Being Joyful Witnesses

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

While in South Korea, Pope Francis gave a great little talk to those who live the religious vocation. He began by noting that their charisms and works enrich the life of the Church and wider society. Then, commenting on a line from Psalm 73, he noted that religious are to give a joyful witness, where this joy comes from “our personal certainty that...we are infinitely loved” by God. He stated:

“The firm conviction of being loved by God is at the centre of your vocation: to be for others a tangible sign of the presence of God’s Kingdom, a foretaste of the eternal joys of heaven. Only if our witness is joyful will we attract men and women to Christ. And this joy is a gift which is nourished by a life of prayer, meditation on the word of God, the celebration of the sacraments and life in community, which is very important.”

Here he mentioned a couple of things worth noting. Firstly, our religious vocation is to be centred on the firm conviction that we are loved by God. Every one of us needs to deepen our own awareness of this fact. The immense love God has for us is revealed to us in Christ, above all in His sacrifice on the cross. If we were to truly understand that we are infinitely loved we would exude joy from the depth of our being, and this joy would well up within us and radiate out, captivating those whom we encounter. We could then be that tangible sign of the Kingdom and even the foretaste of the eternal joys of heaven that Pope Francis described.

Our daily religious life encompasses the four activities that the pope listed as nourishing this joy - a life of prayer, meditation on the word of God, the celebration of the sacraments and life in community. Religious life is quite fortunate in being able to give such time to prayer, the word of God, and the celebration of the sacraments on a daily basis. This explicitly allows the religious to put Christ at the very centre of his life and to embed himself in His mystery so as to take Christ out into the world to others. Perhaps the element that might not seem to fit with the others is where the pope mentions “life in community”. He goes on to mention that living in community is not always easy but that “it is a providential training ground for the heart”. I think it was living in fraternity (coupled with prayer) that enabled St Francis of Assisi to gain the phenomenal wisdom and insights into the workings of the human heart that he expressed in his writings and particularly in his Admonitions. It was this living in community that allowed him to be able to gain and then share those insights for the benefit of others – insights that are still benefitting this brother and countless others throughout the world.

May our religious truly know the great joy of being infinitely loved by God and may they be joyful witnesses of that love to all they meet. The full text of the pope’s talk is here.

Fr Thomas