Fr. Jim, PopeEvery six years, members of the Congregation of the Resurrection gather in Rome at our General Chapter for several weeks. The work of the General Chapter is to review our community life and ministry, and to make plans for the next six years. This past summer, 28 Resurrectionists from the U.S.A., Canada, Poland, Brazil, Bolivia, Bermuda, Australia, Germany, Italy, and Tanzania gathered for three weeks at our Motherhouse in Rome. The meetings are usually punctuated with a special Mass in the Catacombs of St. Sabastian, where our founders pronounced their first vows, or a tour of the papal gardens and St. Peter’s Basilica. But, this summer we had an incredible experience because we were told just before the Chapter began that we might have a private audience with Pope Francis.
 
It was not until the day before our meeting with Pope Francis that we were sure that we would actually meet on Saturday, June 24, 2017. Even then, we were not sure whether we would meet him with other religious communities, or whether we would meet him by ourselves. After walking through different halls and up several staircases of the Vatican, we entered a beautiful room that had about 40 chairs set out—that is when we realized that he would meet us alone!
 
Swiss GuardOne of the Swiss Guards gave us some instructions. After our newly elected Superior General made some opening remarks, Pope Francis would address us, and then each of us would have an opportunity to approach the Holy Father. We were instructed not to bow before him, ask him to bless anything, or to embrace him. Our Superior General, Fr. Paul Voisin, would introduce each of us and we could have a few words with Pope Francis. When my turn came, Fr. Paul introduced me saying, “Holy Father, this is Fr. James Donohue of the Ontario-Kentucky Province. He is a professor of theology at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland where he has taught undergraduates for over 20 years.” I had been thinking about what to say and decided that I would look him in the eyes as we spoke. As we shook hands, I said, “Holy Father, I want you to know that I pray for you every day.” As I said this, I placed my free hand on our hands. He broke into a big smile and placed his free hand on both our hands and said, “Thank you so much! You know that I really need the prayers.” At this last sentence, he smiled even more broadly. I think that this photo [at the beginning of this article] captures that exact moment. It really was a great honor to meet Pope Francis and I will treasure this memory forever.
 
While this personal moment was incredible, the text that Pope Francis delivered to us is an inspiration that I have continued to ponder. Pope Francis organized his thoughts under three main headings: 1) ‘Witnesses to the Presence of the Risen Lord,’ 2) ‘From Community to the World,’ and 3) ‘Prophets of Joy and Easter Hope.’  

Witnesses to the Presence of the Risen Lord

CRUnder the first heading, he reminded us that “Nostalgia for a past that was rich in vocations and impressive achievements must not prevent you from seeing the life that the Lord is causing to blossom, today too, in your midst. Do not yield to nostalgia, but be men who, moved by faith in the God of history and of life, proclaims the coming of the dawn amid the darkness of the night (cf. Isa 21:11-12).” This is particularly poignant at a time when most of us are saddened by decreasing numbers and aged membership.  He also reminded us that, as religious who are called to a life of prayer, we may see with new eyes: “Men of contemplation, who, with the eyes of the heart fixed on the Lord, can see what others, caught up in the concerns of this world, cannot. Men capable of proclaiming, with the boldness born of the Spirit, that Jesus Christ is alive and is Lord.” In this regard, Pope Francis urged us to take Mary Magdalene as our model: “Mary Magdalene and the other women who went to the tomb that morning (cf. Lk 24:1-8) were women ‘on the move’: they abandoned their ‘nest’ and set out; they took a risk. The Spirit is calling you too, Brothers of the Resurrection, to be men who set out, to be an Institute ‘on the move’ towards every human periphery, wherever the light of the Gospel needs to be brought.” 

From Community to the World

Pope FrancisUnder the section entitled ‘From Community to the World,’ Pope Francis encouraged us to see our brother Resurrectionists as gifts who should not be taken for granted: “A concrete way of showing this is fraternal life in community. It entails accepting the brothers the Lord has given us. As the Apostle Paul tells us, now that Christ has risen from the dead, we can no longer look at others from a human point of view (cf. 2 Cor 5:16). We view them and we accept them as a gift from the Lord. Others are a gift not to be taken for granted or looked down upon, but a gift to be received with respect, because in our brothers, especially if they are weak and frail, Christ comes to meet us . . . In a society that tends to reduce everything to flat uniformity, where injustice gives rise to divisions and hostility, in a world torn and aggressive, ensure that the witness of fraternal life and community will never be lacking!”

Prophets of Joy and Easter Hope

In third section of his address, ‘Prophets of Joy and Easter Hope,’ Pope Francis reminded us that the joy of recognizing the presence of the Risen Jesus will draw us further into His Person and His will, and for this reason, we will be led to mission. He became quite animated as he reminded us that our charism of the Resurrection is “always a wellspring of living water, not a bottle of distilled water.” He encouraged us to ponder the words of the angel in the tomb: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Lk 24:5). His prayer for us was that these words would continually resound in our hearts: “They will help you to overcome moments of sadness and will open before you horizons of joy and hope. They will enable you to shatter tombstones, and give you the strength to proclaim the Good News in this culture so often marked by death. If we have the courage to descend to our personal and community tombs, we will see how Jesus can make us rise from them. This will enable us to rediscover the joy, the happiness and the passion of those moments when we first made of our lives a gift to God and others.”
 
Remembering the past with gratitude, living in the present with passion, and embracing the future with hope is the message that the Holy Father shared with us that day. May these words sink deeply into the hearts of all Resurrectionists and, indeed, into the hearts of all disciples of Jesus.
 
(Hear more about the Resurrectionists' experience of meeting Pope Francis by viewing Vocation Culture's YouTube video, "Resurrectionists Meet Pope Francis." Learn more about the Congregation of the Resurrectionists on their website: https://resurrectionists.ca/.)

 Resurecctionist