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Pope's Address to Women Religious Superiors
"What would the Church be without you? She would lack maternity, affection, tenderness!"
VATICAN CITY, May 08, 2013 (Zenit.org) - Here is a translation of Francis' address today to the International Union of Superiors General (UISG)
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Venerable and Dear Brother in the Episcopate,
I am happy to meet with you today and I wish to greet each one of you, thanking you for all that you do, so that consecrated life will always be a light on the path of the Church. Dear Sisters, first of all I thank dear Brother Cardinal João Bráz de Aviz, for the words he addressed to me. I am also pleased by the presence of the Secretary of the Congregation. The subject of your congress seems to me particularly important for the task that has been entrusted to you: "The service of authority according to the Gospel." In the light of this expression, I would like to suggest three simple thoughts, which I leave with you for your further personal and communal reflection.
In the Last Supper, Jesus addressed these words to the Apostles: "You did not choose me, but I chose you" (John 15:16), which reminds all, not just us priests, that a vocation is always an initiative of God. It is Christ who has called you to follow him in the consecrated life and this means to continually engage in an "exodus" from yourselves to center your existence on Christ and on his Gospel, on the will of God, divesting yourselves of your plans, to be able to say with Saint Paul: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). This "exodus" from oneself is to put oneself on a path of adoration and service. An exodus that leads us to a path of adoration of the Lord and of service to Him in our brothers and sisters. To adore and to serve: two attitudes that cannot be separated, but which must always go together. To adore the Lord and to serve others, not holding anything for oneself: this is the "divestment" of one who exercises authority. Live and recall always the centrality of Christ, the evangelical identity of consecrated life. Help your communities to live the "exodus" from themselves on a path of adoration and service, first of all, through the three foundations of your existence.
Obedience as listening to the will of God in the interior motion of the Holy Spirit, authenticated by the Church, accepting that obedience passes also through human mediations. Remember that the authority-obedience relation is placed in the wider context of the mystery of the Church and constitutes a particular accomplishment of her mediating function (cf. Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, The Service of Authority and Obedience, 12.)
Poverty as the overcoming of all egoism in the logic of the Gospel, which teaches us to trust in the Providence of God. Poverty as an indication to the whole Church that we are not the ones who build the Kingdom of God; it is not human means that make it grow, but primarily the power, the grace of the Lord, who works through our weakness. "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness," states the Apostle to the Gentiles (2 Corinthians 12:9). Poverty that teaches solidarity, sharing and charity, and which is also expressed in a sobriety and joy in the essential, to be on guard against material idols that obfuscate the authentic meaning of life. Poverty that is learned with the humble, the poor, the sick and all those who are on the existential peripheries of life. Theoretical poverty is of no use to us. Poverty is learned by touching the flesh of the poor Christ, in the humble, the poor, the sick, in children.
And then chastity as a precious charism, which widens the freedom of the gift to God and to others, with the tenderness, the mercy, the closeness of Christ. Chastity for the Kingdom of Heaven shows how affectivity has its place in mature freedom and becomes a sign of the future world, to make God's primacy shine always. But, please, a "fecund" chastity, a chastity that generates spiritual children in the Church. The consecrated woman is mother, she must be a mother and not a "spinster!" Excuse me if I speak this way, but this maternity, this fecundity of consecrated life is important! May this joy of spiritual fecundity animate your existence. Be mothers, as the figure of Mother Mary and of the Mother Church. Mary cannot be understood without her maternity; the Church cannot be understood without her maternity and you are icons of Mary and of the Church.
A second element that I would like to stress in the service of authority is service. We must not forget that true power, at whatever level, is service, which has its luminous summit on the Cross. With great wisdom Benedict XVI reminded the Church many times that for man, authority is often synonymous with possession, dominion, success. For God authority is always synonymous with service, humility, love. It means to enter into Jesus' logic, who bends down to wash the feet of the Apostles (cf. Angelus, January 29, 2012), and who says to his disciples: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them .... it shall not be so among you; in fact, the motto of your assembly, no? 'it shall not be so among you'; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave" (Matthew 20:25-27). We think of the harm inflicted on the People of God by men and women of the Church who are careerists, social climbers, who "use" the people, the Church, brothers and sisters - those they should serve -- as trampolines for their own personal interests and ambitions. But these do great harm to the Church.
Know always how to exercise authority by accompanying, understanding, helping, loving, embracing all men and women, especially persons who feel alone, excluded, arid -- the existential peripheries of the human heart. Let us keep our sight fixed on the Cross: placed there is all authority in the Church, where He who is the Lord makes himself a servant to the point of total gift of himself.
Finally ecclesiality as one of the constitutive dimensions of consecrated life, a dimension that must constantly be taken up and deepened in life. Your vocation is an essential charism for the journey of the Church, and it is not possible that a consecrated woman and a consecrated man not "feel" along with the Church. A "feeling" along with the Church which was generated in us in our Baptism; a "feeling" with the Church which finds its filial expression in fidelity to the Magisterium, in communion with the pastors and the Successor of Peter, Bishop of Rome, the visible sign of unity. For every Christian, the proclamation and witnessing of the Gospel are never an isolated act. This is important. For every Christian the proclamation and witnessing of the Gospel are never an isolated or group act, and no evangelizers acts, as Paul VI reminded very well, "on the strength of a personal inspiration, but in union with the mission of the Church and in her name" (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, 80). And Paul VI continued: It is an absurd dichotomy to think of living with Jesus without the Church, of following Jesus outside of the Church, of loving Jesus without loving the Church (cf. Ibid., 16). Feel the responsibility you have to take care of the formation of your Institutes in the healthy doctrine of the Church, in love of the Church and in the ecclesial spirit.
In sum, centrality of Christ and of his Gospel, authority as service of love, "to feel" in and with the Mother Church: three pointers I wish to leave with you, to which I now add once again gratitude for your work, which is not always easy. What would the Church be without you? She would lack maternity, affection, tenderness! A Mother's intuition.
Dear Sisters, be certain that I follow you with affection. I pray for you, but you also pray for me. Greet your communities on my behalf, especially the sick and young Sisters. I send all my encouragement to follow with parresia and joy the Gospel of Christ. Be joyful, because it is beautiful to follow Jesus, it is beautiful to become living icons of Our Lady and of our hierarchic Holy Mother Church. Thank you.
[Original text: Italian]
[Translation by ZENIT]
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