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Pope Francis speaks to priests and religious in Kaunas, Lithuania

September 23, 2018
Pope Francis greets women religious during his visit to Kaunas Cathedral Basilica
Pope Francis greets women religious during his visit to Kaunas Cathedral Basilica (Courtesy of Vatican Media)
Today, in the city of Kaunas, Lithuania, Pope Francis visited the Cathedral Basilica of the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul, where he met with priests, men and women religious, consecrated persons, and seminarians from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. After a time of prayer and reflection, the Holy Father addressed the gathering.
Here is the full text of his address:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My entire visit to your country has been summed up in one expression: “Jesus Christ, our hope”. Now, as this day draws to its close, we have heard a text of the apostle Paul that invites us to hope with perseverance. Paul tells us this after having proclaimed to us God’s dream for every human being, and indeed for all creation: “God makes all things work together for the good of those who love him” (Rom 8:28). He “straightens” all things: that would be the literal translation.
Today I would like to share with you some aspects of this hope: aspects that we – as priests, seminarians, consecrated men and women – are asked to embody in our lives. First, before his invitation to hope, Paul repeats three times the word “groan”: creation groans, men and women groan, the Spirit groans within us (cf. Rom 8:22-23.26). This groaning comes from an enslavement of corruption, from a yearning for fulfilment. Today we would do well to ask if we ourselves groan inwardly, or whether our hearts are still, no longer yearning for the living God. Ours should be the longing of the deer for springs of water as we seek God’s mystery, his truth and his beauty. Perhaps our “prosperous society” keeps us sated, surrounded by services and material objects; we end up “stuffed” with everything and filled by nothing. Perhaps it keeps us distracted and entertained, but not fulfilled. As men and women of special consecration, we can never afford to lose that inward groaning, that restlessness of heart that finds its rest in the Lord alone (SAINT AUGUSTINE, Confessions, I,1.1). No instant news, no virtual communication can substitute for our need of concrete, prolonged and regular moments – calling for sustained effort – of daily dialogue with the Lord through prayer and adoration. We need to keep cultivating our desire for God. As Saint John of the Cross wrote: “Try to be continuous in prayer, and in the midst of bodily exercises, do not leave it. Whether you eat, drink, talk with others, or do anything, always go to God and attach your heart to him” (Counsels to a Religious on How to Attain Perfection, 9b).
This groaning can also come from our contemplation of the world around us, as a protest against the unsatisfied needs of our poorest brothers and sisters, before the absence of meaning in the lives of our young, the loneliness experienced by the elderly, the misuse of creation. It is a groaning that would mobilize efforts to shape events in our nation, in our cities, not by acting as a pressure group or in a bid for power, but in service to all. We too should be moved by the cry of our people, like Moses before the burning bush, when God spoke to him of the suffering of his people (cf. Ex 3:9). Listening to God’s voice in prayer makes us see, hear and feel the pain of others, in order to set them free. Yet we should also be concerned when our people stop groaning, when they stop seeking water to quench their thirst. At those times, we need to discern what is silencing the voice of our people.
The cry that makes us turn to God in prayer and adoration is the same that makes us sensitive to the plea of our brothers and sisters. They put their “hope” in us, and they require us to discern carefully and then to organize, boldly and creatively, our apostolic outreach. May our presence not be haphazard but one that can genuinely respond to the needs of God’s people, and thus be leaven in the dough (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 33).
The apostle also speaks of perseverance: constancy in suffering and in the pursuit of goodness. This calls for our being centred in God, firmly rooted in him and faithful to his love. The older among you – and here how can I fail to mention Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevičius – know what it is to bear witness to this constancy in suffering, this “hoping against hope” (cf. Rom 4:18). The violence you endured for your defence of civil and religious freedom, the violence of slander, imprisonment and deportation, could not prevail over your faith in Jesus Christ, the Lord of history. You have much to tell us and teach us. Yet you also have much advice to give, without the need to pass judgement on the apparent limitations of the young. And you, the young, when you meet with little frustrations that can discourage you and make you want to turn in on yourselves, seeking activities and pastimes at odds with your consecration, go back to your roots and consider the path taken by your elders. It is tribulation that brings out what is distinctive about Christian hope. For when our hope is merely human, we can become frustrated and end in failure. That does not happen with Christian hope: it is renewed and purified when tested by tribulation.
It is true that we are living in different times and situations, but it is also true that this advice proves most helpful when those who experienced those hardships do not keep them to themselves but share them with others. Their stories are simply expressions of nostalgia for times past, as if they were somehow better, or veiled criticisms of those who have a more fragile emotional makeup. A community of disciples can draw upon great resources of constancy if it can integrate – like the scribe in the Gospel – both new and old (cf. Mt 13:52), if it is conscious that historical experiences are the roots that enable the tree to grow and flourish.
Finally, looking to Jesus Christ as our hope means identifying ourselves with him, sharing as a community in his lot. For the apostle Paul, the salvation we await is not merely negative: freedom from some internal or external, historical or eschatological tribulation. Paul instead speaks of it as something supremely positive: our sharing in the glorious life of Christ (cf. 1 Thess 5:9-10), our sharing in his glorious kingdom (cf. 2 Tim 4:18), the redemption of our bodies (cf. Rom 8:23-24). Each of you should try to glimpse the mysterious and unique plan that God has for him or her. For no one can ever know us as profoundly as God does. He calls us to something apparently impossible; he gambles on us, trusting that we will reflect the image of his Son. He expects much of us, and we put our hope in him.
That “we” includes, but also exceeds, each of us as an individual. The Lord calls us, justifies us and glorifies us together, and with us, he includes all creation. Often we so stress personal responsibility that our responsibility as a community ends up in the background, no more than a backdrop. But the Holy Spirit gathers us, reconciles our differences and generates new energies to advance the Church’s mission (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 131, 235).
This Cathedral in which we are gathered, is dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. Both those apostles were conscious of the treasure they had received; both, at different moments and in different ways, had been asked to “put out into the deep water” (Lk 5:4). All of us, are on the boat of the Church. We too want constantly to cry out to God, to persevere amid tribulation and to hold fast to Jesus Christ as the object of our hope. And this boat, sees it as central to her mission to proclaim this eagerly-awaited glory that is God present in the midst of his people in the risen Christ, a glory that one day, to fulfil the yearning of all creation, will be revealed in the children of God. This is the challenge that impels us: the mandate to evangelize. This is the basis of our hope and our joy. Today, the “deep water” into which we must “put out” is “the changing scenarios and ever new challenges” of this Church on the move. Yet we need to ask once more: What is it that the Lord is asking of us? What are the peripheries, that most need our presence so that we can bring them the light of the Gospel (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 20)?
Otherwise, who will be able to believe that Jesus Christ is our hope? Only our example of life will show the reason for our hope in him.

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