On February 2, 2023, Pope Francis attended a prayer meeting with clergy, religious, and seminarians at the Notre Dame du Congo Cathedral. In his speech, he addressed three challenges that clergy and religious are called to overcome: "spiritual mediocrity, the temptation of worldly comfort, and the temptation of superficiality." He said that the ordained and consecrated life "is not a profession or a social position or a means to provide our families at home with forgiveness and compassionate concern for the needs of the poor."Read the full text of his speech below:
Prayer meetings with priests, deacons, consecrated persons and seminariansAddress of His Holiness
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Congo, KinshasaThursday February 2, 2023
Dear brothers, priests, deacons and seminarians,
Dear devotees, good night and happy holidays!
I am happy to be with you today on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, a day on which we pray in a special way for the consecrated life. Like Simeon, we all wait for the light of the Lord to illuminate the darkness of our lives. We all want even more to have the same experience that Simeon had in the temple in Jerusalem: to have Jesus in our arms. To hold him in our arms so that we can look at him and hold him close to our hearts. When we put Jesus at the center of our lives, our perspective changes, and despite our struggles and struggles, we feel enveloped in his light, comforted by his spirit, encouraged by his word, and sustained by his faith. love of him
I think of Cardinal Ambongo's words of welcome, for which I thank him. He pointed to the "enormous challenges" faced by those who live out their priestly commitment and consecrated life in a country marked by "difficult and often dangerous conditions" and great suffering. However, as he pointed out, there is also great joy in the ministry of the gospel, and there are many vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. This is due to the fullness of God's grace, which works precisely in weakness (cf.2 Corinthians12, 9) and that it enables you, together with the laity, to inspire hope in the often painful situations in which your people live.
This security of ours, even in the midst of difficulties, is a gift of God's faithfulness. Through the prophet Isaiah says: "I will build highways in the desert, and rivers in the desert." (43:19) I thought I would offer you some reflections, beginning with these words from Isaiah: God is opening new paths in the midst of our deserts, and we, as ordained ministers and consecrated persons, are called to be a sign of the fulfillment of the promise and help to fulfill it in the history of the holy people of God. But what are we specifically called to do if not to serve people as witnesses of God's love? Isaiah helps us understand how.
Through the words of the prophet, the Lord speaks to his people at a time of tragedy, because the Israelites had been deported to Babylon and forced into slavery. Moved to compassion, God seeks comfort. In fact, this passage from Isaiah is called "the Book of Comfort" because the Lord addressed words of hope and promises of salvation to his people. He first recalls the bond of love that unites him with his people: “Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you; I called you by your name, you are mine. When you walk through the waters, I will be with you; and next to the rivers they will not dominate you; If you go through the fire, you will not be burned, nor will the flame consume you." (43: 1-2) The Lord reveals himself as the God of compassion and assures us that he will never abandon us. He will always be by our side, refuge and strength in tribulations. God is merciful. The three names of God, His three characteristics are Mercy, Compassion and Tenderness, since they indicate the closeness of God: a close, compassionate and tender God.
Dear priests and deacons, consecrated persons, seminarians: through you the Lord wants to anoint his people with the balm of consolation and hope today too. You are called to repeat this promise of God, to remind others that he created us and that we belong to him, and to encourage and accompany the community's journey of faith towards the One who always walks by our side. God does not allow water to overwhelm us and fire to consume us. Let us recognize that we are called to proclaim this message in the midst of human suffering. That's what it means to betown servant:Being priests, sisters and missionaries who have known the joy of the liberating encounter with Jesus and now offer it to others. Let us never forget that the priesthood and consecrated life dry up when we begin to think that people are there to minister to us instead of us here to minister to them. We don't have a job, social position, or a way to support our families at home. Rather, it is a mission to act as a sign of Christ's presence, his unconditional love, his reconciliation and forgiveness, and his compassionate care for the needs of the poor. We are called to offer our lives for our brothers and sisters and bring them to Jesus, the only one who heals the wounds of all hearts.
As we experience our calling in this way, we must continually face challenges and overcome temptations. I would like to refer briefly to three of them:spiritual mediocrity,worldly comfort, Ysuperficiality.
First,We must transcend spiritual mediocrity. As? The presentation of the Lord, called "Feast of the Encounter" in the Christian East, reminds us that the encounter with the Lord must be at the forefront of our life, especially in personal prayer, since our relationship with Him is the basis of everything, what we do. Never forget that the secret of everything is prayer, since the ministry and the apostolate are not primarily our work and do not depend solely on human resources. They will tell me: yes, it is true, but commitments, pastoral priorities, apostolic work, fatigue, etc., usually leave us little time and energy for prayer. So I want to give some advice. First of all, let us remain faithful to certain liturgical rhythms of prayer that mark the day, from Mass to the Breviary. The daily celebration of the Eucharist is the beating heart of priestly and religious life. The Liturgy of the Hours allows us to pray with the Church and regularly: may we never neglect it! Let's not neglect confession either. We must always be forgiven in order to later grant mercy to others.
Now a second piece of advice. As we all know, we cannot limit ourselves to the regular recitation of the prayer, but we must reserve a time of intense prayer each day to remain "heart to heart" with the Lord. It can be a long time of adoration, in meditation on the Word or with the Holy Rosary, but above all a time of closeness with the one we love. In addition, even in the midst of activity, we can always resort to the prayer of the heart, to the brief "aspirations" - which are a real treasure - words of praise, thanksgiving and invocation that we say to the Lord wherever we find. it distracts us from ourselves, opens us up to God and restores us because it puts us in his hands. Create the space in us to be able to experience the closeness of God so that his word is familiar to us and through all of us we meet. Without prayer we will not get far. Finally, to overcome spiritual mediocrity, let us not get tired of invoking and learning from Our Lady, our Mother, to contemplate and follow Jesus.
The second challenge isto overcome the temptation of worldly comforts, of the easy life in which we more or less fix everything and repress ourselves, seeking our own comfort, dragged without enthusiasm. In this way we lose the very heart of our mission, which is to leave our ego behind and make our way towards our brothers and sisters, practicing “the art of closeness” in the name of God. In situations of poverty and suffering, there is often a great risk of worldliness: the desire to take advantage of our position to satisfy our own needs and comforts. It's so sad when we turn and we willcold bureaucrats of the mind. So instead of serving the gospel, we get busy managing finances and running a profitable business for ourselves. Brothers and sisters, it is scandalous when this happens in the life of a priest or religious, who instead should be models of sobriety and interior freedom. On the other hand, how beautiful it is to be transparent in our intentions and intransigent with money, to embrace evangelical poverty and to work alongside the poor! And how beautiful it is to shine in celibacy lived as a sign of full availability for the kingdom of God! That the same vices that we seek to uproot in others and in society as a whole do not finally take root in us. Please be careful with worldly comforts.
Finally the third challenge is overResist the temptation to be superficial.. God's people wait to hear the word of the Lord and find comfort. Consequently, they need priests and religious who are educated, well educated and passionate about the Gospel. A gift has been placed in our hands, and it would be presumptuous to think that we could fulfill the mission to which God has called us without daily work on ourselves and without an adequate spiritual and theological formation. People do not need "spiritual officials" who have titles but are separate from ordinary men and women. Of course, we have an obligation to penetrate to the heart of the Christian mystery, to deepen our understanding of the Church's doctrine and to study and meditate on the Word of God. At the same time, however, we must remain open to the problems of our time and to the increasingly complex issues of our time in order to understand the lives and needs of people and how we can best take them by the hand and accompany them. It follows that training for clergy is not an optional extra. I say this to seminarians, but it applies to everyone. The training must continue; it must continue throughout our lives. It's called continuing education: continuing education, for life.
We must meet these challenges if we are toServe people as witnesses of God's love, since the service is only effective if it passeswitness. Never forget this word:witness. After proclaiming words of comfort, the Lord says through Isaiah: “Which of them proclaimed these things and told us the first? You are my witnesses." (43:9, 10) Witnesses. Words and intentions are not enough to be good priests, deacons and consecrated persons: your life must speak louder than your words. Dear brothers and sisters, when I look at you I thank God because you are signs of the presence of Jesus walking the streets of this country, touching people's lives and healing their wounds. However, there needs to be more young people who can say "yes" to the Lord, more priests and religious who can radiate his beauty through their lives.
In your testimonies you have reminded me how difficult it is to carry out your mission in a country rich in beauties and natural resources but wounded by exploitation, corruption, violence and injustice. But they also talked about the parable of the Good Samaritan and how Jesus walks through our streets and especially through his Church, stopping and healing the wounds of the oppressed. Brothers and sisters, the ministry to which you are called is precisely this: to offer closeness and comfort, like a light that shines and shines in the midst of darkness. Let's learn from the Lord who is always near. And be for all brothers and sisters, especially for each other: witnesses of brotherhood, never in war; Peace witnesses who learn to deal with the differences between different cultures and ethnic origins. Because like Pope Benedict XVI. declared in a speech to the priests of Africa: "Your testimony of his peaceful coexistence across ethnic and racial lines can touch hearts" (Workshop for Africa, 108).
As the old saying goes, “The wind does not break what it can bend.” Unfortunately, the history of many peoples on this continent has had to bow down to the force of suffering and violence. If there is a desire in everyone's heart, it is to never have to do it again, bow down to the arrogance of the powerful, or bow down to the yoke of injustice. We can understand the proverb mainly in a positive sense: there is a stoop that is not synonymous with weakness or cowardice, but with strength. Leaning, therefore, can be a sign of the ability to be flexible, to overcome rigidity, and to cultivate a docile mind that refuses to give in to bitterness and resentment. It is a sign of the ability to change and not remain in one's own ideas and positions. When we bow in humility before God, he makes us like him, helpers of mercy. While we remain docile in God's hands, He shapes us as a people of reconciliation, capable of openness and dialogue, of acceptance and forgiveness, letting rivers of peace flow through the arid plains of violence. Therefore, when the stormy winds of conflict and division blow, we are not broken because we are filled with God's love. May you always be docile to the God of Mercy, never shaken by the winds of division.
Sisters and brothers, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for who you are and what you do. Thank you for your witness to the Church and to the world. Don't be discouraged because we need you! You are valuable and important. I say this in the name of the whole Church. Always be channels of the consoling presence of the Lord, joyful witnesses of the Gospel, prophets of peace in the midst of storms of violence, disciples of love, always ready to heal the wounds of the poor and those who suffer. Thanks again, brothers and sisters; Thank you for your service and for your pastoral zeal. I bless you and I carry you in my heart. And please don't forget to pray for me! Thank you so much!