After candlelight filled a darkened St Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis asked consecrated men and women not to let their spirits ‘doze off’ while waiting to encounter the Lord but to keep their hearts awake in anticipation ‘like an eternal flame.’

‘We must recognise at times that we have lost the ability to wait,’ the Pope said on 2 February in his homily for Candlemas—the feast of the Presentation of the Lord—which also marks the Catholic Church’s celebration of World Day for Consecrated Life.

Yet, he said, ‘the Christian life and apostolic mission need the experience of waiting.’

The Pope’s Mass began with him blessing with holy water the candles used for the entrance procession, praying that the people of God ‘may join the light that has no end’. Some 50 consecrated men and women led the candlelit procession while the lights in St Peter’s Basilica remained dimmed, and many of the 5,000 people that filled the basilica held lit candles as well.

The Christian life and apostolic mission need the experience of waiting.

While Pope Francis presided over the Mass, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, was the main celebrant at the altar. Some 335 priests concelebrated the Mass with the Pope.

In his homily, Pope Francis told the hundreds of consecrated men and women gathered in the basilica that the practice of waiting that is essential to religious life is impeded by a ‘neglect of the interior life’ and the temptation to adapt ‘to a worldly lifestyle’.

Interior life is neglected when ‘weariness prevails over amazement, when habit takes the place of enthusiasm’ and when people give way to bitterness in their lives, he said.

‘It is not good to ruminate on bitterness,’ the Pope said, ‘because in a religious family, as in any community and family, bitter and “sour-faced” people are deflating.’ He urged consecrated persons to instead be ‘nourished by adoration’ and prayer, which can ‘reawaken that flavour of waiting’.

Still, ‘ours is a world that often runs at great speed’ and ‘seeks to exorcise life’s fears and anxieties in the pagan temples of consumerism or in entertainment at all costs’, Pope Francis noted.

‘In such a context, where silence is banished and lost, waiting is not easy,’ he said, noting that Christian mystics, such as the French mystic and philosopher Simone Weil, demonstrate the need for Christians to free themselves from the ‘myth of efficiency’ and ‘the obsession with performance’ to find God in even the most unexpected circumstances.

Pope Francis warned consecrated men and women to be careful ‘that the spirit of the world does not enter our religious communities, ecclesial life and our individual journey, otherwise we will not bear fruit.’

Where silence is banished and lost, waiting is not easy.

Reflecting on the day’s gospel reading from St Luke, the Pope added that just as Simeon and Anna embraced the Lord in the temple of Jerusalem after patiently awaiting the Messiah, consecrated persons must embrace God’s newness and surprises, reflected in the child Jesus, even in old age.

Among those celebrating the World Day of Consecrated Life with Pope Francis were more than 300 religious-order priests, brothers, sisters, members of secular institutes and consecrated virgins who came from 62 countries for a four-day conference on being ‘pilgrims of hope’ and promoters of peace. which was sponsored by the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

The English-language prayer intention at Pope Francis’ Mass was read by Joan Patten, a member of the Secular Institute of the Apostolic Oblates from Fullerton, California. While the conference brought together women and men with different forms of consecration and different ministries from different cultures, Patten said it was a real experience of communion that she thought everyone would bring back to their communities and dioceses, reinvigorating consecrated life ‘in a way that becomes a light for others’.

Banner image: Pope Francis holds a candle during Mass in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican for the feast of the Presentation of the Lord on 2 February. (Photo: CNS/Lola Gomez.)