There are always things which seem hopeless if seen with the eyes of the world, which is why those in religious life must stay close to the Lord every day, Pope Francis said Saturday.
“Here is the secret: never to alienate oneself from the Lord, who is the source of hope,” the pope said Feb. 1 in St. Peter’s Basilica. “We become blind if we do not look to the Lord every day, if we do not adore him.”
Speaking at a vigil Mass for the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, he said, “the gaze of consecrated men and women can only be one of hope. Knowing how to hope.”
“Looking around, it is easy to lose hope: things that don’t work, the decline in vocations… There is always the temptation to have a worldly gaze, one devoid of hope,” Francis stated.
He pointed to the day’s Gospel reading, which records the story of Mary and Joseph’s presentation of Jesus in the temple, where they encountered Simeon and the prophetess Anna.
Simeon and Anna “were elderly, alone, yet they had not lost hope, because they remained in communion with the Lord,” the pope explained, saying consecrated men and women are like Anna and Simeon, “simple men and women who caught sight of the treasure worth more than any worldly good.”
“And so,” he continued, “you left behind precious things, such as possessions, such as making a family for yourselves. Why did you do this? Because you fell in love with Jesus, you saw everything in him, and enraptured by his gaze, you left the rest behind.”
Francis reflected on hope and leaving behind worldly possessions during Mass for the 24th World Day of Consecrated Life, which is celebrated every year on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord.
The feast of the Presentation is also sometimes called Candlemas. On this day, many Catholics bring candles to the church to be blessed. They can then light these candles at home during prayer or difficult times as a symbol of Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.
The Mass Feb. 1 began with Pope Francis blessing the candles in the rear of the nave. He then processed to the front of the darkened church with priests, bishops, and cardinals carrying lit candles. Men and women present in the congregation also held small candles.
According to the pope, religious life is an undeserved gift of love which gives consecrated men and women the vision to see what is truly important in life and to acknowledge that “everything is gift, all is grace.”
In religious life there can be a temptation to see things in a worldly way, he said, noting that when consecrated life does not revolve around God’s grace, “it turns in upon itself. It loses its passion, it grows slack, becomes stagnant.”
“This entails no longer seeing God’s grace as the driving force in life, then going off in search of something to substitute for it: a bit of fame, a consoling affection, finally getting to do what I want.”
What happens is “we start to demand our own space, our own rights, we let ourselves get dragged into gossip and slander, we take offence at every small thing that does not go our way, and we pour forth litanies of lamentation: about our brothers, our sisters, our communities, the Church, society,” he explained.
“We no longer see the Lord in everything, but only the dynamics of the world, and our hearts grow numb,” he continued, encouraging religious to ask God for the ability to see his grace at work in the world.
“If consecrated life remains steadfast in love for the Lord, it perceives beauty,” he said. “It sees that poverty is not some colossal effort, but rather a higher freedom that God gives to us and others as real wealth. It sees that chastity is not austere sterility, but the way to love without possessing. It sees that obedience is not a discipline, but is victory over our own chaos, in the way of Jesus.”
Pope Francis also spoke about the vow of poverty, saying the devil focuses his temptations on the poverty of religious sisters and brothers, encouraging thoughts such as: “In all these years you haven’t got any better, you haven’t achieved what you could have, they haven’t let you do what you were meant to do, you haven’t always been faithful, you are not capable…”
He pointed to words found in Night Prayer: “Lord, my salvation comes from you, my hands are not empty, but are full of your grace.”
“Knowing how to see grace is the starting point,” the pope said. “Let us thank God for the gift of the consecrated life and ask of him a new way of looking, that knows how to see grace, how to look for one’s neighbor, how to hope. Then our eyes too will see salvation.”