Posted December 2, 2014
Changing times may call for changes in religious orders, pope says
Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service
National Catholic Reporter
Religious orders and the Vatican congregation that assists them must be bold in
assessing whether current structures and practices help or hinder the
proclamation of the Gospel, the pursuit of holiness and the service of the poor,
Pope Francis said.
"We must not be afraid to leave 'old wineskins,' that is, to renew the routines
and structures that, in the life of the church and in consecrated life, no
longer respond to what God is asking us today in order to promote his kingdom in
the world," the pope, a former Jesuit provincial superior, told members of the
Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
The pope met congregation members Nov. 27, just three days before the opening of
the Year of Consecrated Life. The same day, he also met with the Pauline
Fathers, the Daughters of St. Paul, and other religious and lay groups that
trace their inspiration to Blessed James Alberione's foundation of orders
dedicated to evangelization through the media.
In his speech to members of the congregation for religious, the pope said the
church must be bold in recognizing and changing "the structures that give us a
false sense of protection and that condition the dynamism of charity," as well
as "the routines that distance us from the flock we are sent to and prevent us
from hearing the cry of those awaiting the good news of Jesus Christ."
Pope Francis told the congregation that "since the Second Vatican Council, the
wind of the Spirit has continued to blow with strength," pushing religious
orders to carry out the renewal the council called for and raising up new forms
of religious life in the church.
"In that portion of the Lord's vineyard represented by those who have chosen to
imitate Christ most closely" through the vows of poverty, chastity and
obedience, he said, "new grapes have matured and new wine has been pressed."
The congregation and the orders, he said, are called "to discern the quality and
the vintage of the 'new wine' that was produced in this long period of renewal
and, at the same time, to evaluate if the wineskins that contain it --
represented by the institutional forms present in consecrated life today -- are
adequate to hold this 'new wine' and promote its full maturation."
Pope Francis told the congregation members he knows not all the news about
religious life is good and the church should not "hide the areas of weakness,"
including "the resistance to change in some sectors, the diminished ability to
attract new members, the not irrelevant number of those who leave -- and this
really worries me."
The Vatican and the orders themselves must take care in accepting candidates and
in training them, he said, but they also must be very careful to ensure that
"institutional and ministerial tasks" do not take priority over the development
of members' spiritual lives. Orders also face "the difficult integration of
cultural and generation diversity, the problematic balance of the exercise of
authority and the proper use of material goods -- poverty concerns me, too."
Apologizing for giving "publicity to my family," the pope said the Jesuit
founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, described the vow of poverty as the "mother and
wall" of consecrated life; it is the mother because it is the source of life and
it is the wall in the sense that it protects religious from worldliness.
Prayer is the first task and aid to holiness, he said.
"Please tell your new members that to pray is not to waste time, adoring God is
not a waste of time, praising God is not a waste of time." Without prayer, he
said, "the wine will be vinegar."
Meeting a short time later with the Pauline family, Pope Francis continued to
reflect on the importance of prayer and discernment of methods.
"The secret to evangelization ... is to communicate the Gospel in the style of
the Gospel," he said. "The joy of a gift received out of pure love must be
communicated with love."
The focus on sharing the Gospel, he told the Pauline family, "is in your blood,
in your DNA."
"The ultimate aim of our work as Christians on this earth is to attain eternal
life," he told them. "Therefore, our being a pilgrim church -- rooted in the
commitment to proclaim Christ and his love for every creature -- prevents us
from remaining prisoners of earthly and worldly structures."
Trusting in the Lord and convinced of the action of the Holy Spirit, he said,
religious are called to be unafraid and, especially, to be witnesses of hope and
joy in the world.
Turning specifically to the Paulines' ministry in books, television, film and
other media, the pope asked them to "never promote conflict, never mimic those
communications media that look only for the spectacle of conflict and provoke
Be certain, he said, that the Holy Spirit will inspire the creativity needed to
faithfully proclaim the Gospel.
"Many are still waiting to know Jesus Christ. The creativity of charity knows no
limits and will always open new paths" of evangelization, he said.