While there is a need to evangelize a culture that tells young people money equals success and commitments aren’t forever, stopping the “hemorrhage” of people leaving religious orders also requires changes from the orders themselves, Pope Francis said.
“Alongside much holiness — there is much holiness in consecrated life
— there also are situations of counter-witness that make fidelity
difficult,” the pope said Jan. 28 during a meeting with members of the
Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of
Apostolic Life and representatives of religious orders.
The congregation was holding a plenary meeting focused on “fidelity
and abandonment,” examining the factors that contribute to a lifelong
commitment to religious vows or to leaving consecrated life.
According to the Vatican’s Central Statistics Office, from the end of
2004 to the end of 2014, the number of religious-order priests in the
world declined by more than 2,500 to just under 135,000; the number of
religious brothers dropped by 471 to just over 54,500; and the number of
women religious fell by almost 85,000 — 11 percent — to about 683,000
Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit, said that in some cases it becomes
clear over time that a person never truly had a vocation to religious
life and it is right for that person to follow God’s call elsewhere. But
many other factors can influence a decision to leave, he said,
including situations within an order or community.
“Such situations are, among others: routine, tiredness, the burden of
running institutions, internal divisions, the search for power —
‘climbers’ — a worldly way of governing the institute, a service of
authority that sometimes becomes either authoritarianism or a ‘live and
let live'” attitude.
Pope Francis told the group that obviously it is more difficult for
young people to make a lifelong commitment to a vocation when they are
living in a culture where everything is provisional or temporary, where
people are encouraged to pursue their dreams but leave a “door open” in
case it does not work out and where “self-realization” is measured by
money and power, not by fidelity to the Gospel and Gospel values.
Still, he said, the world of young people is “rich and challenging — not negative, but complex.”
“We are not lacking young people who are very generous, who act in
solidarity and are involved on a religious and social level, young
people who seek a real spiritual life, young people who hunger for
something different than what the world offers,” he said. “There are
marvelous young people and there are many.”
But the young also include “many victims of the logic of worldliness,
which can be summarized this way: searching for success at any cost,
for easy money and easy pleasure,” Pope Francis said.
The response of the church must be to reach out and “to infect them with the joy of the Gospel and of belonging to Christ.”
The only way to attract young people to religious life and to help
members stay, he said, is to “show the beauty of following Christ and
radiate hope and joy.”
“When hope diminishes and there is no joy,” he said, “it’s an ugly thing.”
The community life of religious orders is essential, he said, and it
must be nourished with community prayer, celebration of the Mass,
reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, sincere dialogue among
members, “fraternal correction, mercy toward the brother or sister who
sins,” and shared responsibility.
Perseverance in religious life, as with any vocation, requires the
encouragement and support of others, the pope said, “because when a
brother or sister does not find support within the community, he or she
will seek it elsewhere.”
“Many times great infidelities begin with little deviations or
distractions,” he said. “In this case, it is important to make St.
Paul’s exhortation our own: ‘Awake, o sleeper!'”
If a vocation is a “treasure,” Pope Francis said, then it must be
handled with care, cultivated with prayer and strengthened with “a good
theological and spiritual formation that defends it from the culture of
the ephemeral and allows it to progress solid in the faith.”
Religious orders must make a commitment to training at least some of
their members in the art of “accompaniment” and spiritual direction, he
“We can never insist enough on this need,” he said. “It is difficult
to remain faithful walking alone or walking with the guidance of
brothers and sisters who are not capable of attentive and patient
listening or who have not had adequate experience in religious life.”
“All of us who are consecrated, whether young or not so young, need
help appropriate to the human, spiritual and vocational moment we are
living,” he said.
A spiritual director or guide “must not create dependency,” control
or treat the other as a child, he said, but must help the person
“discover the will of God and seek in everything to do that which is
most pleasing to the Lord.”
Discernment, he said, “does not only mean choosing between good and
evil, but between good and better, between what is good and what leads
to identification with Christ.”