ROME – Rarely one to spare his own clerical and religious circles criticism, history’s first Jesuit pope was at it again Friday, pointedly urging members of a women’s religious order – in popular parlance, nuns – to be wary of a “spiritual worldliness” sown by the Devil that could induce them to become “spinsters.”
“Do not forget that the worst evil that can happen in the Church is spiritual worldliness,” Francis said on Friday, speaking off-the-cuff to a meeting of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, also known as the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco.
“I can almost say that it seems worse than a sin, because spiritual worldliness is that very subtle spirit that occupies the place of proclamation, that occupies the place of faith, that occupies the place of the Holy Spirit,” the pope said.
Quoting the late Jesuit Father Henri de Lubac, the pontiff argued that spiritual worldliness is worse than the scandals “at the time of the concubine popes,” and warned that the devil enters religious houses through this route, “not forcing his way in” but as a “polite devil,” without those living in the religious home even noticing it.
“People who have left everything, have renounced marriage, have renounced children, family… and end up – excuse the word – ‘spinsters’, that is, worldly, preoccupied with those things,” Francis said, adding that the religious fall prey to such temptations when they talk badly of one another, point fingers, spread rumors, or become too focused on their “status” as religious, believing it makes them superior to others.
“Instead of being women consecrated to God, they become ‘polite young ladies’,” the pope said during the event held behind closed doors. He called the religious women to instead focus on missionary service, mortification and tolerance of one another, because “it takes a lot of penance to tolerate each other” when living in community.
Worldliness, he said, is more than wanting a new phone or a vacation at the beach, it’s not “being at peace.”
Addressing the XXIV General Chapter of the Salesian sisters, Francis also exhorted them to a “creative fidelity to the charism” of their founder, which is not “a stuffed relic” but “a living reality.”
The pontiff then stressed “the need to grow communities interwoven with intergenerational, intercultural, fraternal relationships,” and called on the community to “never isolate the elderly,” saying that it is “a duty of young people to guard the elderly, to learn from them, to dialogue with them.”
After exhorting religious to “persevere in their commitment to be generative communities in their service to the young and the poorest,” Francis stressed the value of tenderness: “For me, a very ugly thing is an angry religious, a religious who seems to have breakfast not with milk but with vinegar. Be mothers. Tenderness. God’s style is always closeness” and “God’s closeness is always compassionate and tender.”
The pope also referred to the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that it has “multiplied” poverty, even “hidden” ones, particularly among middle class families that no longer have what it takes to make ends meet. “The pandemic has caused so much havoc.”
After speaking about what he doesn’t want to see in religious life, Francis urged his audience to be like Mary, the mother of God, who is “the attentive woman, fully embodied in the present and solicitous, a caring woman.”
“In this way, you can listen attentively to reality, grasp situations of need,” he said, and when “the joy of love is lacking, they can bring Christ, not in words but in service, in closeness, with compassion and tenderness.”
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