VATICAN CITY – On Saturday Pope Francis stressed the importance of having a solid guide in the spiritual life since no one – neither laity nor consecrated persons themselves – can stay faithful for long without help.
“All of us consecrated, the young and those not so young, need adequate help for the human, spiritual and vocational moment we are living,” the Pope said Jan. 28. “We will never emphasize this need too much.”
He honed in on the need for adequate preparation of spiritual guides, since it’s “hard to stay faithful walking alone, or walking with the guidance of brothers or sisters who aren’t capable of attentive and patient listening, or who don’t have adequate experience of consecrated life.”
Using the image of Jesus and the disciples of Emmaus as an example, the Pope said there is a need for spiritual guides who are “experts in the ways of God” and are capable of accompanying people through life, pointing them to the Eucharist and Confession in times of hardship or confusion.
“This is the delicate and demanding task of a spiritual guide,” he said, and warned against ways of accompanying that create dependencies, false protections or that are too “childish.”
Instead, “we cannot resign ourselves to walking alone,” and need “a close, frequent and fully adult accompaniment,” he said, adding that having this will help in knowing how to constantly discern the will of God.
Discernment, for both the guide and the person accompanied, requires “a fine spiritual sensitivity” and complete detachment from “prejudice and from personal or group interest,” Francis said, adding that true discernment isn’t choosing “between the good and the bad.”
Above all, it means choosing “between the good and the better, between what is good and that which leads to identification with Christ.”
Pope Francis spoke to participants in the annual plenary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, which this year reflected on the theme of fidelity and those who have abandoned consecrated life.
In his speech, the Pope noted that fidelity is often “put to the test” in today’s social and cultural context, saying we are currently facing “a hemorrhage” that weakens both the Church and consecrated life itself.
The number of people who leave consecrated life is concerning, he said, noting that while some leave after a serious discernment showed that they never had a vocation, others become less faithful as time passes by, “many times only a few years after their perpetual profession.”
The reasons for this, he said, have to do with the fact that we live in a time “which is a change of era and not only an era of change, in which it becomes difficult to assume serious and definitive commitments.
“We live immersed in the so-called ‘culture of the fragment,’ of the provisionary, which can lead to living ‘a la carte’ and to being a slave of fashions,” he said, noting that this mentality feeds unhealthy trends such as a heightened sense of consumerism that ends up “provoking a great existential emptiness.”
In this context, the Pope stressed that it’s important for a person to let themselves be evangelized before committing to evangelize others.
Francis pointed to the many youth who offer solidarity and commit at both a social and religious level, saying “there are marvelous youth and they are not few,” but also cautioned that young people are particularly susceptible to “the logic of worldliness.”
Summarizing the mentality as “the search for success at whatever price, of easy money and easy pleasure,” he noted that the temptation seduces many of today’s youth, and because of this, they need someone to stand beside them and “contaminate them with the joy of the Gospel.”
The Pope then pointed to a third factor he said affects vocational fidelity and which comes from within consecrated life itself: the “counter-witness” of some members of the community.
While there is a lot of holiness inside many communities, there is also sin, he said, noting that particularly challenging situations for consecrated persons are when things become routine, when members get tired and the weight that comes with managing different structures.
Difficulties also arise from internal divisions, the search for power, a worldly mentality in governing institutes and “a service of authority which at times becomes authoritarianism and at other times ‘laissez-faire.’”
“If consecrated life wants to maintain its prophetic mission in the world,” he said, “it must maintain the freshness and the novelty of the centrality of Jesus, the attractiveness of the spirituality and the strength of the mission, showing the beauty of following Christ and radiating joy and hope.”
Pope Francis also pointed, as he often does, to the importance of fraternal life in the community, which he said is fueled by daily prayer, Mass, the reading of Scripture, fraternal correction, dialogue and mercy toward those who sin.
“All of this accompanies an eloquent and joyful witness of life beside the poor and by a mission that privileges the existential peripheries,” he said, explaining that to maintain this depends on the quality of vocational pastoral ministry.
“Because when a brother or sister is not supported in their consecrated life inside of the community, they seek it outside, with everything that this brings.”