October 25, 2019 – from the Vatican Press Office. The Holy Father Francis today received in audience in the Vatican the participants in the General Chapter of the Order of the Servants of Mary, taking place from 7 to 27 October 2019 in the Casa Divin Maestro in Ariccia.
After handing them the address prepared for the event, the Pope gave an impromptu address to the participants in the meeting.
The following is the impromptu address delivered by the Holy Father, and the address prepared for the circumstance and handed to those present:
Impromptu address of the Holy Father
Excuse me if I remain seated, as I am not going to read the written speech. I will give it to you [the Superior], because since yesterday, when I saw that I would meet you today, my memory turned to the year 1957, to the Seminary of Villa Devoto [in Buenos Aires]. At that time there were two of you who were studying there. I don’t know if one of you is here. Then I lost sight of them. The year 1957: 62 years ago. You grow old in life! They told me the story of Alessio Falconieri and the other six, and I was enthusiastic about this as an example of holiness. To see rich men, merchants – indeed, Florentines [laughs] – who were able to make this decision for Our Lady. It is the word “servant”, “service”, in the service of Our Lady. This way of service, of humiliation, of the humble journey. And I was so enthusiastic that, throughout my life, from that moment on, I celebrate with particular love the 17th of February [liturgical memory of the Seven Founders of the Servants of Mary], even with Mass. I was struck by that testimony, and this is what I want to tell you.
So, today, you “staked one and earned two”: take with you this written speech, and also what I will tell you now. I will give it to you so that you may give it to everyone.
The phrase “Servants of Mary” makes me think of something that Saint Ignatius [of Loyola, in the Exercises] puts in his meditation on the birth of Jesus. He says: “I must be present – in meditation – as a servant who helps Our Lady to do what she must Bethlehem, in the crib”. Servants of Our Lady. In this there is a great relationship with what Our Lady does. She enables Jesus to be born, she raises Him grow, and then she makes the Church grow. And those great merchants – because they had money, they were not without it – in the end left everything to become servants, servants of Our Lady, because they understood the role of Our Lady in redemption, a role that so often the so-called “modern” theologies forget. But Our Lady brought us Jesus! And your Founders understood this, they understood and they became servants. They went to pray [on Mount Senario]; and then they did all their work.
The word “service” is also the one Our Lady says to the Angel: “I am the servant, I am here to serve”. They imitate Our Lady in this service. And they make themselves her servants, so that she may lead them precisely in this way of service. The first word: service. You are servants. Never forget this. You are not masters. Serve. “Look at that other one…”. But you are the servant of the other. “But that bishop…”. You are the servant of that bishop. “But the Church…”. You are a servant of the Church. “And the people…”. You are the servant of the people. Never stray from that founding grace that is being a servant. A servant by choice. The other Saint Alexius [of Rome] had also become a beggar, he lived under the stairs. Your Alessio made a choice: he was a servant by choice, in order to become a saint. This is precisely the path taken by the Word: “He emptied Himself. …He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (cf. Phil 2: 7-8). It is the way of service. Yes, but even more: servitude. “Does this mean that I must be a slave?” Yes. “That I must also renounce certain freedoms in order to become a servant?”. Yes, I do. Meditate on this name of yours: servants of Our Lady, the handmaid of the Lord, who as Lord became a servant, Jesus.
This is the first idea that comes to mind, but still thinking of the year 1957, when these two brothers of yours spoke to me about the spirituality of the congregation. It has remained impressed on me.
And service is a service of hope. If there is one person who does not seem to have reasons for human hope, it is Our Lady, with those strange things that happened in her life: from the birth of Jesus, then persecution and flight, then the return, and seeing the son growing in contradictions… But she looked forward: she was the Lady of hope. Today, we are all experts in the lack of hope. We always find loopholes to have no hope, when we begin to complain about the world: “But this… and these calamities, the things that happen…”. Bad things happen, but no worse than those which happened in Our Lady’s time. It is the same. The world changes its forms, but the slavery, wars and cruelty of that time are those of today. We must sow hope, look beyond. Our Lady also teaches us to sow hope. Think of Calvary; think of Pentecost when she prayed with her disciples. She is Our Lady of sorrows, and in sorrow, in poverty, in spoliation, hope comes, she sees herself clearly. When one is well, it is not so easy to express hope, but when there are difficulties, hope comes. And she [Mary] is a teacher, she has taught us so much. She has taught us so much.
Then, the other word [of the theme of your Chapter]: “in a changing world”. Change. Time is always changing. We are always tempted to stop time, to divide it, to dominate it… As one here said, at the Synod for the Amazon: “You Europeans have the clock, we [natives] have time”. Placing a stake on time. Yes, things change, but time is God’s. And do not close yourself off in our times, which are too human, too human. To go ahead according to God’s time: He knows.
To be servants of Our Lady, of hope, in a time that changes, in change, is only possible through prayer. Your seven Founders first of all withdrew to pray. And they prayed well! I recommend that you do not neglect prayer. It is the foundation of your life. Prayer is also like begging Our Lady for alms: “Help me to be a faithful servant”. This prayer is fruitful and will give you vocations and many things. Prayer is the instrument that works miracles. It works miracles. But there are many unbelievers regarding the power of prayer. And I am tempted to say – it is a temptation but I say it myself – that very often we are the most incredulous: bishops, priests, who do not believe in the miracle of prayer. We do not believe what Jesus tells us: “Ask and you will receive”. We don’t believe in our Father Who has such strength.
That’s what I wish to tell you, in this way, fraternally. Remembering that experience in 1957 and also on 17 February every year, when I look at those good men who gave this sign; they did so through inspiration of the Lord, but they were faithful to that inspiration. This shows you the way to go. The other things I say there, in the written address.
A final reference, finally, to the spirit… but not to the Holy Spirit! The beautiful gesture of bringing me a bit of spirit to lift the heart! [wine produced on the farm of the Servants of Mary in Tuscany] Thank you, thank you so much! And pray for me, as I am in need, so that I too may be something of a servant to Our Lady in a changing time, a servant of hope. Thank you!