Pope Francis told participants at a Vatican gathering on religious life that the exodus of clergy and religious men and women is weakening the Church and must be addressed.
“We are dealing with a ‘hemorrhage’ that is debilitating to consecrated life and the very life of the Church,” the Pope said, noting that the number of desertions from the consecrated life is “worrisome.”
In his speech Saturday, the Pope cited three chief factors contributing to the loss of clerical and religious vocations: a society allergic to commitments, the worldly aspirations of many young people and the bad example of priests and religious.
We live in “an era of change,” Francis stated, “in which it is hard to take on serious, lifelong commitments” when everything around us seems temporary.
The present social and cultural context makes fidelity difficult, Francis said, since it is a culture of “the fragmentary and the provisional,” leading many to make choices “à la carte” while always “leaving ‘back doors’ open to other possibilities.”
The Pope said that this culture is rooted in “a strong practical relativism,” according to which everything is judged in terms of one’s personal fulfillment.
A second factor, the pontiff proposed, is the complicated world of young people today. While recognizing that there are many generous and committed young people in search of a deep spiritual life, many succumb to a secular logic entailing “a quest for success at any price, easy money and easy pleasures,” he said.
This logic “seduces many young people,” he added.
A third and final factor comes from within consecrated life itself, in which “there is no shortage of counter-witness that make fidelity difficult.”
When priests or religious sisters and brothers allow “routine, weariness, administrative burdens, internal divisions and careerism” to take root, there is little motivation to keep going when consecrated life becomes trying, Francis said.
In order to maintain its “fascination,” consecrated life must keep the “freshness and novelty of the centrality of Jesus,” which nourishes the “attractiveness of spirituality and the strength of the mission.”
“When hope dwindles and there is no joy,” Francis said, consecrated life becomes “ugly.”
The priestly or religious vocation, like faith itself, “is a treasure we carry in earthen vessels,” the Pope said, and that is why “it must be guarded as one guards the most precious things, so that no one can steal this treasure, and it doesn’t lose its beauty with the passage of time.”
This can only happen through prayer and the practice of the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, Francis said, along with “a solid theological and spiritual formation.”
The Pope ended his address by underscoring the importance of spiritual “accompaniment,” encouraging priests and religious to seek out a mentor or spiritual director—male or female—who can help them stay faithful to God and to his call.
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