Francis met the priests from the Convitto San Luigi dei Francesi. He told them that “a priesthood isolated from the people of God is not a Catholic priesthood; no, and not even Christian.” Instead, “always have great horizons, to dream of a Church fully in the service of others, of a more fraternal and supportive world.”
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis met today with a group of French priests from the community of “Saint-Louis des Français” (Convitto San Luigi dei Francesi) in Rome. This gave the pontiff an opportunity to speak about being a priest today.
“Priests are men who, in the light of the Gospel, spread the desire for God around them and pass on hope to restless hearts”, said the Pope. This is unthinkable without the “holy people of God”. Indeed, “a priesthood isolated from the people of God is not a Catholic priesthood; no, and not even Christian.”
“In a society marked by individualism, self-affirmation, and indifference, you have the experience of living together with your daily challenges,” noted Francis. “Located in the heart of Rome, your home, with its witness of life, can communicate to the people who visit it the Gospel values of varied and supportive brotherhood, especially when someone is going through a difficult moment. Indeed, your brotherly life and your various commitments can make people feel the faithfulness of God's love and his closeness.”
But community life presents many challenges. For example, there is “the temptation to create small closed groups, to isolate one another, to criticise and speak ill of others, to believe one is superior, more intelligent. Gossip is a habit of closed groups, a habit found even among priests who become old bachelors: They go, talk, bad-mouth ... This doesn't help. Forget it. Look and think about God's mercy. This threatens all of us, and that's no good.” [. . .] May you always welcome one another as a gift.”
“In this year dedicated to Saint Joseph[*] I invite you to rediscover the face of this man of faith, of this tender father, a model of faithfulness and trusting abandonment to God's plan.
“’Even through Joseph’s fears, God’s will, his history and his plan were at work. Joseph, then, teaches us that faith in God includes believing that he can work even through our fears, our frailties and our weaknesses’ (Lit. ap. Patris ropes, 2). With Joseph, we are called to return to the experience of simple acts of acceptance, tenderness, and self-giving.”
In light of this, the pontiff calls on fellow priests “to dream of a Church fully in the service of others, of a more fraternal and supportive world. For this reason, as protagonists, you have your contribution to offer. Do not be afraid to dare, to take a risk, to go forward because you can do everything with Christ who gives you strength (cf. Phil 4:13). [. . .] And it is only by remaining rooted in Christ that you can experience a joy that pushes you to conquer hearts. Priestly joy is the source of your action as missionaries of your time.”
To this end, one must abandon “pre-conceived ideas“ in favour of contingent reality, abandoning all ambition of “self-affirmation” in order to put “God and people” at the centre of daily concerns without falling into criticism and chatter that risk turning even priests into “old bachelors”. To achieve this goal, a priest must simply “be a shepherd”.
Some priests might say: “'No, I would only like to be an intellectual, not a shepherd.' If so, ask to be defrocked; it will be better for you as an intellectual. But if you are a priest, be a shepherd. You will be a shepherd in so many ways, but always amid God's people. Paul reminded his beloved disciple: 'Remember your mother, your grandmother, from the people, who taught you.' The Lord says to David, 'I chose you from the back of the flock,' from there.”
In concluding, the pontiff urged priests to “nurture gratitude”. This is what Saint John Vianney called a “powerful weapon” to keep hope alive “in times of discouragement, loneliness, and trial.” Gratitude must be directed towards God “for what you are to one another”. Remember that “with your limits, frailties, tribulations, there is always a gaze of love laid upon you that gives you confidence.”
[*] This refers to the Apostolic Letter Patris corde, “With a Father’s Heart”, published for the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of Saint Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church -