VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis warned consecrated men and women against reducing their religious lives to a “caricature,” calling them to instead embrace a life of obedience, which in turn leads to wisdom.
This was the central theme of the Pope's homily for the feast of the Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2, which coincides with the World Day for Consecrated Life.
Addressing the congregation gathered in St. Peter's Basilica on Monday evening, the Holy Father reflected on the Gospel account of Mary and Joseph presenting the Child Jesus in the Temple.
Pope Francis described Mary’s arms as the “ladder of God’s condescension,” upon which the Son of God “descended,” becoming like us, “in order to ascend with us to the Father, making us like himself,” according to Vatican Radio’s translation.
Recalling the image of Mary entering the Temple with the Child Jesus, the Holy Father observed that “the Mother walks, yet it is the Child who goes before her. She carries him, yet he is leading her along the path of the God, who comes to us so that we might go to him.”
“For us, too, as consecrated men and women,” the Pope continued, Jesus “opened a path.”
Throughout his homily, Pope Francis emphasized the theme of obedience, which reoccurs in the Gospel, and its significance for consecrated men and women.
“Jesus came not to do his own will, but the will of the Father,” he said. “In the same way, all those who follow Jesus must set out on the path of obedience, imitating, as it were, the Lord’s ‘condescension’ by humbling themselves and making their own the will of the Father, even to self-emptying and abasement” (Philippians 2:7-8).
Progress for a religious person means following the path of Jesus, who “did not count equality with God something to be grasped,” the Holy Father continued: “to lower oneself, making oneself a servant, in order to serve.”
This path, which “takes the form of the rule” is “marked by the charism of the founder,” he said. “This path, then, takes the form of the rule, marked by the charism of the founder.”
“For all of us, the essential rule remains the Gospel, this abasement of Christ, yet the Holy Spirit, in his infinite creativity, also gives it expression in the various rules of the consecrated life, though all of these are born of that sequela Christi, from this path of self-abasement in service.”
The wisdom which consecrated persons attain through the law is “not an abstract attitude, but a work and a gift of the Holy Spirit, the sign and proof of which is joy.”
Turning to the Gospel account of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Pope Francis said that this “wisdom is represented by two elderly persons, Simeon and Anna: persons docile to the Holy Spirit.”
Their wisdom, the Pope continued, was “the fruit of a long journey along the path of obedience to his law, an obedience which likewise humbles and abases, even as it also guards and guarantees hope; and now they are creative, for they are filled with the Holy Spirit.”
“The Lord turns obedience into wisdom by the working of his Holy Spirit,” he continued.
Obedience and docility are not theoretical, but “subject to the economy of the incarnation of the Word,” he said. Whether it be to the founder, to a “specific rule,” to “one’s superior” or to the Church, docility and obedience are always concrete.
“The strengthening and renewal of consecrated life are the result of great love for the rule and also the ability to look to and heed the elders of one’s congregation,” he said, adding that the “deposit” of the charism “is preserved by obedience and by wisdom, working together.”
In this way, the Pope said, consecrated men and women “are preserved from living our consecration lightly and in a disincarnate manner.” It would thereby become reduced to a “caricature” of the religious life: “without sacrifice, a prayer that is without encounter, a fraternal life that is without communion, an obedience without trust, a charity without transcendence.”
Pope Francis concluded his homily calling on consecrated men and women to “bring others to Jesus,” while allowing themselves to be led by him.
“This is what we should be: guides who themselves are guided.”