Pope Francis speaks to the Augustinian Recollects
Good morning! I am happy to welcome you on the occasion of the celebration of your General Chapter, a time of grace which embraces the whole Augustinian Recollect Family.
I thank the Prior General for his words, which give an account of the process of renewal and revitalization of your charismatic identity that you have been carrying out for several years now.
The motto that guided you in the preparation of the Chapter and is accompanying you in a special way during these days, is: We walk together “I have come that they may have life” (Jn 10:10).
Indeed, it is time to walk together, always forward, with our eyes and hearts centered on Jesus. In the journey that you are now undertaking – the way of synodality – in communion with the whole Church, I suggest that you contemplate once more the figure of Saint Joseph, whose solemnity we will celebrate on Saturday, and whom you venerate as Protector of the Order. I would like to highlight two aspects of this beloved saint that can also be of use to us.
In the first place, I would like that we all keep in mind that every consecrated person, every religious, every priest is called, like Joseph, to have a “father’s heart”, that is to say, a restless heart that shows great love and concern for the sons and daughters entrusted to him, especially the weakest, those who suffer, those who have not had experience of fatherly love. It is a heart that refuses to rest until these brothers and sisters of ours are in encounter with the Lord; in this way all may have life in abundance, as affirms the text that illumines your Chapter.
But, take note, let us not forget that we cannot be true fathers without experiencing being sons, sons of the heavenly Father. He knows what we need and He calls us. Let us not cease to turn to Him every day with confidence. He listens to us, he hears the desires and needs of our heart, and he shows us the way to follow.
Secondly, another characteristic of St. Joseph that I would like to highlight is “creative courage”. Ours are not easy times, we know that. They were not easy for Joseph, either. He trusted God, he trusted fully, and he offered all his abilities, his talents, his skills to serve Him. And God trusted Joseph and gave him the grace to be able to carry out the mission He entrusted to him. In the same way, today, as on the day of our consecration, we will do well to bring to the altar all that we are, and let the Lord transform it into a “living sacrifice, holy and pleasing” (Rom 12:1). And, having made this offering, we should go out on mission with confidence, courage and creativity. He is with us, walks beside us and helps us to make decisions.
There is something that the Prior General has said that is happening everywhere, in all dioceses, in all religious congregations, but because it is so widespread, we cannot let it pass as if it were not happening to us. We have to take responsibility for what is happening to us. He said that there were eight provinces in the Order and now there are four. This means that, in terms of numbers, we are falling off the cliff. And this is a reality that we cannot ignore. There are thousands of explanations: that today’s youth are groping in uncertainty, that there are less young people than before – obviously, the birth rate has gone down – that Europe and America are not giving what they use to give in terms of vocations, that we have to search in other cultures and elsewhere, however you may put it. But there is a question that we have to ask ourselves: look at the future, project the age that you will have and say: from four shall there be only two provinces? Don’t be afraid to ask the question. The day when there will be no more Augustinian Recollects, the day when there will not be enough priestly vocations for everyone, the day when such and such – the day when such a day comes, have we prepared the laity, have we prepared people to continue with the Church’s pastoral work? And you, have you prepared the people to continue with your spirituality, which is a gift from God, to carry it forward? I don’t dare to be a prophet and predict the future. It worries me, I am preoccupied. I trust in the Lord, but I have to say this: let us prepare ourselves for what can happen and let us give our charism, our gift to those who can bring it forward. Please, let us not mend things that are beyond repair because of cultural imposition. Of course, we have to keep the charism firm, we have to be firm in our life of consecration, but let us not engage in wishful thinking. And let us continue to pray that the Lord send us vocations but that He also prepare us when our numbers diminish to entrust our gift to those who can collaborate with us. And to ask the grace to know when and how to act as the Lord wants, not as sociologists or psychologists would put it. No, but as the Lord wants it.
I encourage you to move forward trusting in the promise of the Lord and to carry out the mission entrusted to us by God.
May God bless you, may He bless all the members of the Augustinian Recollect family. And may the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph guide and accompany you. And please, don’t forget to pray for me. Thank you.
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