On September 13th at 10:20 am in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father Francis received in an Audience the Participants in the General Chapter of the Order of St. Augustine. Below we publish the speech that the Pope addressed to those present during the Audience:
I welcome all of you, gathered in Rome for the General Chapter, and I thank the Prior General for his words. In this Chapter, you set out to face the most important challenges of the moment, in the light of the Word of God, the teaching of the Church, and the great Father Augustine. You are well aware that the consecrated communities are places where you want to live the experience of God from a strong interiority and communion with your brothers and sisters. Here is the first, basic challenge that challenges the consecrated and that today I wish to entrust in particular to you: to make together the experience of God in order to be able to show God to this world in a clear, courageous, uncompromising or tentative way. It's a big responsibility!
I remember the words of Pope St. Paul VI in the wonderful Textial Evangelical Exhortation: "The tradition of the Church” – is it necessary to remember it? – he offers us, from the beginning, this privileged testimony of a constant search for God, of a unique and undivided love for Christ, of an absolute dedication to the growth of his kingdom. Without this concrete sign, the charity that animates the whole Church would risk cooling down, the saving paradox of the Gospel to be blunt, the "salt" of faith to dilute itself in a world undergoing secularization" (No. 3). At that time, it was in the process of secularization; today it is totally secularized.
You Augustinians have been called to witness that warm, living, visible, contagious charity of the Church, through a life of community that clearly manifests the presence of the Risen Lord and his Spirit. Unity in charity – as your Constitutions also explain well – is a central point of St. Augustine's experience and spirituality and a foundation of all Augustinian life. In this perspective, in the Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate I wanted to remember "that sublime spiritual encounter that St. Augustine and his mother Santa Monica lived together" (No. 142): a moment when their souls merged in the intuition of divine Wisdom. We always read it with emotion in the liturgical memory of Santa Monica. That desire of the Saint that in the end had what he was looking for, and even more. That "cumulatius hoc mihi Deus meus prestitit" (S. Augustine, Conf., IX,11). This must encourage us to move forward.
"But – I immediately added – these experiences are not the most frequent, nor the most important. Community life ... is made up of so many small daily details. The community that guards the small details of love, where members take care of each other and constitute an open and evangelizing space, is a place of the presence of the Risen who is sanctifying it according to the father's plan"(ibid., 43,145). Of course, keeping alive this flame of fraternal charity will not be possible without that "in Deum" of your Rule: "Primum, propter quod in unum estis congregati, ut unanimouss habitetis in domo et sit vobis soul un et cor unum Deum” (No. 3). That is, prosthesis to God. This addition to the expression of the Acts of the Apostles is proper to Augustine, to emphasize that it is that of the profound dynamism of your communities, the first great source from which every service to the Church and humanity springs. The soul un et cor unum comes from this perennial source: in Deum. Your hearts always prosthese towards God. All the time! Every member of the community is oriented, as the first "holy purpose" of every day, to seek God, or to allow himself to be sought by God. This "direction" should be declared, confessed, witnessed among you without false modesty. The search for God cannot be obscured by other purposes, while generous and apostolic. Because that's your first apostolate. We are here – you should be able to say to each other every day – why we are walking towards God. And because God is Love, one walks towards Him in love.
As the dear Father Augustine Trapé wrote: "According to the Rule, charity is not only the end and the means of religious life, but it is also the center of it: from charity must proceed and charity must be oriented, with a perennial movement of circular causality, every thought, every affection, every attitude, every action" (St. Augustine. The Rule, Milan 1971 Ancora, p. 137).
Writing St. Jerome, St. Augustine expressed his experience as a community: "I confess to you that I find it very natural to abandon myself entirely to the affection of such people, especially when I am oppressed by the scandals of the world: in their hearts I find rest without concern being persuaded that there is God in it" (Letters, 73.10). And in the face of church scandals or even the scandals of your family, peace is on this path. Go back to focusing on this... and scandals fall, on their own, because they show that there is no other way; this is the way.
It is good to often return to that meditation that Augustine did to his faithful, on the First Letter of John, where the Church is called "mater charitas,” a mother who weeps for the division of children and calls to the unity of the charity. If you want to know if you have received the Spirit, question your heart, so as not to run the risk of having the sacrament but not the effect of it. Question your heart, and if there's charity to your brother, be quiet. There can be no love without the Spirit of God, because Paul cries: "God's love has been spread in our hearts through the Holy Spirit that was given to us" (Rm5:5) " (ibid., VI, 10).
Your Constitutions call this fraternal charity "a prophetic sign," and their warning is wise when they say, "We will not be able to accomplish all this if we do not take our daily cross for Christ's sake, with humility and meekness." The cross is the measure of love, always. It is true that one can love without a cross when there is no cross, but when there is the cross, the way I take the cross is the measure of love.
Let us return to Augustinian meditation to hear from him, father and guide, what is ultimately the charitatis way: "Say the Lord: "I give you a new commandment, that you love each other" (John 13:34). But what is the perfection of love? It is also loving enemies and loving them so that they may become brothers and sisters. So, he loved the one who, leaning on the cross, said, "Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing"(Luke 23:34). He, when he was nailed to the cross, walked right on this path, which is the road of charity.
Dear brothers and sisters, this is also the challenge and responsibility for you today: to live in your communities in such a way that we can together share God's experience and be able to show it alive to the world! The experience of the Lord, as He is, as He seeks us every day. May Mary, mother of Jesus and a luminous figure of the Church, always accompany you and protect you. I bless you from the heart, and I ask you, please, to pray for me. Thank you.