Pope Francis on Saturday said that it takes saints to reform the Church and for this each Catholic is called to a deeper “second conversion.”
“It is the Holy Spirit who forms and reforms the Church and does so through the Word of God and through the saints, who put the Word into practice in their lives,” Pope Francis said Jan. 15.
In an audience with the religious order founded by Saint Cajetan, the pope underlined that “reform must begin with oneself.”
A 16th century contemporary of Martin Luther, Cajetan sought to reform the Catholic Church, especially the clergy, but from within the Church itself.
Pope Francis said that when Saint Cajetan “came to Rome to work in the papal curia, he noticed the unfortunately widespread spiritual and moral degradation.”
“And while he carried out his office work, he frequented the oratory of Divine Love, cultivating prayer and spiritual formation; and then he went to a hospital to assist the sick. This is the way: to begin with oneself to live the Gospel more deeply and coherently,” the pope said.
“All the saints show us this way. They are the true reformers of the Church,” he said.
Pope Francis underlined that every saint is “a plan of the Father to reflect and incarnate, at a specific moment in history, an aspect of the Gospel.”
Cajetan and a small group of like-minded priests founded the Congregation of Clerics Regular, which became known as the Theatines, in 1524.
The community of priests sought to save souls primarily through living moral lives, through sacred studies, through preaching, and through tending to the sick and the poor.
Like many saints, Cajetan had a “vocation without a vocation,” or what could also be called “a second conversion,” the pope said.
“It is about the passage from an already good and esteemed life to a holy life, full of that ‘more’ that comes from the Holy Spirit,” Pope Francis said.
“This breakthrough is what makes not only the personal life of that man or woman grow, but also the life of the Church. This is what, in a certain sense, reforms it by purifying it and bringing out its evangelical beauty.”
The Theatine order became known as strong Catholic reformers even before the Protestant Reformation had fully taken hold.
“Saint Cajetan evangelized Rome, Venice, Naples, and he did so above all through the witness of life and the works of mercy, practicing the great ‘protocol’ that Jesus left us with the parable of the final judgment, Matthew 25,” Pope Francis said.
In 1527, the house of the Theatine order in Rome was sacked by troops of Emperor Charles V, and the members fled to Venice.
At the age of 42, Cajetan founded a hospital for “incurables” in Venice, and worked to comfort and heal the sick during times of plague.
In 1533, the pope sent Cajetan to Naples, where he founded another oratory. The corresponding church, San Paolo Maggiore, became an important hub of Catholic reformation.
While in Naples, Cajetan also founded a charitable nonprofit bank designed to protect the poor from usury – or lending money at exorbitant rates of interest. Eventually, the bank became the Bank of Naples.
Cajetan became dangerously sick and offered his sufferings for the conversion of the people of Naples. He died on August 6th 1547, the feast of the Transfiguration, and is buried in the San Paolo Maggiore Basilica in Naples.
Today the Theatines are present in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, the United States, Mexico, Spain, and Italy. The order met with the pope at the Apostolic Palace as it conducts its 164th General Chapter.
“I encourage you to move forward … with docility to the Holy Spirit, without rigid schemes … but firmly established in the essential things: prayer, adoration, common life, fraternal charity, poverty and service to the poor,” Pope Francis said.
“All this with an apostolic heart, with the good evangelical eagerness to seek first of all the Kingdom of God.”