I would like to dedicate this fraternal letter to one of the most significant themes of Pope Francis’ message to religious. If you follow his words, addressed to religious throughout the world, in various situations and contexts, you will see that there is one matter that worries him, and much, when he speaks of consecrated life: the challenge of worldliness.

I wanted to reflect on this important topic because I am convinced that we are facing one of the strongest challenges we have in our Piarist life and mission, and I think also in the whole of the Church.

I would like to base my reflection on Jesus’ words on the Gospel of John (chapter 17), which are written as a prayer. Jesus prays for his disciples. He prays for us. It is an extraordinary text, which refers to an essential attitude of the disciples. Jesus says that “they are in the world, but they are not of the world”, and does not ask the Father “to withdraw them from the world, but to protect them from the evil“, because “they are not of the world, as I am not of the world.” And in this way he expresses the essential request: “save them in the truth.”

There is a central attitude in the discipleship of Christ, deeply linked to our challenges as religious and, in general, as children of Calasanz: “We are in the world, but we are not of the world”. We live and work in society, we are challenged by its transformation, we strive to incarnate in it so that we can understand it and transform it through our life and mission. However, we cannot allow us to be permeated by the spirit of the world. It is one thing to be with our feet on the ground, and quite another to be inspired by the values that we must fight. That is why  “we do not withdraw from the world, but we defend ourselves from the Evil One“, from all that takes us away from the possibility of offering the world a different alternative of life, and dilutes us in the midst of “normality assumed and accepted by all”. And the key is in the final prayer:  that the Father may sanctify us in the truth.

1-The challenge of worldliness. Worldliness is one of the strongest temptations of Consecrated Life. And one of the most dangerous, because it eliminates all possibility of significance and prophecy. It eliminates any possibility, therefore, of Calasanctian charism. It eliminates any option of educating children and young people in an alternative life to that offered by society.

We cannot deny that the temptation of worldliness is present in our real life. I would like to give some concrete examples, giving name to temptations that we can live.

  1. Narcissism that makes us people who are looking for success or applause rather than selfless servants of the Good News and the little ones.
  2. The double life, which makes us talk about great proposals without letting ourselves be imbued by them.
  3. Spiritual superficiality, which prevents us from being people of prayer and makes us fulfillers of schedules.
  4. The search for honors, responsibilities or positions, which brings us closer to the temptation of the children of Zebedee expressed by their mother in her question to Jesus.
  5. Forgetting the Calasanctian priorities, which is expressed in multiple ways in the concrete life of people or communities. Without going any further, for example, in the comfort of life, substitute of generosity and donation.
  6. Clericalism, the worst of worldly temptations, based on believing ourselves better and different from others, owners of a status that traps us and urges us to defend it.
  7. Conformism, which conditions our capacity for demand and makes what should not be normal.
  8. The excessive search for security, which drives us to think too much about ourselves or our institution.
  9. Poverty of discernment, which makes us make decisions from options not centered on the Gospel or charismatic fidelity.
  10. The “weakness” of life, which lowers the level of our demand and conditions us on the path of conversion.
  11. Individualism, which does not let us working together and makes us look like the vast majority of people who are looking for what is right for them.
  12. The misunderstanding and sometimes misunderstood concept of self-realization, so socially widespread, and that has the risk that we will think essentially of us and not what others need of us.
  13. The lack of economic awareness, which makes us feel like the money owners and which sometimes leads some to appropriate it in a way that constitutes a scandal for the little
  14. The eagerness to have the best things, sometimes from the argument that we need them for our mission.
  15. The vital blindness that prevents us from realizing the temptations we have.
  16. The lack of transparency of life, which prevents our brothers and sisters and the people we dedicate ourselves to know us.

The World Congress of Consecrated Life was held some years ago in the Church, under the title “Passion for Christ, Passion for Humanity”. Many of you will remember the intervention[1]of Dolores Aleixandre., inspired by the passage of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman. I think reviewing her ideas, which are well known, can help us. He alludes to the “husbands” of Consecrated Life, and says:  “the husband of uninformed and conformist foolishness that makes us think that things are always going to be so / the neoliberal and consumerist husband who drags us towards a dangerous “to be like everyone else”, camouflaged from the virtue of prudence / the individualistic husband who prevents us from rubbing deeply with the others / the secularist husband, who takes us away from the authentic well / the spiritualist husband who pushes us to continue to build sanctuaries and flee into new sacralizations / the idolatrous husband, who proposes us other little gods / the husband of the “thousand chores” that makes us depend only on work / the husband of the easy and unpassionate life, that makes us be of the heap and live without dedication / the husband of the lack of “apostolic zeal”, of passion for the mission / the husband of the gossip of superficiality, of the waste of time in what does not matter, of the lack of vision / the husband of the clerical and distant forms, of complacency, of “I know how to do things” / the husband of lack of “real utopia.” But above all:  work patiently on the process of breaking up with these husbands and meeting the authentic, Jesus. Give him time, but stay in that process. Do not be afraid to give name to the thirst that dwells within you.”

2-The significance of Consecrated Life. The profound meaning of Consecrated Life is to be a credible sign of the Kingdom of God. That’s the significance we need to look for. No other. I think we need to get deeply into this challenge, because we need to be in the world without being of the world. The question is clear: How should we, children of Calasanz, be in the world, towards the world and for the world, without being of the world?

This great question was very well formulated by Pope St. Paul VI: “How do you get the Gospel message to penetrate the world? How to act at the levels at which a new culture is developed? Dear religious, through the calls that God makes to your charismatic families, it is necessary that you have your eyes very open to the needs of men, to their problems and pursuits, bearing witness in their midst, through prayer and action, to the strength of the Good News of love, justice and peace. This mission, which is common to the whole People of God, is yours in a special way.”[2] In my opinion, this is one of the best descriptions I have of the challenge of significance, and, besides, formulated as an open question.

I am convinced that we will only be able to respond adequately if we look at the central keys of our vocation, because significance is the demand and fruit of our identity. But if salt gets bland, it’s useless.

We are beginning the process of preparing our 48th General Chapter. We want to get inspiration from the Memorial to Cardinal Tonti, of which we will celebrate its 400th anniversary precisely in 2021. It is a deeply inspiring text for the moment we are living in today. In it, Calasanz describes the essentials of our ministry and defends the right of the Pious Schools to be constituted as a religious order. But he doesn’t settle for that. At the end of the text, he expresses, emphatically, what we have to be as Piarists. You all know the paragraph, and you have heard me quote it on several occasions. But I think it is appropriate to transcribe it again:

“It is to be concluded that there is a necessity to expand it (the Order) and propagate it according to the needs, desires and requests of so many. Which can’t be done without a lot of workers, and it is not possible to have them if they do not have great spirit and are not called with a particular vocation; since those called in general to leave the world, having no spirit but that of beginners, they still need to wean off the comforts of the century and will always prefer, as experience shows, some Order already approved, in which after the novitiate they are sure to have their lives assured and can reach the priesthood, rather than enter a Congregation where, instead of these advantages, they will encounter other difficulties that stem from a life mortified by the obligatory concern for children, labored by the continuous effort of their profession and despicable in the eyes of the flesh, which so considers the education of poor children.” [3]

Calasanz asks for a great spirit and a particular vocation. And he sets an objective and radical criterion to verify the existence of that great spirit: the dedication to children and young people in education.

3-Santify them in the truth. I believe that, in order to respond decisively to the challenge of overcoming the temptation of worldliness, what we must do is strengthen all the dynamisms that help us focus on the essentials. It is good that each of us knows how to identify the dynamisms that we need to activate more clearly. I give a very simple example.

In most of the personal dialogues I have with the young Piarists, I always ask them about the most important challenge that each of them has in terms of their personal growth in fidelity. Everyone always responds quickly and transparently, and they know how to name their challenges.

I believe that this is the way to move forward on this very important challenge. Jesus’ prayer in chapter 17 of John makes clear to us the horizon: holiness. Sometimes we have a hard time talking about this, and we must never stop doing so. We know that holiness is not within our reach, because it is a gift from God. But it is the great truth of our lives: we must live trying to be holy.  And the way to that holiness is truth, authenticity, fidelity to the received call: “sanctify them in the truth”.

I was very pleased with the title that our brother Javier Alonso gave to his recently published book[4] on the Ministry of The Piarist: “Holiness for Social Change”. It is very difficult to express in a shorter and more accurate way what our struggle in overcoming worldliness means in order to change the world.

May God grant us the gift of being worthy of Jesus’ prayer: “Father, sanctify them in the truth”.

Get a brotherly hug.

Fr. Pedro Aguado Sch.P.

Father General

[1] ALEIXANDRE Dolores. “Pasión por Cristo, pasión por la humanidad”. Publicaciones Claretianas. Madrid 2005, p. 107-141.

[2] San Pablo VI, “Evangelica testificactio” no. 52

[3] Saint Joseph Calasanz. Memorial to Cardinal Tonti (1621). Opera Omnia, Tomo IX, p. 300-307.

[4] Javier ALONSO. “Holiness for social change. The Piarist educational model”. PPC Editorial. Madrid 2017.