by Elise Harris
Pope Francis told Egypt’s priests and religious to never be discouraged or fear the challenges of their ministry, and warned against seven key temptations he said can keep them from being faithful to the Lord in their daily tasks.
“Do not be afraid of the burdens of your daily service and the difficult circumstances some of you must endure,” the Pope said April 29. “We venerate the Holy Cross, the instrument and sign of our salvation. When we flee the Cross, we flee the resurrection!”
Pope Francis met with Egypt’s priests, religious and seminarians at Cairo’s Al-Maadi Seminary on the final day of his April 28-29 visit to the country, intended to both offer support to local Christians and strengthen interfaith and ecumenical ties in the region.
After being welcomed by the seminary’s rector, Fr. Toma Adly Zaky, the Pope thanked Egypt’s religious for the good they do “amid many challenges and often few consolations,” and offered his encouragement.
While there are many reasons to be discouraged “amid many prophets of destruction and condemnation, and so many negative and despairing voices,” he voiced his hope that they would be “a positive force, salt and light for this society.”
However, “this will be possible if consecrated men and women do not give in to the temptations they daily encounter along their way,” he said, and highlighted seven key areas of temptation “described well” by the first monks of Egypt.
First, he warned against the temptation “to let ourselves be led, rather than to lead.” Christ, as the Good Shepherd, has the responsibility of leading his sheep, Francis said, explaining that “he cannot let himself be dragged down by disappointment and pessimism.”
Rather, “he is always full of initiative and creativity, like a spring that flows even in the midst of drought. He always shares the caress of consolation even when he is broken-hearted,” he said, and stressed that one’s fidelity to the Lord must always be strong, even when human gratitude is lacking.
The Pope then pointed to a second temptation “to complain constantly,” noting that it’s easy to complain about others, the faults or shortcomings of a superior, the state of the Church and even a lack of possibilities.
However, consecrated people are the ones “who turn every obstacle into an opportunity, and not every difficulty into an excuse,” he said, adding that “the person who is always complaining is really someone who doesn’t want to work.”
Francis also warned, as he often does when speaking to religious men and women, against the temptation of gossip and envy.
There is “a great danger” when consecrated people, instead of finding joy in the success of others, allow themselves to be “dominated by envy” and to hurt others through gossip, he said.
This danger is manifested when instead of striving to grow, religious “start to destroy those who are growing; instead of following their good example, they judge them and belittle their value.”
Envy, he said, “is a cancer that destroys the body in no time.”
A fourth attitude the Pope told religious to steer clear of is the temptation to compare oneself to others, because “enrichment is found in the diversity and uniqueness of each one of us.”
“Comparing ourselves with those better off often leads to grudges; comparing ourselves with those worse off often leads to pride and laziness,” he said, noting that those who always compare themselves “end up paralyzed.”
Jesting about the irony of being in Egypt, he also cautioned against the temptation of “to become like Pharaoh,” which he said means to “harden our hearts and close them off to the Lord and our brothers and sisters.”
The temptation here “is to think that we are better than others, and to lord it over them out of pride; to presume to be served rather than to serve,” he said, explaining that the only antidote to this “poison” is to become a servant to everyone.
Pope Francis then warned against the temptation to individualism, quoting a well-known Egyptian phrase that goes: “me, and after me, the flood!”
“This is the temptation of selfish people,” he said. “Along the way, they lose sight of the goal and, rather than think of others, they are unashamed to think only of themselves, or even worse, to justify themselves.”
The Church, on the contrary, is made up of the communion of faithful where the salvation of one depends on the holiness of all, he said, adding that anyone who adopts an individualist attitude “is a cause of scandal and of conflict.”
Finally, the Pope pointed to one last temptation to “keep walking without direction or destination.”
At times, “consecrated men and women can lose their identity and begin to be neither fish nor fowl,” he said. “They can live with a heart between God and worldliness. They can forget their first love.”
When this happens, they lose their clear and solid identity and begin walking aimlessly. As a result, instead of leading other people, “they scatter them,” he said.
Francis told those present that their identity as sons and daughters of the Church “is to be Copts – rooted in your noble and ancient origins – and to be Catholics – part of the one and universal Church: like a tree that, the more deeply rooted it is in the earth, the higher it reaches to the heavens!”
He noted that avoiding these temptations isn’t easy, but that it is possible “if we are grafted on to Jesus.”
“The more we are rooted in Christ, the more we are alive and fruitful,” he said. “Only in this way can we preserve the wonder and the passion of our first encounter with God, and experience renewed excitement and gratitude in our life with God and in our mission.”
Given Egypt’s rich monastic history, Pope Francis told the religious to draw from the example of figures such as Saint Paul the Hermit, Saint Anthony and the Desert Fathers.
“You too can be salt and light, and thus an occasion of salvation for yourselves and for all others, believers and non-believers alike, and especially for those who are poor, those in need, the abandoned and discarded,” he said, and assured them of his closeness.