Francis presided over the opening of the General Assembly of Italian bishops whose main topic is the renewal of the clergy. “Belonging to the Lord, to the Church, [and] to the Kingdom” is what characterises the priestly life. It is a "treasure" that bishops must safeguard and promote "with patience and willingness of time, hands and heart."
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis opened the 69th General Assembly of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (Conferenza episcopale italiana, CEI) on Monday afternoon, in the Synod Hall in the Vatican. The main item on CEI’s agenda is the renewal of the clergy.
In his address, the Holy Father noted that "belonging to the Lord, to the Church, [and] to the Kingdom" is what characterises the priestly life. This is the "treasure" that bishops must safeguard and promote "with patience and willingness of time, hands and heart ". For their part, priests must lead a credible life, not one of ambitions, rigorism or do-goodery. They must be poor with the poor, ready to give up the "non-essential" to their mission.
Francis addressed the issue by looking at "some of the many priests who work in our communities" to ask himself "what gives life flavour? For whom and for what does he serve? What it is the ultimate reason for his self-giving?" The cultural context is very different from the one in which he started their ministry.”
"We, who often find ourselves to deplore this age with a bitter and accusatory tone, must also feel its harshness. How many people do we meet in our ministry who are in trouble for lack of reference points to turn to! How many relationships are wounded! In a world in which everyone considers himself the measure of everything, there is no place for one’s brother. Against this background, the life of our priest becomes eloquent, because it is different, alternative.”
He has left behind the ambitions of a career or power, as well as “the temptation to interpret himself as a ‘devotee’, who takes refuge in a religious introspection that has very little of the spiritual.” Instead, “He is not scandalised by the frailties that shake the human spirit, aware that he himself is a healed paralytic; he is removed from the coldness of the rigorist, as well as from the superficiality of the one who wants to show himself accommodating for a cheap price. Instead, he accepts to take charge of others, feeling himself as a participant and responsible for his destiny.
“Our priest is not a bureaucrat or an anonymous official in an institution; he is not consecrated to play a white-collar role, or moved by criteria of efficiency.” On the contrary, “He knows that Love is everything. He does not seek earthly assurances or honorific titles, which lead to trust man. In the ministry itself, he does not ask anything that goes against real needs, nor is he concerned to bind to himself the people who are entrusted to him. His simple and essential lifestyle, [of being] always available, makes him credible in the eyes of the people and brings him close to the humble, in pastoral charity that makes him free and reaching out. As a servant of life, he walks with the heart and the step of the poor, and is enriched by interacting with them. He is a man of peace and reconciliation, a token and an instrument of God’s tenderness, careful to spread goodness with the same passion with which others look after their own interests.”
His secret is “the definitive truth of his life. He guards his relationship with Him, keeping abroad the spiritual worldliness that corrupts, as well as any compromise or meanness.”
As for the second question ‘To whom does our presbyter commit his service?’, Francis spoke of the sense of feeling “a participant of the Church. [. . .] This common belonging, which flows from Baptism, is the breath that frees one from self-reference that isolates and imprisons: ‘When your boat starts to set roots in the motionlessness of the pier – as Dom Helder Camara used to say – go out at sea!’ Leave! First of all, [don’t do this] because you have a mission to fulfill, but because structurally you are a missionary: in the encounter with Jesus you experienced the fullness of life and, therefore, you want with your whole being that others recognise themselves in Him and may guard his friendship, nurture themselves with His word and celebrate Him in community.
“The one who lives for the Gospel enters a virtuous sharing: the pastor is converted and confirmed by the simple faith of God’s holy people, with whom he works and in whose heart he lives. This belonging is the salt of the presbyter’s life; and makes the communion his distinctive trait, which he experiences with the laity in relations that enhance everyone’s participation.
“The chapter regarding the management of structures and economic assets is also part of our reflection on the renewal of the clergy: from an evangelical view, avoid falling into a pastoral outreach of conservation that hinders openness to the Spirit’s enduring novelty. Keep only what can serve the experience of faith and charity of God’s people.
“Finally, we asked ourselves what is the ultimate reason of our presbyter’s dedication. How much sadness is caused by those whose life is always halfway, one foot raised! They calculate, weigh, do not risk anything out of fear of getting lost . . . They are the unhappiest! Instead, our presbyter, with his limitations, is one who goes for broke: in actual conditions in which life and the ministry have placed him, he offers himself freely, with humility and joy. Even when no one seems to notice him. Even when he intuitively and humanly realises that perhaps no one will thank him enough for his unbounded dedication.
“Yet he knows that he could not do otherwise: he loves the earth, which he knows is visited every morning by God’s presence. He is a man of Easter, of the gaze turned towards the Kingdom, towards the one who feels that human history is walking, despite delays, darkness and contradictions. The Kingdom – the vision that Jesus has of man – is his joy, the horizon that enables him to relativise the rest, to dampen concerns and anxieties, to remain free of illusions and pessimism, to protect peace in his heart and spread it with his deeds, words, and attitudes.