Pope Francis: Religious Should Offer Three Forms of Testimony

April 2015

Pope Francis' speech to clergy and men and women religious gathered in Naples, Italy, last month was full of good advice and inspiration—for both religious and religious vocation discerners.

I know that whenever he starts a speech with the words "I prepared a speech but speeches are boring," it is going to be packed with some good "Francis nuggets" of wisdom. And I was not disappointed when I read this one.

This talk included many personal stories and, in my opinion, highlighted some of the realities of religious life. His words also articulate, for those who are discerning their call, how religious are called to give testimony and how they find joy in living out the call to religious life.

Pope Francis reminded his listeners that "the journey in consecrated life is following the footsteps of Jesus." This reminder hit home for me at the end of Lent, after having recently prayed and walked the Stations of the Cross and especially after having prayed the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. Following in Jesus' footsteps is a constant challenge and it presents difficulties. But with Jesus as the center of our lives, said Pope Francis, "The difficulties are faced in a different way." By following Jesus we will find joy; in Pope Francis' words, "No one can take away my joy."

In addition, Pope Francis asked the seminarians present to reflect on whether or not Jesus was the center of their lives. "I'll tell you something: If you do not have Jesus at the center, delay your ordination. If you are not certain that Jesus is the center of your life, wait a while longer, so as to be sure. Because on the contrary, you will begin a journey without knowing where it will lead." I think that his question is a powerful topic of reflection for those who are discerning their call.

Pope Francis said that religious should offer three forms of testimony. The first testimony, as I mentioned above, is "seeing Jesus at the center" of our lives. Secondly, "Another form of testimony is the spirit of poverty." He warned his listeners that "consecrated people—be they priests, nuns or religious—must never be business people." For those discerning a religious vocation, the question on which he asked the religious to reflect can apply as well: "I ask everyone to examine their conscience: how is my life of poverty going; also, what do I receive from small things?"

"The third form of testimony is mercy," Pope Francis stated. "We need to resume the works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual." For my readers who have forgotten their catechism or don't have copies on hand, paragraph 2447 of the Catholic Catechism states:

"The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God."

Each of us needs to ask: what place do these works of mercy have in my life?

Pope Francis told his listeners that, as religious, their "testimony is one thing that attracts vocations." Young men and women should see religious and say, "I want to be like that priest. I want to be like that nun," he said.

I believe that Glenmary priests and brothers are giving great testimony through their mission ministry to the poor in the neglected regions of the United States. I could share countless examples here, but instead I invite you, as Jesus did, to "Come & See." Next month and during the summer, Glenmary will have opportunities for young men to participate in a "Come & See" mission experience (see preceding item in this newsletter).
Please feel free to contact us for more information on upcoming trips.

Is God calling you to give testimony as a Glenmary missioner? Come & See.

Read previous columns by Brother David.