Vatican City, 16 May 2015 (VIS) – Thousands of men and women religious from Rome – representing the 25 thousand who belong to the Pope's diocese – gathered in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall this morning to meet with the Holy Father, who spoke with them for over an hour, answering all their questions on consecrated life and its difficulties and joys, the relationship between the bearers of different charisms in the Church, and the rapport between cloistered monasteries and the outside world.
The first question, asked by a nun, related to the balance between cloistered life and involvement in diocesan life, and between silent prayer and proclamation.
“Your vocation is a tension between enclosure and visibility, between God's call to a hidden life and His call to make oneself visible in a certain way, to give a sign”, answered the Pope. “One of the things you must never, ever leave behind is time to listen to people. … It is important to have a connection with the world, to know what is happening, as your vocation is not a refuge: it is about going straight onto the battlefield, it is about fighting, calling to the heart of the Lord for your city. … Like Moses who lifted his hands up in prayer as his people fought. There are also monasteries that set aside half an hour or an hour a day to give food to those who come to ask for it, and this does not go against enclosure in God. … It is a service, it is a smile”.
The second question, again from a religious sister, concerned the similarities between marriage and consecrated virginity in the vocation to love, and the help that consecrated persons can offer Christian spouses and vice versa.
“In female consecration there is a spousal element”, said Francis. “It is present in male consecration too: we say that a bishop is the spouse of the Church, in Jesus' place. But do not forget that the Church is feminine: she is Jesus' bride. We often forget this, as we forget that the love of nuns is maternal, since the love of the Church is maternal, and the love of Our Lady is maternal. Faithfulness, the expression of the love of the consecrated woman, should – not as a duty but as a natural characteristic – reflect the faithfulness, love and tenderness of the Mother Church and the Mother Mary. … It is the concrete love … that we find in the Beatitudes. … Jesus' plan is concrete. I often think that the Beatitudes are the Church's first encyclical”.
The third question, from a monk, was dedicated to the concrete collaboration between bearers of different charisms in the local Church, without friction or competition.
“The Church is currently thinking of offering and restoring an old document on the relations between consecrated persons and the bishop”, the Holy Father explained. “The 1994 Synod called for the document 'Mutuae relationes' (14 May 1978). Many years have passed and it has not been done. The relationship between consecrated persons and the bishop, the diocese and priests is not an easy one. However it is necessary to face this task together. In the prefectures, how does one work on the pastoral plan for this quarter, all together? So it should be in the Church too. The bishop should not use consecrated persons as substitutes, and equally the religious should not see the bishop as the head of a company providing work”.
The last question regarded the accompaniment and spiritual direction of consecrated persons, over 80% of whom are women.
“The accompaniment of men and women religious can be a problem”, acknowledged the Pope. “In my former diocese, I always said to the nuns who came to ask for advice, 'Tell me, in your community or your congregation, is there not a wise sister, one who lives the charism well, a good sister with experience, who might be your spiritual guide?'. 'But she is a woman! But it is a charism of the laity'. Yes, spiritual direction is not the exclusive charism of presbyters: it is a charism of the laity. In primitive monasticism the laity were the great directors. … The spiritual director is one thing, the confessor is another. I tell the confessor my sins … but I tell the spiritual director what is happening in my heart. … Superiors have the responsibility of finding those in the community, in the congregation, and in the province, who have this charism, of giving them this mission and of forming them and helping them in this. … I think that in this respect, however, we are still immature”.