Vatican City ( AsiaNews) - This is a "time of mercy," a time for "the gaze of Jesus" for the "harassed and helpless" people who are "like sheep without a shepherd" the "wounded people" for whom the priest must "have tears" and be close to in order to "fight with the Lord" for them, like Abraham and Moses.
Pope Francis met with the Roman clergy, this morning. A meeting between the bishop and "his" priests, with the confidences of the bishop and with reference to the realities, even painful, of the diocese, but which also relate to the "peoples of many countries who are suffering even greater difficulties ... " .
Francis began the meeting with a
prayer for a parish priest, Don Luigi Retrosi, a pastor who died yesterday at the
age of 74; he "publicly" expressed his "pain" and
solidarity with priests over the accusations made against them; he revealed
that he always carries with him "a cloth pouch", because "the
Pope's shirts have no pockets", with the little cross from a rosary which always
reminds him to have mercy "and when I have bad thoughts about someone I
always reach for it".
"We - he said at the beginning of his meditation - are not here to take part in a lovely spiritual exercise at the beginning of Lent, but to listen to the voice of the Spirit who speaks to the entire Church in our time, which is precisely the time of mercy. Not only in Lent, we are living in the time of mercy". The Pope recalled John Paul II's "intuition" on Divine Mercy. "He handed it on to us. Now it is up to us, as ministers of the Church, to keep this message alive especially in preaching and gestures, in our signs, in pastoral decisions, for example the choice of once again making the Sacrament of Reconciliation a priority, and at the same time in works of mercy. Reconciling, making peace, with the Sacrament, in words and with works of mercy".
"Some of you - he adds - have written to me, called me, asked me why I always seem to have an issue with priests, they say that I am hard on priests. I do not mean to be hard". "Let us ask ourselves what mercy means to a priest, allow me to say, for us priests. Priests are moved, like Jesus, when he saw people tired and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus has the 'guts' of God: full of tenderness toward people, especially people who are excluded, the sinners, the sick who no one cares for ... " .
"Thus, in the image of the Good Shepherd, the priest is a man of mercy and compassion, close to his people, and the servant of all. Whoever is wounded in his life, in any way, finds an attentive priest willing to listen... This is a pastoral criterion that I want to emphasize, closeness, closeness. The priest in particular reveals the guts of mercy in administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation; he reveals it by his whole attitude, the way he receives, listens to, advises, absolves... But this is the direct result of how he experiences the Sacrament himself, of how he allows himself to be embraced by God the Father in Confession, and how he remains in this embrace ... If one experiences this firsthand, in ones' heart, then one can gift it to others in ministry. I put the question to you: how do I confess? A great priest comes to mind, he is a little younger than, 72, he is a great confessor, there is always a queue. The majority of priests go to him, he is a great confessor. Once he came to me: 'Father ' ; ' Tell me .... ', ' I have a little problem, because I know that I forgive too much! '; ' But pray ... If you forgive too much...'. And we talked of mercy. At one point he said, ' But you know when I feel that this scruple is becoming a problem, I go to the chapel, before the tabernacle .... And I say : ' But, excuse me, You are to blame, because you set me a bad example!' . And I leave at peace... This is a beautiful prayer of mercy. If one experiences confession in first person, in ones' own heart, then one can also gift it can to others".
"The priest is called to learn this, to have a heart that is moved. 'Ascetic ' priests do not help the Church. We can think of the Church today as a 'field hospital', excuse me for saying this, but it's the way I see it so, I feel it, we need to heal wounds. There are many wounded people, wounded by material problems, scandals, even in the Church ... people wounded by the world's illusions... We priests need to be there, close to these people. Mercy means first of all healing wounds . When one is wounded, one immediately needs this, not analysis: we can seek specialist care later, but first you have to treat open wounds. For me, it is most important at this time, there are people who become distant so as not to reveal their wounds. I am reminded of how under Mosaic law, the lepers were distanced. People who distance themselves, ashamed, not to show their wounds, the move away, their face turned, against the Church , they want a caress, I ask you, dear brethren, do you know the wounds of your parishioners ? Are you close to them?".
"Let us return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Neither too lenient nor too severe. As priests we often hear our parishioners speaking of having encountered a very "lenient" or very "strict" priest in confession, lax or rigorous. That's not good. It is perfectly normal for there to be a difference in style among confessors, but these differences can not affect the substance, that is, sound moral doctrine and mercy. Neither the lax nor the rigorous bear witness to Jesus Christ, because neither the one nor the other takes on the person he encounters. The rigorist washes his hands of the matter, in fact he sticks to the letter of the law understood in a cold and rigid way, and the lax instead washes his hands of the matter, because he is only apparently merciful, but really does not take the problem of consciousness seriously, minimizing the sin. True compassion takes up the person, listens closely, draws close with respect and truth to his situation, and accompanies him on the path of reconciliation. And this is tiring. The truly merciful priest acts like the Good Samaritan ... but why? Because his heart is capable of compassion, it is the heart of Christ".
"We know that neither laxity nor rigor nurture holiness. Maybe some rigorists seem saints, but they do not sanctify the priest, they do not sanctify the faithful. Instead mercy accompanies the path to sainthood, it accompanies and nurtures it.. . its too much work for the parish priest, right?. How? Through the pastoral suffering, which is a form of mercy. what does pastoral suffering mean? It means to suffer for and with people, and this is not easy, to suffer as a father and a mother suffers for their children. Allow me to say with anxiety".
"But how many of us cry before the suffering of a child, before the destruction of a family. The tears of the priest. Do you weep for your people? Do you say the intercessory prayer before the Tabernacle? Do you struggle with the Lord for your people? Like Abraham if they were 20, if they were 25, the courageous prayer of intercession. Do you struggle with the Lord, as Moses did? " .
His reflection on the role of the confessor led Francis to remember: " In Buenos Aires there was a famous confessor - I am speaking here of another priest - he was a priest of teh Blessed Sacrament. Nearly all the clergy went to him for confession. On one of the two occasions he came, John Paul II asked for a confessor to come to the Nunciature, and this priest went. He was old , very old ... in the end he became the Provinical of his Order, the professor ... but always a confessor, always. And he always had queues there, in the church of the Blessed Sacrament . During that time, I lived in the Curia and was Vicar General, and early every morning, I went down to the fax to see if there was something there. And on Easter morning I read a fax from the superior of his community: 'Yesterday, half an hour before the Easter Vigil, father so and so died...his funeral will be such a day. And on Easter morning I had to go for lunch with the priests in the hospice for clergy - I usually did at Easter - ' and then, after lunch, I went to church.' The church was a large, very large, with a beautiful crypt. I went down into the crypt and there was the coffin, only two old ladies who were praying there, but no flowers. I thought: but this man who forgave the sins of all the clergy of Buenos Aires, myself included and not a flower ... ? I went up and I went to a florist - because in Buenos Aires there are the flower shops on every street corner, some in places where there are people - and I bought flowers, roses ... And I came back and started to arrange the coffin with flowers ... And I looked at the rosary in my hand, and that thief that we all have inside of us immediately came to mind and while I arranged the flowers I took the Cross of the Rosary, a Cross like this, and with a little snap I broke it off. And at that moment I looked at him and I said, ' Give me half of your mercy'. I felt something so strong that it gave me the courage to do this and to say this prayer. And then, I put the Cross here in my pocket. But the Pope's shirts do not have pockets, right? But, I always carry it here in a small cloth pouch, and so from that day until now, that Cross has been with me. And when I have a bad thought about someone, my hand reaches for it, always. And I feel grace ... which is good for me. But how much good the example of a merciful priest does, a priest who bends down over the wounded... " .