Pope urges priests not to be ‘clericalized pagans’
In his homily during the Chrism Mass, the pontiff called on priests to fix their gaze on Jesus at the end of each day to ward off three forms of hidden idolatry: the spiritual worldliness that leads to a triumphalism without a cross, the pragmatism of numbers, and the functionalist mindset that stifles the Spirit.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis opened celebrations for the Easter Triduum this morning in St Peter's Basilica with the Chrism Mass. In his homily, he urged priests to nurture the grace of fixing their gaze on Jesus, so that they may better serve God and their flock.
Unlike the past two years when Easter celebrations were limited because of the pandemic, members of the clergy and worshippers participated in great numbers today.
Cardinals, bishops and (diocesan and religious) priests present in Rome concelebrated the liturgy with the Bishop of Rome and renewed the pledges made at the time of their ordination.
“Being priests, dear brothers, is a grace, a very great grace, yet it is not primarily a grace for us, but for our people,” said Pope Francis in his homily.
According to the pontiff, the Lord himself pays the priest's salary, which is his Love and the unconditional forgiveness of sins paid with the price of his blood shed on the Cross.
The Gospel of Luke says that after Jesus read the passage of the Prophet Isaiah in front of his people and sat down, ““the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him” (4:20).
Reflecting upon this, the pope explained: “‘Fixing our eyes on Jesus’ is a grace that we, as priests, need to cultivate. At the end of the day, we do well to gaze upon the Lord, and to let him gaze upon our hearts and the hearts of all those whom we have encountered.”
Francis went on to say that it is not a question of counting sins, but of a loving contemplation, ready to recognise the graces of the day and expressing gratitude, while at the same time show readiness to acknowledge temptations and reject them.
“Allowing the Lord to see those hidden idols - we all have them; all of us! - and to strengthens us against them and takes away their power,” he said. “This happens. Even though we might tell ourselves that we know perfectly well the difference between God and an idol, in practice we take space away from the Trinity in order to give it to the devil, in a kind of oblique worship.”
This process could take place gradually and silently. “In another context I spoke about ‘educated demons’ who ‘enter and gradually take over’. [. . .] When we fail to unmask them [. . .] we make room for the Evil One.”
In addressing priests, Francis described three spaces of hidden idolatry in which the Evil One uses his idols to weaken their vocation as pastors and separate them from God: spiritual worldliness, the pragmatism of numbers, and the functionalist mindset.
Spiritual worldliness is “a proposal of life, a culture, a culture of the ephemeral, of appearances, of the cosmetic’. Its criterion is triumphalism, a triumphalism without the cross.”
The worldliness of searching one's own glory robs people of the “presence of Jesus, humble and humiliated, the Lord who draws near to everyone, the Christ who suffers with all who suffer”, which is the most important aspect. “A worldly priest is nothing more than a clericalized pagan,” Francis said without mincing his words.
According to the pontiff, another space of hidden idolatry lies in the pragmatism of numbers. “Persons cannot be ‘numbered’, and God does not ‘measure out’ his gift of the Spirit. In this fascination with and love of numbers, we are really seeking ourselves, pleased with the control offered us by this way of thinking, unconcerned with individual faces and far from love.”
The idolatry of functionalism is also linked to this, which “can be alluring” to “many people” who “’are more enthusiastic about the roadmap than about the road’. The functionalist mindset has short shrift for mystery; it aims at efficiency.”
The ego nurtures priests with a functionalist mindset. “Little by little, this idol replaces the Father’s presence within us. [. . .] Our Father is the creator, but not simply a creator who makes things ‘function’. He ‘creates’ us, as our Father, with tender love, caring for his creatures and working to make men and women ever more free.”
According to Pope Francis, hiding these idols and not knowing how to unmask them in one's daily life is harmful to the loyalty to the priestly covenant.
“Jesus is the only ‘way’ to avoid being mistaken in knowing what we feel and where our heart is leading us," he said. “He is the only way that leads to proper discernment, as we measure ourselves against him each day. It is as if, even now, he is seated in our parish church and tells us that today all we have heard is now fulfilled.”
Pope Francis ended by asking for Saint Joseph’s intercession, “the chaste father, free of hidden idols” so that the clergy can be free from cravings for possession.
The words of love and encouragement the pope addressed to priests during the Chrism Mass come a day after he visited Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in what is now a well-established tradition.
As in past years, feelings of affection and closeness to his predecessor have led Francis to travel to the Mater Ecclesiae monastery, where Benedict XVI has lived since his resignation in 2013, for a "brief and affectionate" conversation and prayer together.
Francis also offered Benedict his best wishes for Easter celebrations and for his 95th birthday, which will be celebrated this Saturday.