On Friday morning, 12 November, Pope Francis made a pilgrimage to Assisi, in preparation for the Fifth World Day of the Poor. Before the meeting with the poor in the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels, the Pontiff visited the community of Poor Clares at the Protomonastery of Saint Clare. He left a brief written autograph: “‘I fear the Lord passing by’, Saint Augustine used to say. Be attentive not to let him pass by without encountering him. Attentive with your mind, with your heart, attentive with your hands”. The Poor Clares donated 500 Rosaries to the poor who had taken part in the meeting at the Portiuncula. The following is a translation of the words Francis delivered extemporaneously, in Italian, during his visit at the Protomonastery of Saint Clare.
hey are always celebrating: this is a true Poor Clare, … ‘Always’. Because Saint Augustine used to say that one needs to always be attentive. He would say: “I fear the Lord will pass by and I will not be aware that he is passing”. This attentiveness of the Spirit and of you too, of the bride who always waits for the Lord to pass by. This is beautiful, to be attentive. The attentive spirit, not the spirit scattered everywhere, no; attentive, awaiting the Lord. I love when I find contemplative nuns who are attentive.
And to be attentive, one needs to have three things at peace. To have one’s mind at peace. Because sometimes, you know, the mind wanders…. There are always people, even me, everyone, with the temptation to be everywhere, looking…. As a child, I remember that there was a lady in the neighbourhood who they used to call — I don’t know if this is the translation — the “curtain twitcher”, because she spent the whole day behind the window screen, watching what was going on. No, that attentiveness is not helpful, because it is lost in what is happening. But attentiveness of a mind that is clean, attentive to what is happening, because it thinks well. For example, a mind that thinks well is a mind that does not waste time in thoughts of gossip about others. It thinks well about people. To think ill means the devil is already there, does it not?; he is enough on his own. The mind at peace.
The second thing, for being attentive to the Lord, is a heart at peace. Always returning to the beginning of your vocation: why was I called? To have a career? To attain this position, that other one? No. To love and to let myself be loved. And always returning to the start of your vocation. Each of us has the beginning of our vocation in our heart. Returning with our memory, and thus setting the heart right with what the heart felt at that moment. The joy of following Jesus, of accompanying him.
And then, the hands at peace. It is true that in order to pray you should be like this [he makes the gesture of folded hands]; but the hands must also move in order to work. Meaning, a consecrated man or woman who does not work, should not eat. Paul says this in a Letter to the Thessalonians: those who do not work, let them not eat.
Mind, heart and hands, always doing what they should be doing, and not doing other things.
And in this way, I would say, a consecrated man, a consecrated woman, a nun, has balance. It is a fiery balance, it is not a cold balance: it is filled with love and passion. And it is easy to realize when the Lord passes, and to not let him pass by without listening to what he wants to say. This is your work. You bear on your shoulders the problems of the Church, the suffering of the Church and also — I dare say — the sins of the Church, our sins, those of the bishops, we are sinful bishops, everyone; the sins of priests; the sins of consecrated souls…. And to bring them before the Lord: “They are sinners, but let it go, forgive them”, always with an intercession for the Church.
The danger is to not be sinners. If I asked myself now: “Who among you is not a sinner?”, no one would speak. We say this: we are all sinners. The danger is that sin may become a habit, like a normal attitude; because when sin, a sinful attitude, becomes like this, it is no longer sin; it becomes corruption. And the corrupt are incapable of asking for forgiveness; they are unable to realize they have made mistakes. The way of corruption only has a one-way ticket; rarely a return ticket. Instead, the life of sinners feels the need to ask for forgiveness. Never lose this feeling of needing to ask for forgiveness, always.
What does this mean? That we are sinners, that we are not corrupt. If at a certain point one says: “No, I do not feel the need to ask for forgiveness”, be careful: you are going down the path of corruption. Ask that the Church not be corrupt, because the corruption of the Church is terrible! It is of “high quality”: corrupt priests, bishops and nuns are of the highest quality! Let us think of those Jansenist nuns, for example, of Port Royal: they were very pure, like angels, but it was said that they were as arrogant as devils. It is corruption of the highest quality, the corruption of good people. There is a saying that says: “Corruptio optimi pessimi”, which means the corruption of those who are more good is terrible, it is the worst. Always with the humility of feeling we are sinners, because the Lord always forgives; he looks the other way. He forgives everything.
A confessor in Buenos Aires who was 92 years old said to me — he still continues to hear confessions at 94, he always has a queue at the confessional; he is a Capuchin. He has a queue of men, women, children, young people, workers, priests, bishops, sisters, everyone, the whole flock of the People of God goes to him to confess because he is a good confessor…. — One day he came to the episcopate, he was not too old yet, he must have been 84, he came to me and said: “You know” — he addressed me informally; this man spoke to everyone informally — “you know there is a problem…”. — “Tell me, tell me” — “It is that sometimes I feel bad because I forgive too much…. And I feel something inside…”. He was a man of deep prayer, of deep contemplation. “And tell me, what do you do, Luigi, when you feel this way?” — “Well, I go to the chapel and pray, and I say: ‘Lord, forgive me, because I have forgiven too much’”. — “But are you lenient?” — “No, no, I say serious things, but I forgive because I feel I must forgive”. I once said to him — not that time, before then: “But sometimes do you remember not having forgiven?” — “No, I don’t remember this”. This is a good confessor, isn’t he? “And what do you do?” — “I go to the chapel, I look at the Tabernacle: ‘Lord, forgive me, I have forgiven too much!’. But at a certain point I said to him: ‘But be careful: because it was you who gave me the bad example!’”. God forgives everything. He only asks for our humility to ask for forgiveness. This is why it is important not to lose this habit of asking for forgiveness, which is a virtue. Instead, a corrupt person loses it. Sinners yes, corrupt no!
I wondered: but did Our Lady sometimes ask for forgiveness? The Immaculate…. It is a theological question, to ask nuns…. But I don’t believe that Our Lady was always “above herself”: in the small things, in which she thought she had made mistakes, surely she apologized to the Lord, although they were not objective, but she was like this. For example, I think of that journey to Jerusalem, where the boy had slipped away and stayed away: but how many times she must have asked for forgiveness! ‘I should have been closer…”. There are these things in life, aren’t there? Why do I ask this, this question? Because even the most perfect one has to have a heart that is open to asking for forgiveness, always. It is the most beautiful thing, to be forgiven.
Yesterday afternoon I was with a group of young people who work in preaching the Gospel to today’s young people. Young artists too, those in the groups who do these new things, especially in the United States, Hollywood, that area. They showed me — some scenes — with these young people about whom some say, they don’t even believe in their own noses…. They did the Parable of the Prodigal Son: the whole story about a modern, present-day young man who wastes his father’s money, who falls into all the vices and then in the end, speaking to a friend, he says: “I’m not happy; I’m sad because I miss my dad. I miss my dad. I have done all these dirty things and I took an ugly path that doesn’t help me…. But I don’t dare return home because I am afraid my dad will reject me or beat me or insult me … I don’t feel like it”. And that friend says to him: “But don’t you have a friend who could go and ask your dad: ‘What would happen if your son came back?’” — “No, I no longer have anyone”. — “But, if you want, I can go, and I will tell him to give you a sign”. — “But what sign?”. And they talked about this. And in the end he says: “I will go, I will speak to your dad, I will tell him that you have this desire to ask for forgiveness and to return, but that you don’t know if you will be well received, and that if he would welcome you, he should put a white handkerchief on the terrace, in plain view”. And the son began the journey, and when he was close to home he saw it: he saw the house filled with white handkerchiefs! In other words, our hands are not big enough to receive all that He gives us, even when we are sinners and we ask him for forgiveness. And this is how our Father’s abundance is: he awaits us with his house dressed with many white handkerchiefs! He is more generous!
I remember, returning to forgiveness — I like to talk about forgiveness, because it is a positive thing: more than sin, forgiveness — when Peter asks the Lord: “But how many times must I forgive? Is seven times okay?” — “Seventy times seven”, that is, always. In fact, when he teaches us the Our Father, forgiving others is a condition to be forgiven. You, in your chapter, for example — it will happen, I don’t believe here, but let’s think of another convent — one of you is angry, her face is a bit sour, let’s say, “because I’m angry with that other one, but she’s the one who should ask me for forgiveness because it was she…”. The small things in a community, we all know them, I too was in a community and I know how a community is. Even in the Curia these things happen…. But take the first step! Give a smile, just a smile! It is a beautiful day….
I don’t know if I spoke about this last time: Teresina. When she had to leave the choir, before dinner, 10 minutes before, to take Mother San Pietro to the dining hall because the poor thing limped everywhere; she was a little impatient, and if Teresina touched her she would say: “Don’t touch me! If you touch me it’s a sin!”. This bitterness sometimes happens. And what did Teresina do? A smile, always. She took her, had her sit down, cut her bread, everything, so when the other sisters arrived everything was ready for dinner to begin. And once, when Mother San Pietro’s complaining was so strong, Teresina heard the music of a dance [in the house next to the monastery] and said: “There are people dancing, happy people, people having fun…. But I wouldn’t trade this for that, for me this is more beautiful”. The beauty of fraternal charity.
And living this charity means having an open heart, open hands, a mind that is open to the encounter with the Lord, so that he does not pass by without me realizing it.
Well. Perhaps some may be thinking: “When will this priest finish … is it a Lenten sermon?” I thank you. Think of the Church. Think of the elderly, of grandparents, who are often “throw away material”: they don’t want to have them with the family because they are a bother and they put them in some place…. Think of families, how the mother and father have to work, so often, to get to the end of the month, to have food to eat. Pray for families so they may know how to raise children well. Think of children, young people and the many threats of worldliness which does so much harm. Think of the nuns, of consecrated women like you, of those who have to work in schools, in hospitals. Think of the priests. Teresina entered Carmel to pray for priests: we need it, we need it. Pray that we may know how to be shepherds and not office managers: that priests may be bishops, parish priests, that they may have this pastoral nature, to be shepherds.
Nothing else comes to mind for me to say. I think the Lenten sermon has been long! I thank you very much.