Good morning, dear brothers and sisters,
In these days, during these last forty-eight hours I have had with you, I have noticed that there is something peculiar, forgive me, something different about the Ecuadorian people. Everywhere I go, I receive a really joyful, warm and prayerful welcome; everywhere. But here I see real piety in the way, for example, a blessing is sought from the eldest right down to the “wawa”, and that it is the first thing you learn to do. There was something quite unique which I also was tempted to ask along with the Bishop of Sucumbios: “What is the recipe of this people?” What is it? I gave this a lot of thought and prayed about it; I asked Jesus several times in prayer: “What is it that is so distinctive about this people? And this morning, praying about it, I was struck by the consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
I think I should offer this to you as a message from Jesus: all this richness that you have, the spiritual richness of piety and great depth, has come about because of the courage you have shown in very difficult moments when the nation was consecrated to the Heart of Christ, that human and divine Heart which loves us so dearly. And I notice it in this sense: divine and human. Yes, you are sinners, as am I… but the Lord forgives everything… treasure this! Years later came the consecration to the Heart of Mary. Do not forget: that consecration is a milestone in the history of Ecuador’s people. I see that you have received this grace from such a consecration, the grace of piety that makes you unique.
Today I wish to speak to the priests, seminarians, and men and women religious, and offer them some thoughts. I do have some words prepared, but I don’t really feel like reading. So I will give that text to the President of the Conference of Religious so that it can be published.
I thought of the Blessed Virgin, I thought of Mary. Two phrases used by Mary, and here my memory fails me as I do not know if she added more: “Let it be done to me”; true, she asked the angel for an explanation of why she had been chosen, but she nevertheless says, “Let it be done to me”. And the second phrase, “Do whatever he tells you”. Mary did not want to stand out. She was a disciple all her life. She was the first disciple of her son. She was conscious that all she had brought forth was pure gratuitousness on God’s part. She was conscious of God’s gratuitousness. This is why these words, “let it be done” and “do whatever he tells you” point to the gratuitousness of God. Women and men religious, priests and seminarians, I ask you to retrace your steps back to the time God gratuitously chose you. You did not buy a ticket to enter the seminary, to enter consecrated life. You were not worthy. If some religious brother, priest, seminarian or nun here today thinks that they merited this, raise your hands. It is all gratuitousness. And the entire life of a religious brother and sister, priest and seminarian must walk that path, and here why not add bishops as well. It is the path that leads to gratuitousness, the path we must follow each day: “Lord, today I did this, I did this thing well, I had this difficulty, all this but…all is from you, all is free gift”. That is gratuitousness. We are those who receive God’s gratuitousness. If we forget this, then slowly we begin to see ourselves as more important: “Look at these works you are doing”, or “Look at how they made this man a bishop of such and such a place… how important”, or “this man they made a Monsignor”, and so on. With this way of thinking we gradually move away from what is fundamental, what Mary never moved away from: God’s gratuitousness. Permit me as a brother to offer you some advice: every day, perhaps night time is better, before going to sleep, look at Jesus and say to him: “All you have given me is a free gift”, and then go back to what you were doing. As a result, then, when I am asked to move or when there is some difficulty, I do not complain, because everything is free gift, I merit nothing. This is what Mary did.
Saint John Paul II, in Redemptoris Mater, which I would recommend you read, absorb and read again, had a rounded way of thinking; he was a teacher, but he was a man of God. For this reason the text has to be read again and again in order to gain the full benefit of its richness. He says, and I do not remember the exact phrase, that when Mary’s faithfulness experienced the greatest trial, she might have wanted to say, “And they told me he was going to save Israel! I was cheated!” But she did not say this. She did not allow herself to think like that, because she was the woman who knew that she had received everything freely. So my advice as a brother and a father is this: “Let it be done; thank you, because everything has been given to me by you”.
A second thing that I would like to tell you is to take care of your health, but above all, take care not to fall into that illness which can dangerous, to a lesser or greater degree, for those called freely by the Lord to follow and serve him. Do not fall into spiritual Alzheimer’s, that is, do not forget your memories, especially the memory of where you were taken from. The scene comes to mind when the Prophet Samuel is sent to anoint the king of Israel. He goes to Bethlehem, to the home of a man named Jesse who has seven or eight children, I am not sure of the number, and God tells him that among them there is one who will be king. Naturally, Samuel sees them and says, “It must be the eldest one” for he was tall, great in stature, well built, and seemed brave… But the Lord says, “No, it is not him”. The prophet realizes that he does not know what to do, and so asks the father of the family: “Do you not have any other sons?”. Jesse replies, “Yes, there is the youngest son who is tending the sheep”. Samuel said, “Send for him”, and he came, just a boy, probably seventeen or eighteen years old, and God says to Jesse: “This is the one”. He was taken from the back of the flock. And another prophet, when God told him to act as a prophet, replied: “But who am I? One who has been taken out of the remotest part of the sheepfold”. The moral is never to forget where you have been brought from. Never forget your roots.
Saint Paul clearly understood the danger of forgetting one’s memory. To his beloved son, the bishop Timothy, whom he ordained, Paul offered some pastoral advice; one particular piece touched Timothy’s heart: “Do not forget the faith that your grandmother and mother had”, that is to say, “Do not forget from where you were taken, do not forget your roots, do not consider yourself to have been promoted”. Gratuitousness is a grace that cannot exist side by side with promotion, and when a priest, seminarian, religious brother or sister embarks on a career, and I am not saying a human career is evil, then they become ill with spiritual Alzheimer’s and they begin to forget where they were taken from.
Two principles for you who are priests and consecrated persons: every day renew the conviction that everything is a gift, the conviction that your being chosen is gratuitousness – we do not merit it – and every day ask for the grace not to forget your memories, and not to fall into self-importance. It is really sad when we see a priest or consecrated person who used to speak in his or her dialect at home, or in another language like those ancient languages – and how many does Ecuador have – it is so sad when they forget that first language, so sad when they choose not to speak it. What this means is that they have forgotten where they have come from, where they have been taken from. Do not forget this, and ask for the grace to keep your memories alive: these are the two principles I wish to emphasize.
And these two principles, if you live them each day – which entails a daily effort to remember these two principles and to ask for grace – then those two principles, when lived, will bring you life, will help you live with two attitudes. The first is service. God chose me, he took me to himself, but why? In order to serve; and a service which is particular to me and my circumstances. It is not about having my time, having my things, I have this to do, I have to close the office, I have to bless a house, but I am tired, or there is a good soap opera on television; I say this with nuns in mind… No, it is none of these but rather it is service, to serve, to serve and nothing else, and to serve when we are tired, and to serve when people tire us.
An elderly priest told me that he had been a teacher all his life at colleges and university. He taught literature, the arts. He was a genius. When he retired he asked the Provincial to move him to a poor area, where people come and go, seeking work. In short, good, simple people. Once a week this religious priest went back to his community and spoke to them; he really was quite intelligent. And the community was made up of professors from the theology faculty; he spoke to his brother priests about theology, at their level. But one day he said to one of them, “You who are… Who teaches the course on the Church?” One professor raised his arm and said, “I do”. The elderly priest said, “You’re missing two arguments”. “Which ones?” the professor replied. “The holy, faithful People of God is essentially Olympian, that is to say, it does what it wants, and is ontologically tiring”. These words reveal much wisdom because the person who follows the path of service must allow themselves to be tired out, without losing patience in the name of service. No moment belongs to us. I am here to serve, to serve in the things I am called to do, to serve before the Blessed Sacrament, asking for my people, praying for my work, for the people that God has entrusted to my care.
Service, if combined with gratuitousness leads to… those words of Jesus: “What you have received freely, give freely”. Please, please, don’t put a charge on grace; please, let our pastoral works be free. It is so repulsive when one loses this sense of gratuitousness and is transformed into… yes, a doer of good deeds but one who loses the sense of freely giving.
The second attitude seen in a consecrated man or woman, seen in a priest who lives this gratuitousness and shows the ability to recall the past (those principles which I spoke of earlier, gratuitousness and memory), is joy and pleasure. It is a gift of Jesus, a gift which he gives if we ask for it and if we do not forget those pillars of our priestly or consecrated spiritual, namely the sense of gratuitousness renewed daily and the ability not to forget from where we were taken.
I desire this for you. “Yes, Father, you have spoken to us of a recipe that works for our people… we are like this because of the Sacred Heart”. Yes, this is true, but I propose to you another recipe which is on the same lines, existing in the heart of Jesus: the sense of gratuitousness. He did nothing, he humbled himself, he became poor in order to enrich us by his poverty. Pure gift. And the sense of memory… we recall the memories of the marvels that the Lord has done for us in our lives.
May the Lord grant this grace to everyone, may he grant it to all of us who are here, and may he continue – I was going to say precede us – blessing this Ecuadorian people whom you must serve and are called to serve; may he continue to bless you with that particular characteristic which I noticed as I arrived here. May the Lord bless you and the Blessed Virgin protect you.
Let us now pray to the Father, who gave us everything freely, and who keeps alive in us the memory of Jesus. [Our Father…] And May Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And please, please, I ask you to pray for me because I too am often tempted to forget the gratuitousness with which God chose me, and to forget where I have been taken from. Pray for me.