In addressing the religious of Korea August 16, Pope Francis stressed the need to live joy-filled lives. “Only if our witness is joyful will we attract men and women to Christ,” he said. “And this joy is a gift, which is nourished by a life of prayer, meditation on the word of God, the celebration of the sacraments and life in community. When these are lacking, weaknesses and difficulties will emerge to dampen the joy we knew so well at the beginning of our journey.”
Speaking at the “School of Love” training center, attended by hundreds of Korean religious representatives he said, "The experience of God’s mercy, nourished by prayer and community, must shape all that you are, all that you do."
Sacred Heart Sr. Kim Keun-Ja, who was at the event, told me that as they waited to receive Pope Francis in a large auditorium, they watched him interact with children with disabilities at a nearby center. The organizers of that visit had arranged for Francis to sit on a rather stately chair. Seeing it, he said he preferred to stand.
This sent the religious waiting in the auditorium scrambling to find a more modest chair to prop up Francis when he arrived.
Kim said that the sisters she was with at the event were most struck by Francis’ simplicity and his call from them to live simple lives. She said one cannot be in his presence without be influenced by him, both his spirit and the message he delivers. She said she is seriously involved in an examination of her religious life, wanting to make it more simple and closer to the poor and needy. Their biggest disappointment, she said, was that there was no time for an informal exchange of information, which she thought would have served everyone better.
The following is a text of Pope Francis’ remarks to the religious communities of Korea:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I greet you all with affection in the Lord. It is good to be with you today and to share these moments of communion. The great variety of charisms and apostolates, which you represent wondrously enriches the life of the Church in Korea and beyond. In this setting of the celebration of Vespers where we have sung the praise of God’s infinite goodness and mercy, I thank you, and all of your brothers and sisters, for your efforts to build up God’s Kingdom in this beloved country. I thank Father Hwang Seok-mo and Sister Scholastica Lee Kwang-ok, the Presidents of the Korean Conferences of Major Superiors of Men’s and Women’s Religious Institutes and Societies of Apostolic Life, for their kind words of welcome.
The words of the Psalm, “My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps 73:26), invite us to think about our own lives. The Psalmist exudes joyful confidence in God. We all know that while joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty, “it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 6). The firm conviction of being loved by God is at the center of your vocation: to be for others a tangible sign of the presence of God’s Kingdom, a foretaste of the eternal joys of heaven. Only if our witness is joyful will we attract men and women to Christ. And this joy is a gift, which is nourished by a life of prayer, meditation on the word of God, the celebration of the sacraments and life in community. When these are lacking, weaknesses and difficulties will emerge to dampen the joy we knew so well at the beginning of our journey.
For you, as men and women consecrated to God, this joy is rooted in the mystery of the Father’s mercy revealed in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Whether the charism of your Institute is directed more to contemplation or to the active life, you are challenged to become “experts” in divine mercy precisely through your life in community. From experience I know that community life is not always easy, but it is a providential training ground for the heart. It is unrealistic not to expect conflicts; misunderstandings will arise and they must be faced. Despite such difficulties, it is in community life that we are called to grow in mercy, forbearance and perfect charity.
The experience of God’s mercy, nourished by prayer and community, must shape all that you are, all that you do. Your chastity, poverty and obedience will be a joyful witness to God’s love in the measure that you stand firmly on the rock of his mercy. This is certainly the case with religious obedience. Mature and generous obedience requires that you cling in prayer to Christ who, taking the form of a servant, learned obedience through what he suffered (cf. Perfectae Caritatis, 14). There are no shortcuts: God desires our hearts completely and this means we have to “let go” and “go out” of ourselves more and more.
A lively experience of the Lord’s steadfast mercy also sustains the desire to achieve that perfection of charity, which is born of purity of heart. Chastity expresses your single-minded dedication to the love of God who is “the strength of our hearts. “We all know what a personal and demanding commitment this entails. Temptations in this area call for humble trust in God, vigilance and perseverance.
Through the evangelical counsel of poverty you are able to recognize God’s mercy not only as a source of strength, but also as a treasure. Even when we are weary, we can offer him our hearts burdened by sin and weakness; at those times when we feel most helpless, we can reach out to Christ, “who made himself poor in order that we might become rich” (cf. 2 Cor 8:9).
This fundamental need of ours to be forgiven and healed is itself a form of poverty, which we must never lose sight of no matter how many advances we make in virtue. It should also find concrete expression in your lifestyle, both as individuals and as communities. I think in particular of the need to avoid all those things, which can distract you and cause bewilderment and scandal to others. In the consecrated life, poverty is both a “wall” and a “mother. It is a “wall” because it protects the consecrated life, a “mother” because it helps it to grow and guides it along the right path. The hypocrisy of those consecrated men and women who profess vows of poverty, yet live like the rich, wounds the souls of the faithful and harms the Church. Think, too, of how dangerous a temptation it is to adopt a purely functional, worldly mentality, which leads to placing our hope in human means alone and destroys the witness of poverty, which our Lord Jesus Christ lived and taught us.
Dear brothers and sisters, with great humility, do all that you can to show that the consecrated life is a precious gift to the Church and to the world. Do not keep it to yourselves; share it, bringing Christ to every corner of this beloved country. Let your joy continue to find expression in your efforts to attract and nurture vocations, and recognize that all of you have some part in forming the consecrated men and women of tomorrow. Whether you are given more to contemplation or to the apostolic life, be zealous in your love of the Church in Korea and your desire to contribute, through your own specific charism to its mission of proclaiming the Gospel and building up God’s people in unity, holiness and love.
Commending all of you, and in a special way the aged and infirm members of your communities, to the loving care of Mary, Mother of the Church, I cordially impart my blessing as a pledge of enduring grace and peace in Jesus her Son.
[Tom Fox is project manager for Global Sisters Report and NCR publisher.]