(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis, who is currently on an Apostolic Visit to Colombia, spoke on Saturday to priests, religious, seminarians and their families in Medellin, some 200 kms northwest of the capital Bogota, where he was on a day-long trip.
The Pope’s last event of the day at Medellin’s Macarena Entertainment Center, included listening to testimonies of a priest, a cloistered nun and a family, who contemplated on their vocation.
The Pope spoke of a “contagious apostolic zeal” that results from knowing and encountering Jesus, saying that “making him known by our word and deeds is our joy.”
Comparing the Church of Colombia to “Jesus’ vine”, Pope Francis explained that the health of the vine is gauged by the harvest of genuine vocations despite today’s cultural crisis.
This vine, he said, needs to be pruned of its imperfections through an “intimate and fruitful union with Jesus.” Pope Francis offered three ways in which their dwelling in Christ can be effective.
Meeting with priests, men and women religious, seminarians and their families.
The parable of the true vine which we have just heard from the Gospel of John is given within the context of Jesus’ Last Supper. In that intimate moment, marked by a certain tension but full of love, the Lord washed the feet of his disciples, and wished to perpetuate his memory in the bread and wine, as he spoke from the depths of his heart to those he loved the most.
In this first “Eucharistic” night, in this first sunset after his example of service, Jesus opens his heart; he entrusts to them his testament. Just as the Apostles, some women and Mary, the Mother of Jesus (cf. Acts 1: 13-14) continued to meet in that Upper Room, so too we are gathered here together to listen to him, to listen to one another. Sister Leidy of Saint Joseph, María Isabel and Father Juan Felipe have offered us their testimonies… So also each of us here could share our own vocation story. All these would converge in our experience of Jesus who comes to meet us, who chooses us first, thus seizing our hearts. As Aparecida says: “Knowing Jesus is the best gift that any person can receive; that we have encountered him is the best thing that has happened in our lives, and making him known by our word and deeds is our joy” (Aparecida Document, 29).
Many of you, young people, have discovered the living Jesus in your communities; communities with a contagious apostolic zeal, which inspire and attract others. Where there is life, zeal, the desire to take Christ to others, geniune vocations arise; the fraternal and fervent life of the community awakens the yearning to devote oneself entirely to God and to evangelization (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 107). Young people are naturally restless and, although there is a crisis of commitment and of communitarian relationships, many of them stand together against the evils of the world and become involved in various forms of political action and voluntary work. When they do so for Jesus, feeling that they are a part of the community, they become “street preachers (callejeros de la fe)”, to bring Jesus Christ to every street, every town square and every corner of the earth (cf. ibid. 106).
This is the vine which Jesus refers to in the text we have just proclaimed: that vine which is the “people of the covenant”. The prophets, such as Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel, refer to the people as a vine, as does Psalm 80, which says: “You brought a vine out of Egypt… Your cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land” (vv. 9-10). At times they express the joy of God contemplating the vine, at other times his anger, bewilderment, and disappointment; yet he never forgets his people, he never ceases to feel their distance and go out to them, who, when they turn away from him, dry up, burn away and are destroyed.
How is the land, the sustenance, the support where this vine is growing in Colombia? Under what conditions are the vocational fruits of special consecration born? No doubt in situations full of contradictions, of light and darkness, of complex relational realities. We all would like to count on a world with straightforward families and relationships, but we are a part of this cultural crisis and, in the midst of it, in response to it, God continues to call. It would be almost unrealistic to think that all of you heard the call of God in the midst of families sustained by a strong love and full of values such as generosity, compromise, fidelity and patience (cf. Amoris Laetitia, 5); some are like this, and I pray to God that they are many. But keeping our feet firmly planted on the ground means recognizing that our vocational experiences, the awakening of God’s call, brings us closer to what God’s word already reveals and to what Colombia knows so well: “This thread of suffering and bloodshed runs through numerous pages of the Bible, beginning with Cain’s murder of his brother Abel. We read of the disputes between the sons and the wives of the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the tragedies and violence marking the family of David, the family problems reflected in the story of Tobias and the bitter complaint of Job” (ibid., 20). It has been this way since the beginning: God manifests his closeness and his election; he changes the course of events to call men and women in the frailty of their personal and shared history. Let us not be afraid, in that complex land, for God always brings about the miracle of producing good clusters on the vine, like arepas at breakfast. May there be vocations in every community and in every family in Medellín!
This vine – which is Jesus’ vine – has the characteristic of being true. He has used this term before on other occasions in the Gospel of John: true light, true bread from heaven, and true testimony. Now, truth is not something that we receive – as bread or light – but rather what springs up from within. We are a people chosen for the truth, and our call has to be in truth. There can be no place for deceit, hypocrisy or small-mindedness if we are branches of this vine, if our vocation is grafted onto Jesus. We must all be careful that every branch fulfils its purpose: to bear fruit. From the start, those who accompany the vocational process need to encourage a right intention, a genuine desire to be configured to Jesus, the shepherd, the friend, the spouse. When these processes are not nourished by this true sap that is the Spirit of Jesus, then we experience dryness and God learns with sadness that these branches are already dead. Vocations associated with special consecrations die when they love to be sustained with honours, when they are driven by a search for personal reassurance and social advancement, when the motivation is “to climb the ladder”, to cleave to material interests and to strive shamefully for financial gain. As I have said before on other occasions, the devil enters through the wallet. This not only applies to the early stages of vocation; all of us have to be careful because the corrupting of men and women in the Church begins in this way, little by little, and then – as Jesus himself says – it takes root in the heart and it ends up dislodging God from our lives. “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt 6:21, 24), we cannot take advantage of our religious state and the goodness of our people in order to be served and gain material benefits.
There are some situations, customs and choices that evidence signs of dryness and death: they cannot keep hindering the flow of sap that nourishes and gives life! The poison of lies, obfuscation, manipulation and the abuse of the People of God, the weak and especially the elderly and young, can have no place in our communities; they are branches that are determined to dry us out and that God tells us to cut off.
And God does not only cut away; the allegory goes on to say that God purifies the vine of its imperfections. The promise is that we will bear fruit, and abundantly, just like the grain of wheat, if we are able to give ourselves, to offer our lives freely. In Colombia, there are examples that this is possible. We remember Saint Laura Montoya, a remarkable religious whose relics are with us and who, going forth from this city, gave herself completely to a great missionary effort on behalf of indigenous people throughout the country. How much we can learn from this consecrated woman of silent and selfless surrender, who had no greater desire than to transmit the maternal face of God. So too we remember Blessed Mariano de Jesús Euse Hoyos, one of the first students of the Seminary of Medellín, and other Colombian priests and women religious, whose canonization processes have begun; as well as so many others, thousands of unknown Colombians who in the simplicity of their daily lives knew how to give of themselves for the Gospel, and whom you hold dear in your memory and who encourage you in your own commitment. They all show us that it is possible to respond faithfully to the Lord’s call, that it is possible to bear much fruit.
With the gaze and attitude of Jesus, who contemplates reality not as a judge, but rather as a good samaritan; who recognizes the value of the people who walk with him, as well as their wounds and sins; who discovers their silent suffering and who is moved by peoples’ needs, above all when they are overwhelmed by injustice, inhumane poverty, indifference or by the perverse actions of corruption and violence.
With Jesus’ gestures and words, which express love for those nearby and search for those far away; tender and firm in denouncing sin and in announcing the Gospel, joyful and generous in surrendering and in service, especially for the smallest among us, steadfastly rejecting the temptation to believe that all is lost, to accomodate ourselves or to become mere administrators of misfortune.
Awakening and sustaining an admiration for the study which increases knowledge of Christ because, as Saint Augustine reminds us, we cannot love someone we do not know (cf. Saint Augustine, The Trinity, Book X, ch. I, 3).
Giving priority, in this way of knowing, to the encounter with Sacred Scripture, especially the Gospel where Christ speaks to us, reveals his unconditional love for the Father, and instils the joy that comes from obedience to his will and from serving our brothers and sisters. Whoever does not know the Scriptures, does not know Jesus. Whoever does not love the Scriptures, does not love Jesus (cf. Saint Jerome, Preface to the Commentary on the Prophet Isaiah, PL 24, 17). Let us spend time prayerfully reading the Word of God, listening to what God wishes for us and for our people.
May all of our study help us to interpret reality with the eyes of God, that it may not be a way of avoiding what is happening to our people, nor be subject to the whim of fashions or ideologies. May our study not be overcome by nostalgia or the tendency to confine the mystery, nor may it be unwilling to respond to questions that people no longer ask themselves, and may it not abandon those who find themselves in an existential void and who question us from their worlds and cultures.
Dwelling in and contemplating his divinity by making prayer a fundamental part of our lives and our apostolic service. Prayer frees us from the burden of worldliness, and teaches us to live joyfully, to distance ourselves from what is superficial, in an exercise of true freedom. Prayer draws us out of our self-centredness, from being reclusive in an empty religious experience; it leads us to place ourselves, with docility, in the hands of God in order to fulfil his will and to realize his plan of salvation. And prayer teaches us to adore. To learn to adore in silence.
Let us be men and women who have been reconciled in order to reconcile. Being called does not give us a certificate of right conduct and sinlessness; we are not clothed in an aura of holiness. We are all sinners and we need forgiveness and God’s mercy to rise each day. He uproots whatever is not good in us, as well as the wrong we have done, casting it out of the vineyard to be burned up. He cleanses us so that we may bear fruit. This is the merciful fidelity that God shows his people, of which we are part. He will never leave us at the side of the road. God does everything to prevent sin from defeating us and clsoing the doors of our lives to a future of hope and joy.
If we remain in him, his joy will be in us. We will not be sad disciples and bitter apostles. On the contrary, we will reflect and be heralds of true happiness, a complete joy that no one can take away. We will spread the hope of a new life that Christ has given to us. God’s call is not a heavy burden that robs us of joy. He does not want us to be immersed in a sadness and weariness that comes from activities lived poorly, but rather wants a spirituality that brings joy to our lives and even to our weariness. Our contagious joy must be our first testimony to the closeness and love of God. We are true dispensers of God’s grace when we reflect the joy that comes from encountering him.
In the Book of Genesis, after the flood, Noah planted a vine as a sign of a new beginning; at the end of the Exodus, Moses sent scouts to inspect the promised land, who returned with a cluster of grapes, a sign that in the land flowed milk and honey. God has looked upon us, our communities and families. The Lord has cast his gaze on Colombia: you are a sign of this loving election. It is now up to us to offer all our love and service while being united to Jesus, our vine. To be the promise of a new beginning for Colombia, that leaves behind the floods of discord and violence, a Colombia that wants to bear abundant fruits of justice and peace, of encounter and solidarity. May God bless you; may God bless the consecrated life in Colombia. And, please, do not forget to pray for me.