Pope to religious: Charisms are for the edification of the Church
By Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Pope Francis on Thursday received in audience members of the Order of the Mother of God, the Basilian Order of St. Josaphat, and the Congregation of the Mission – three religious congregations which are holding their General Chapters in these days.
In his address, Pope Francis welcomed the Superiors of the three orders and thanked them for presenting the paths and perspectives of their respective institutes. The Pope extended the Church’s gratitude to the religious congregations for the witness they give as consecrated persons, as well as for their apostolic activities.
He also expressed his keenness to receive the General Chapters because it is a way of communicating with the consecrated life, which is important in the Church, even though it means breaking his customary July "fast" of a slowdown of his activities.
A reunion of presence
The Pope pointed out that the Chapters have been “a reunion of presence” for the orders, after the period of forced distance due to the pandemic. He said that this should help them not to take for granted the opportunity to meet, pray, listen to the Word, and share the Eucharist together.
He went on to extend his best wishes to the newly elected members of the institutes, noting that the Clerics of the Mother of God and the Congregation of the Mission are finishing their Chapters, while the Basilians have just begun.
A time of community discernment
The Chapter “is a time of community discernment” said the Pope, where, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the orders try to see to what extent they have been faithful to their charism, how the Spirit urges them to move forward, and what the Spirit asks us to change.
In this regard, the Pope said that coming together to listen to the Spirit by presenting Him with concrete situations and problems is one of the most powerful “ecclesial” experiences we can have.
“It is what we read in the Acts of the Apostles about the first communities, and what we are called to relive in today's Church and the world,” he affirmed.
The Pope went on to reflect on the criterion of evangelization, reiterating to the three orders the importance of questioning, creative fidelity to their original charism, and asking if their way of interpreting and implementing is “evangelizing.”
“That is,” explained the Pope, “whether the choices we make - as to content, methods, instruments, and style of life - are oriented toward witnessing and proclaiming the Gospel.”
He added that even though by their nature, charisms are different and it is the Holy Spirit that creates and distributes them, charisms, as St. Paul teaches, “are all for the edification of the Church.” And since the Church is not an end in itself but its end is to evangelize, it follows that every charism, “can and must cooperate in evangelization” and this “must be kept in mind when making discernment.”
On this note, the Pope pointed to the examples of Saints John Leonardi, Josaphat, and Vincent de Paul - the respective founders of the three orders - noting that they show what it means to be “evangelizers with the Spirit,” evangelizers who pray and work, not proselytizers. He further urged them to spend more time in prayer and adoration, cautioning against the danger of forgetting adoration.
Recalling his own Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium (262), Pope Francis said that “Spirit-filled evangelizers are evangelizers who pray and work” as “mystical notions without a solid social and missionary outreach are of no help to evangelization, nor are dissertations or social or pastoral practices which lack a spirituality which can change hearts.”
“As religious, you are called to evangelize not only on a personal level, like every baptized person, but also in community form, with fraternal life,” said Pope Francis.
While acknowledging the challenges of communal life, the Pope reminded them that it requires “a daily attitude of conversion, requires a willingness to question oneself, vigilance over rigidities, as well as over excessive and 'comfortable' tolerance.”
Above all, he added, “it requires humility and simplicity of heart, which we must never cease to ask of God, for they come from Him.”
Pope Francis further affirmed that it is in the “crucible of relationships that our hearts are sifted and that, with each person's commitment, a beautiful witness of brotherhood can take shape.” He likens it to an orchestra with several instruments where the essential thing is not the skill of the soloists but the ability to listen to everyone in order to create the best harmony.
“This is where joy comes from,” said the Pope, noting that it is the “joy of being Christ's and being together, with our limitations and sins”; of being forgiven by God and sharing this forgiveness with our brothers and sisters. “This joy cannot be hidden; it shines through! And it is contagious."
He added that it is the joy of the saints and holy men and women, who, if they are founders, are not founders by birth but by attraction. Elaborating on this point, he said that Christ first attracts that man or woman to Himself and then enables him or her to attract others to Him. Thus, he urged the religious orders to emphasize this attraction “to Him” – that is, to Christ, as a saint does not attract to himself or herself but to God.
“Humility and simplicity of heart and joy,” the Pope said. “This is the way of an evangelizing brotherhood. Impossible to men, but not to God!”
The Holy Father also once again warned against gossiping, which, he said, is "one of the things that kill the joy in community."
He stressed that gossiping "makes people superficial" and recommended that those who have something against another should go to them and say it to their faces or say it to someone else who can remedy the situation.
"Gossiping destroys not only the community, but it also destroys oneself," said the Pope.
Prayers for the Basilians from Ukraine
Pope Francis then turned his attention to the Ukrainian Basilians, expressing his closeness and that of the Church to them "in this moment of pain and martyrdom of your homeland."
He stressed the importance of talking about the war, lamenting that it is no longer a problem of interest and insisting that we not get used to it.
"You are undergoing martyrdom. And I wish that the Lord has compassion on you and be close to you in another way with peace and the gift of peace," he said.
The Pope also seized the opportunity to speak to the three congregations about the problem of abuse, urging them not to hide this reality or be ashamed to report cases.
He reminded them that they are religious and priests to bring people to Jesus and not "to 'consume' people with [our] concupiscence"
"Please remember this well" he insisted, "zero tolerance on child abuse or people who are incapable" [i.e., vulnerable persons].
Concluding, Pope Francis prayed that the Holy Spirit may continue to grant his gifts in abundance to them and invoked the intercession of Our Lady to protect them and be a sure guide on their path.