Facing the Future with Hope, Joy, and Courage
OUR Church here in the Philippines is now two-thirds way through its 2018 celebration of the “Year of the Clergy and Consecrated Persons.” Yes, we all painfully know the difficulties that the Church is currently facing. We have become acutely aware of sinfulness in the Church—and even in some of her leaders. We see decreasing vocations and aging members. There are economic problems and the threats posed by a pervasive relativism; some may experience a sense of isolation and social irrelevance.
Pope Francis notes that we need to realistically embrace the future with hope: “It is precisely amid these uncertainties, which we share with so many of our contemporaries, that we are called to practice the virtue of hope, the fruit of our faith in the Lord of history, who continues to tell us: ‘Be not afraid … for I am with you’ (Jer 1:8).”
“This hope is not based on statistics or accomplishments, but on the One in whom we have put our trust…. This is the hope which does not disappoint…. The Holy Spirit spurs us on so that he can still do great things with us…. So, do not yield to the temptation to see things in terms of numbers and efficiency, and even less to trust in your own strength…. Let us constantly set out anew with trust in the Lord.”
Joy amidst Adversity. Pope Francis asserts that an old saying will always remain true: “Where there are religious, there is joy.” Francis notes that all Christians, especially the religious, “are called to know and show that God is able to fill our hearts to the brim with happiness, that we need not seek our happiness elsewhere…. Our total self-giving in service to the Church, to families and young people, to the elderly and the poor, brings us life-long personal fulfillment.”
“None of us should be dour, discontented and dissatisfied, for ‘a gloomy disciple is a disciple of gloom.’ Like everyone else, we have our troubles, our dark nights of the soul, our disappointments and infirmities….” These experiences should continually conform us to Christ crucified.
For Pope Francis, “consecrated life will not flourish as a result of brilliant vocation programs, but because the young people we meet find us attractive, because they see us as men and women who are happy.” Everything depends upon “the eloquence of our lives … which radiate the joy and beauty of living the Gospel and following Christ to the full.”
Waking up the World. “I am counting on you to ‘wake up the world,’ since the distinctive sign of consecrated life is prophecy.” This is the call of Pope Francis as he asks everyone, religious and clergy in particular, to “follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way.” This is the priority needed in today’s Church and world: “to be prophets who witness to how Jesus lived on this earth.” Thus, “religious must never abandon prophecy.”
“Prophets receive from God the ability to scrutinize the times in which they live and to interpret events…. Prophets know God and they know the men and women who are their brothers and sisters. They are able to discern and denounce the evil of sin and injustice.”
“Because they are free, they are beholden to no one but God, and they have no interest other than God. Prophets tend to be on the side of the poor and the powerless, for they know that God himself is on their side…. They should increasingly be the leaven for a society inspired by the Gospel…. So God encourages us: ‘Be not afraid … for I am with you to deliver you’.”