostolate in the logic of self-promotion and consensus-seeking, trying to advance our career, and this is very bad, instead of spending our lives for the Gospel and for free service to the Church. It is He who has chosen us (cf. Jn. 15:16), it is He, He is at the centre. If we remember this, that He has chosen us, even when we feel the weight of weariness and some disappointment, we will remain serene and confident, certain that He will not leave us empty-handed. Never. He will make us wait, this is true, but He will not leave us empty-handed. Like the fishermen, trained in patience, we too, in the midst of the complex challenges of our time, are called to cultivate the inner attitude of waiting. Patience: waiting and patience, as well as the ability to deal with the unexpected, to deal with changes, to deal with the risks associated with our mission, with openness but also with a wakeful heart, and to ask the Holy Spirit for that ability to discern the signs of the times: this no, this yes, this will not do. And we can only do all of this this because at the origin of our ministry is the call of the Lord, and He will not leave us alone. We can cast the net and wait with confidence. This saves us, even in the most difficult times; so, let us remember the call, accept it every day, and stay with the Lord. We all know that there are difficult moments, there are. Moments of darkness, moments of desolation… In these dark moments, remember the call, the first call, and take strength from there.

When this experience of remembering the first call is firmly rooted in us, we can then be bold in the mission to be accomplished. And I think again of the Sea of Galilee, this time after Jesus' resurrection. He, on the shore of that same lake, meets the disciples again and finds them disappointed, bitter with a sense of defeat, because they had gone out fishing “but that night they had caught nothing” (cf. Jn. 21:3) – and how many times does this happen to us, in religious life, in apostolic life - then the Lord shakes them out of that resignation, spurs them to try again, to cast the net again; and they “cast it, and could not pull it up because of the great quantity of fish” (v. 6). In moments of disappointment, do not stop, resist. Resist. Many times, we forget this: the Lord did not say to any of us, when we set out on this road, that everything would be nice and comfortable. No. Life is made up of moments of joy, but also of dark moments. Resist. The ability, the courage to keep going and the courage to resist.

Boldness – apostolic boldness – is a gift that this Church knows well. For if there is one characteristic of Veronese priests and religious, it is precisely that of being enterprising, creative, capable of embodying the prophecy of the Gospel. Thank you, thank you for this. And this evangelical resourcefulness is a seal – let us call it - that has marked your history: just think of the imprint left by so many priests, religious and lay people in the 19th century, whom we can venerate today as Saints and Blesseds. Witnesses of the faith who were able to unite the proclamation of the Word with the generous and compassionate service of the needy, with a “social creativity” that led to the birth of training schools, hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and places of spirituality. This boldness of being creative for the people of God.

Many of these saints and holy men and women of the nineteenth century were among their contemporaries and, immersed in the turbulent history of their time, through the imagination of charity animated by the Holy Spirit, they succeeded in creating a kind of “holy fraternity,” capable of meeting the needs of the most marginalized and the poorest and caring for their wounds. Do not forget this: the wounds of the Church, the wounds of the poor. Do not forget the Good Samaritan, who stops and goes there to heal the wounds. A faith that was translated into the boldness of mission. We need this today as well: the boldness of witness and proclamation, the joy of an industrious faith in charity, the resourcefulness of a Church that knows how to grasp the signs of our times and respond to the needs of those who struggle the most. Boldness, courage, the ability to start over, the ability to risk. To all, I repeat, to all we must bring the caress of God's mercy. And in this regard, dear brother priests, I will dwell on something – I am addressing the priests, who are ministers of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Please, forgive everything, forgive everything. And when people come to confess, do not go and enquire: “But, how?”, nothing. And if you are not capable of understanding in that moment, go forward, the Lord has understood. But please, do not torture the penitent. A great Cardinal, who was penitentiary; he was quite conservative, but before penance, I heard him say, “When a person comes to me and I feel that they find it difficult to say something, I say, ‘I understand, move on’. I haven’t understood, but God has understood”. This, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Please, may it not be a torture session. Please, forgive everything. Everything. And forgive without causing suffering, forgive opening your heart to hope. I ask this of you priests, The Church needs forgiveness and you are the tools to forgive. Everyone. We must bring to everyone the caress of God’s mercy, especially to those who thirst for hope, to those who find themselves forced to live on the margins, wounded by life, or by some mistake made, or by the injustices of society, which always come at the expense of the most fragile. Have you understood? Forgive everyone.

The boldness of an industrious faith in charity, you have inherited from your history. And so, I would like to say to you with St. Paul, “Do not be discouraged in doing good” (2 Thess 3:13). Do not give in to discouragement: be bold in your mission, know how to still be a Church that makes itself close, that approaches crossroads, that heals wounds, that bears witness to God's mercy. It is in this way that the Lord's boat, in the midst of the storms of the world, can bring to safety so many who otherwise risk being shipwrecked. Storms, as we know, are not lacking in our day; there are many of them, there is no shortage. Many of them have their root in avarice, greed, the unbridled pursuit of self-satisfaction, and are nurtured in an individualistic, indifferent and violent culture. The storms, for the most part, come from this.

And so timely in this regard are the words of St. Zeno, who states, “It is not an isolated fault - beloved brethren - to let oneself be ensnared by the shackles of covetousness. [...] But since the whole world has been burned by the fire of this unquenchable plague, avarice, by all accounts, has ceased to be a guilt, because it has left no one to move to reproach it. Everyone throws himself headlong into vile gain, and no one has been found to impose the bite of justice on it. [...] Therefore it happens that all nations fall moment by moment as a result of each other's injuries” (Sermon 5 [I, 9], On Avarice).

The risk is this, even for us: that evil becomes “normal,” – “This is normal, this is normal…”. No. It is a risk, this. Evil is not normal; it must not be normal. In hell yes, but here no. Evil must not be normal. That we become accustomed to bad things: “The whole world does it, so I will too”. And so, we become accomplices! Instead, speaking to the people of Verona, St. Zeno says: “Your houses are open to all wayfarers, under you no one either living or dead was long seen naked. Now our poor are ignorant of what it is to beg for food” (Sermon 14 [I, 10], On Avarice). May these words be true for you today!

Brothers and sisters, thank you! Thank you for giving your lives to the Lord and for your commitment to the apostolate. A few days ago I met with “retired” priests, with forty or more years in the priesthood, and I saw those priests who have given their life to the Lord, and they have that wisdom of the heart; I said the same to them: thank you for your commitment to the apostolate. Go forward with courage. Better: let us move forward with courage, everyone! We have the grace and joy of being together on the ship of the Church, amidst wonderful horizons and alarming storms, but without fear, because the Lord is always with us, and it is He who has the rudder, who guides us, who sustains us. And I say this not only to the priests, but also to you, men and women religious. Go forward with courage! It is up to us to accept the call and be bold in our mission. As one of your great saints, Daniele Comboni, said, “Holy and capable. [...] The one without the other is worth little to those who beat the apostolic career. The missionary, male and female cannot go alone to heaven. Alone they will go to hell. The missionary and the missionary woman must go to heaven accompanied by the saved souls. So, first: saints, [...] but it is not enough: it takes charity” (Writings, 6655), both things.

This I wish for you and your communities: a “capable holiness,” a living faith that with bold charity sows the Kingdom of God in every situation of daily life. And if Shakespeare's genius was inspired by the beauty of this place to tell us the tormented stories of two lovers, hindered by the hatred of their respective families, let us Christians, inspired by the Gospel, commit ourselves to sow love everywhere: where there is hatred, may I place love, where there is hatred may I be capable of sowing love. A love stronger than hatred – today there is so much hatred in the world – sow a love stronger than hatred and stronger than death. Dream of it thus: dream of Verona as the city of love, not only in literature, but in life. And may God's love accompany you and bless you. And please, I ask you to pray for me. But pray for, not against! Thank you!

18.05.24 cp