VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The decline in vocations to religious life, including in the Society of Jesus, is a lesson in humility and a reminder that the call to religious life depends on God, Pope Francis says to the Jesuits in Greece.
“The Lord sends vocations,” the pope told fellow Jesuits Dec. 4 during a meeting at the Apostolic Nunciature in Athens.
“If they don’t come, it’s not up to us. I believe that the Lord gives us a teaching for religious life. For us, it has meaning in the sense of humiliation,” he said.
As is customary when the pope meets Jesuits while traveling abroad, a transcript of his remarks was published weeks later by the Jesuit newspaper La Civiltà Cattolica.
According to the text published on December 16, Pope Francis had an hour-long conversation with seven members of the Jesuit community.
Jesuit Father Sebastien Freris told the pope about a Jesuit journal that has ceased publication due to lack of members in the community.
The pope said that at the start of his novitiate there were 33,000 Jesuits in the world. However, now there are “more or less half of them, and we will continue to decrease in number”.
Reflecting on Ignatian spirituality, the pope told the Jesuit community that the humiliation that comes from diminishing vocations is a way to reach the “third degree of humility.”
In his Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius of Loyola describes the third degree of humility as the desire for “poverty, dishonor and even (to) be a fool for God, since Christ was such”.
“The third degree of humility is the goal of the exercises,” Pope Francis said. “What does the Lord mean by that? Humble yourself, humble yourself! I don’t know if I explained myself. You have to get used to the humiliation.
Another priest, Belgian Jesuit Father Tonny Cornoedus, spoke to the pope about his work with refugees and how he was mistakenly arrested for human trafficking.
“A beautiful humiliation! replied the pope.
Praising the priest’s tireless work with refugees, Pope Francis said the end of the Jesuit’s life should be “full of work, perhaps tired, full of contradictions, but with a smile, with the joy of having does its job.”
“This seed of joy, ‘trick’, smiling, is the grace of a full and full life. A life with sins, yes, but full of the joy of serving God. Go ahead and thank you for your testimonial! said the pope to the priest.
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