‘FAN INTO A FLAME THE GIFT OF GOD WHICH IS IN YOU THROUGH THE LAYING ON OF HANDS’ (2 Timothy 1:6)
What is Pope Francis’ vision for how priests are to serve their people faithfully and fruitfully?
1. The strength of a priest depends on his relationship with Christ.
The touchstone of how deeply a priest is living his vocation is the extent to which he seeks Christ in his daily life.
Typically direct question to Roman priests: ‘At night, how does your day end? With God or with TV?
At the heart of every priest’s ministry must be a living relationship with Christ so that the priest sees as Christ sees and loves as He loves. It took the disciples time to really ‘become Christ to others’ so this is not a given at ordination. We grow into it. For this to happen, the priest needs to continue to grow in union with Christ through prayer and intimacy.
2. Just as the priest must be close to Christ so the priest must be close to the people he serves
In his first Chrism Mass homily, Pope Francis famously spoke of how priests must be ‘shepherds living with the smell of the sheep’. If we are to be pastors rather than administrators we need to ‘go out to meet the people’ especially the lost sheep. The pastor who stays behind his computer in the presbytery, he declared ‘is not an authentic pastor’.
The importance of knowing our people’s names. We need to stay free for preaching and pastoral care and not be enslaved by tasks of administration. See example in the Acts of the Apostles. The Apostles were to be freed up for preaching and the ministry of prayer.
Pope Francis is summoning us here to re-prioritise the Church’s evangelical mission.
3. The priest is a minister of mercy
Pope Francis told a group of newly ordained priests that the most important advice to them would simply be ‘be merciful’. His motto ‘Miserando Atque Eligendo’. It shows his own vocation was born out of God’s mercy and is sustained in God’s mercy.
‘God never tires of forgiving us’. A call to priests never to tire in faithfully dispensing that mercy, both sacramentally and in our daily living.
The key: to be in touch with our own need for mercy and our weakness:
‘You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error: let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God’.
Pope Francis: Prayer for the Year of Mercy
We need to be in touch with our brokenness, ‘to embrace the Cactus’. To know our demons and to frequently ask for forgiveness ourselves. ‘The best penitents make the best confessors’.
St Philip Neri: ‘Lord, lay your hands on Philip today and give him strength for otherwise Philip will betray you’.
‘To be humble is to walk in truth for it is a very deep truth that of ourselves we have nothing good but only misery and nothingness. Whoever does not understand this walks in falsehood’. Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, 6.10.7-8.
We need to be in touch with our own wounds. ‘The doors of mercy are the wounds of the Lord; if you do not enter into your ministry through the Lord’s wounds, you will not be good shepherds’. Pope Francis, 11th May 2014. Homily at Priestly Ordinations.
In prayer and in ministry, we give him our brokenness knowing that God not only accepts brokenness but blesses it and uses it: It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength.
God’s mercy is our joy!
4. A priest’s authority must be linked to service, especially to the care and protection of the poorest, weakest, the least important and most easily forgotten.
The importance of priests having real contact with the poor and marginalised . This means leaving our comfort zones.
To take seriously once again the Church’s option for the poor. As we are leaving the stage of many areas of public life like healthcare and education, what areas is the Spirit leading us in to?
His own example in Argentina: Mass on the street corners and in the slums. ‘Reaching out to those on the margins of society is ‘the most concrete way of imitating Jesus.
His own visits in Rome, to Lampedusa, prisons, hospitals.
5. The Priest is called to simplicity of life
For us, we don’t take a vow of poverty but we are called to simplicity of life. Pope Francis has repeatedly criticised priests who give in to vanity and worldly ambition.
In Buenos Aires, as Cardinal he lived in a small apartment and took public transport and cooked for himself.
He sets down a clear challenge to us to examine the sincerity and authenticity of our own spiritual poverty.
6. The Priest must be a model of integrity
Priestly identity yes. Clericalism, no.
Any kind of abuse of our position or concern to climb the ecclesiastical ladder is condemned by him. He has spoken often about hypocrisy in the Church and against priests who live double lives.
He has spoken how our authority derives not from worldly power but from personal integrity and humble imitation of Christ.
His own example – paying the bill at the cardinal’s residence after his election was not just a nice gesture but a sign of the absence of privilege – that no priest should consider himself exempt from the demands of ordinary accountability. Otherwise, priests can become ‘wolves not shepherds’.
7. The Priest is to be a source of blessing for his people
The anointing which he receives at his ordination is not meant just for himself – it is to flow through him to those he serves. He said at his first Chrism Mass as Pope:
‘A good priest can be recognised by the way his people are anointed…when our people are anointed with the oil of gladness , it is obvious: for example when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news’.
This was also very much the theme of his second Christ Mass homily – the priest is ‘anointed with the oil of gladness so as to anoint others with the oil of gladness’.
In his preaching, in his prayer, through being truly present to his flock in the realities of their daily lives, the priest is to help them feel ‘that the fragrance of the anointed one, Christ, has come to them through the priest’.
To lay people, Pope Francis said: ‘Be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart. And pray for those whom God is calling to be priests that they may respond to this call with humility and joy’.
8. The priest is called to lead a synodal Church
The Joy of the Gospel – Pope Francis speaks of a Church on the move, going forth and accompanying those on the edges. He talks about a pilgrim Church and a Church who listens as she journeys towards her destination.
Francis modelled this new way in advance of the synods on the family in 2014 and 2015. This led to ‘The Joy of Love’.
This synodal approach is not without risks and has its critics.
The question: how do we stay united in the Church?
We remain united not by opinion or consensus but by faith in God’s Word transmitted through the living Tradition of the Church and authentically interpreted by the Magisterium.
Pope Francis is trying to steer a tricky course between on one hand engaging Christians with the Gospel and inviting them to a greater participation and then on the other hand being faithful to the teaching of the Gospel and the Tradition of the Church.
He is aware of the risks and his critics but trusts in the Holy Spirit.
Reservations of George Weigel – the German experiment of synodality. In 2020, the Church in Germany had the highest number of formal defections ever. The Church isn’t and cannot be a democracy.
The Church cannot embrace elements of modern western culture. At the same time she holds on the primacy of God’s grace.
We as priests are called to help Pope Francis engage people who are disaffected and ignore Church teaching but also to be faithful to the Gospel teaching and not water it down.
SESSION 9 and final session on Tuesday 16th Feb. ‘HOPE POST-PANDEMIC’
A SELECTION OF QUOTES FROM POPE FRANCIS ON THE PRIESTHOOD:
‘Priests need to be receiving antennas that are tuned into the word of God in order to become broadcasting antennas. One receives and transmits.’ Pope Francis 4th Oct. 2013.
‘Without a mother a priest is an orphan’ 12th May 2014.
Francis likens the preaching of the Gospel to unction when it touches their daily lives. He speaks of unction, not function, 28th March 2013
To elderly priests: ‘May they find happiness wherever they are ; may they experience already , in the passage of the years, a taste of eternity’. 17th April 2014.
Francis talks about having ‘the smell of the sheep and the smile of a father’. In same homily he warns of the dangers of ‘flirting with spiritual worldliness’ 2nd April 2015.
MEETING WITH THE CLERGY, CONSECRATED PEOPLE AND
MEMBERS OF DIOCESAN PASTORAL COUNCILS
ADDRESS OF POPE FRANCIS
Cathedral of San Rufino, Assisi
Friday, 4 October 2013
‘How necessary are pastoral councils! A bishop cannot guide a diocese without pastoral councils. A parish priest cannot guide the parish without a parish council’. 4th Oct. 2013.
The first thing is to listen to God's Word. This is what the Church is: as the Bishop said, it is the community that listens with faith and love to the Lord who speaks.
I think of the priest who has the task of preaching. How can he preach if he has not first opened his heart, not listened in silence to the Word of God?
I think of fathers and mothers, who are the primary educators [of their children]: how can they educate them if their consciences have not been enlightened by the Word of God. If their way of thinking and acting is not guided by the Word, what sort of example can they possibly give to their children?
Fathers and mothers need to be talking about the Word of God! And I think of catechists and of all those who are involved in education: if their hearts have not been warmed by the Word, how can they warm the hearts of others, of children, of youth, of adults? It is not enough just to read the Sacred Scriptures, we need to listen to Jesus who speaks in them: it is Jesus himself who speaks in the Scriptures, it is Jesus who speaks in them. We need to be receiving antennas that are tuned into the Word of God, in order to become broadcasting antennas! One receives and transmits.
‘Where is my heart directed? It is a question we need to keep asking daily, weekly…where is my heart directed?...So too the heart of Christ’s priests knows only two directions: the lord and his people’.
Three steps: to seek out, to include and to rejoice.
Francis calls us to have vigilance over our hearts. What is happening in our hearts? Where our heart is, there will our treasure also be.
He speaks of vocation, formation, evangelisation.
A good priest, therefore, is first of all a man with his own humanity, who knows his own history, with its riches and its wounds, and who has learned to make peace with it, reaching an underlying serenity, that of a disciple of the Lord. Human formation is therefore a necessity for priests so that they learn not to be dominated by their limitations, but instead to build on their talents. 20th Nov. 2015
A priest cannot lose his roots; he always remains a man of the people and of the culture that engendered him. Our roots help us to remember who we are and where Christ has called us. We priests do not drop from above, but instead we are called, called by God, who takes us “from among men”, so as to be “‘for men”. 20th Nov. 2015.
‘I tell you honestly, I’m afraid of rigidity, I am afraid. Rigid priests.... Stay away! They bite you! And I recall an expression of St Ambrose, from the fourth century: “Where there is mercy there is the spirit of the Lord, and where there is rigidity there are only his ministers”. A minister without the Lord becomes rigid, and this is a danger to God’s people. Be pastors, not officials. 20th Nov. 2015
‘The great challenge for the Church today is to become mother…the Church must change, must convert in order to become mother. She must be fruitful!’ The Church grows younger when she is capable of generating more children; she grows younger the more she becomes mother’. 16 June 2014
Pope speaks of training ministers capable of warming people’s hearts…what is missing is someone to warm their hearts, as was the case with the disciples of Emmaus. P. 205
Is pastoral discernment a habitual criterion, through the use of Diocesan Councils? Do such Councils and Parish Councils, whether pastoral or financial, provide real opportunities for lay people to participate in pastoral consultation, organization and planning? The good functioning of these Councils is critical. I believe that on this score, we are far behind. 28th July 2013.
‘Your past is a source of riches to be mined and which can inspire the present and illumine the future’. Feb. 13th 2016.
As bishops in these situations, your paternal care for your priests must never be found wanting. Encourage communion among them; seek the perfection of their gifts; involve them in great ventures, for the heart of an apostle was not made for small things. Feb. 13th 2016
And so I invite you to appreciate that the mission, which the Church today entrusts to you, demands, and has always done so, a vision embracing the whole. This cannot be realized in an isolated manner, but only in communion. Feb. 13th 2016.
Being a Christian means “having the same sentiments that were in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5), sentiments of humility and unselfishness, of detachment and generosity. 22nd Dec. 2014
In truth, the Church shows her fidelity to the Holy Spirit to the extent that she does not try to control or tame him… to tame the Holy Spirit! … He is freshness, imagination, and newness” 22nd Dec. 2014
A heart filled with God is a happy heart which radiates an infectious joy: it is immediately evident! 22nd Dec. 2014.
“Missionary spirit is not only about geographical territories, but about peoples, cultures and individuals, because the "boundaries" of faith do not only cross places and human traditions, but the heart of each man and each woman. The Second Vatican Council emphasized in a special way how the missionary task, that of broadening the boundaries of faith, belongs to every baptized person and all Christian communities”, Message for World Mission Day 2013, 2.