Pope's Pronounced Address to Seminarians of Pius XI Pontifical Regional Seminary

‘Four pillars: the spiritual life, prayer, community life with your companions and the life of study’

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Below are Pope Francis’ off-the-cuff words to seminarians from the Pius XI Pontifical Regional Seminary of Puglia, located in the city of Molfetta, Italy, in the Vatican on Saturday. Handing the seminarians the prepared text, the Pope decided to give the following extemporaneous remarks:
Thank you so much for the words and also for the sentiments. Thank you! They weren’t cold words and when there is the warmth of a brother who speaks, and is not afraid to seem perhaps somewhat ridiculous, and says what he feels, this gives pleasure. And this does one good. And so I can’t respond coldly. And I will say what comes to me spontaneously.
For me, Molfetta is a word that has so much, so much resonance. And it reminds me of a woman, a Sister, a great woman, who worked a lot in Seminaries, also in Argentina, close to our House of Formation: Sister Bernadette, she was of your area. When I, as Novice Master and also as Provincial Superior, had a problem with someone, I would send him to speak with her. And she, <with> two “spiritual clouts” settled the matter. It is the wisdom of the women of God, of mothers. It is a grace to grow in the priestly vocation having these women close to one, these mothers, who know how to say the things that the Lord wants to be said. Then she was transferred to Rome and, whenever I came <here>, I went to see her. I remember that the last time I saw her I telephoned her and she <said>: “Before you go, come once again” – “But why?” – “I want you to give me the Anointing [of the Sick], because we won’t see one another anymore.” That sense of the woman, she was already 85 … And on one All Saints Day I gave her the Anointing of the Sick and she departed in mid-December.
I want to say this to render homage to this woman and to so many like her, who consecrate their life to the Lord and are close to priests’ apostolate, they are close to the formation of priests in the Seminaries. They have that wisdom — that wisdom of mothers; they know how to say what the Lord wants to be said. And for me it’s a duty to mention Sister Bernadette’s name today. And I thank your land for having given us such a woman.
Yours then is a seminary, and a seminary forms priests. Priests that, sometimes, have problems, make mistakes … When scandals of priests come, we are used to hearing them! The press buys such news well, it pays well <for>that news. Because it’s so, the rule of scandal has a high share in the media market! How should a priest be formed so that there is no failure in his life, so that he doesn’t collapse? — but, just this? No, much more! — so that his life is fecund, yes, fecund! Not only that he be a good priest who follows all the rules. No, no. He must give life to others! He must be a Father of a community. A priest who isn’t a Father is no good. “Go, there, become a monk …”; but even a monk who isn’t a Father isn’t good. The paternity of the pastoral vocation: to give life, to make life grow; do not neglect the life of a community. And do so with courage, with strength, with tenderness.
And you — 180 you said? – you have entered this way to become Fathers of communities. Here, in Italy, you have the advantage of having a history of good, good, good, parish priests, who give you an example on how to go ahead. Look at your Fathers in the faith, look at your Fathers, and ask the Lord for the grace of memory, ecclesial memory. Each one must say to himself: “the history of salvation didn’t begin with me.” “My Church has a whole tradition, a long tradition of good priests”: take this tradition and carry it forward, and it won’t end with you. Try to leave a legacy for the one who will take your place, <try to be> Fathers who receive paternity from others and give it to others. It’s beautiful to be such a priest. Once I met a parish priest of a small country, a good parish priest: “What do you do?”, <I asked him>. “I know the name of each one of my parishioners, of the people.” “Tell me, of every person?” – “<Of> all! – also the dogs’ names!” <That priest> was close to the people.
And here we come to another word that I would like to say to you seminarians: “closeness.” One cannot be a priest with detachment of the people; <there must be> closeness to the people. And the one who gave us the greatest example of closeness was the Lord, isn’t that so? He made Himself close with His synkatabasis — close to the point of taking our flesh — closeness! A priest who is detached from the people is unable to give Jesus’ message. He is unable to give Jesus’ caress to the people; he is unable — and I take your image [he turns to the Rector who spoke earlier] — he is unable to place his foot so that the door won’t close [he refers to the image mentioned by the Rector, in which Jesus’ foot impedes the Door of Mercy from closing] — closeness to the people. And closeness means patience; it means to burn [consume] one’s life, because, let’s say the truth — the holy People of God are weary, weary! But how good it is to meet a priest who ends the day tired and who has no need of pills to sleep well! — that healthy exhaustion of work, of giving life to others, continually at the service of others, when you begin.” “Now I would like something else … I have the parish, but I would like to have a school there …” But why do you want a school, for the money? Are you afraid of poverty? Listen, if you’re afraid of poverty, your vocation is in danger! Because poverty will make your donation to the Lord grow and poverty will be the wall to protect you, because poverty in consecrated life, in the life of priest, is mother and wall. It’s mother and wall: it gives life and protects. A priest close to the people, close to the people’s problems — that word, “closeness.”
When you find a priest who distances himself from the people, who seeks other things – yes, he does come, says Mass and then goes off, because he has other interests than the faithful people entrusted to him — this harms the Church. Closeness! — as Jesus was close to us. There’s no other way: it’s the way of the Incarnation. There are so many Gnostic proposals today, and one can be a good priest, but not Catholic, Gnostic, but not Catholic. No, no! Catholic, incarnated, close who is able to caress and suffer with Jesus’ flesh in the sick, in children, in people, in problems, in the many problems our people have. This closeness will help you so much, so much, so much!
To be close like Jesus, to be able to “place a foot” as Jesus, which avoids the closing of the door [of Mercy. He is referring to the same earlier image]. It’s necessary to know Jesus. But I will ask: how long do you sit before the Tabernacle every day? One of the questions that I always asked priests, also good ones, all <of them>, was: in the evening, how do you go to bed? And they didn’t understand; “But what is he asking me?” “Yes, yes! How do you go to rest? What do you do?” – “Oh, yes, I get tired. I take two mouthfuls and then I go to bed … I watch television … I rest a bit …” “Ah, good, but don’t you greet the One who sent you to the people? Spend at least a moment before the Tabernacle? – “Ah, yes, it’s true! But I fall asleep …”Blessed be the Lord! What is more beautiful than to fall asleep before the Lord? This happens to me … it’s not a sin; it’s not a sin. Saint Therese of the Child Jesus also teaches us to do this. Please, don’t leave the Lord! Don’t leave the Lord alone in the Tabernacle! You need Him. “But He doesn’t say anything to me! I fall asleep …” Fall asleep, but it is He who sends you, it’s He who gives you the strength — <you need> personal prayer with the Lord, because you must be for your people like Jesus. “Ah, but when I entered the Seminary I didn’t think that this would be the way … I thought I would be a priest … I thought I’d do many good things …” This is important, but it’s more important to meet Jesus and from Jesus to do all the rest, because the Church isn’t an NGO, and pastoral care isn’t a pastoral plan. This helps, it’s an instrument, but pastoral care is dialogue, a continuous conversation — be it sacramental, catechetic or of teaching — with the people. To be close to the people and to give them what Jesus says to me. And who carries the pastoral forward? The Pastoral Council of the diocese? No. It is also an instrument. The Holy Spirit carries it forward. “And tell me, how is your relation with the Holy Spirit? – “Oh, there is a Holy Spirit?” That question that Saint Paul asked [the disciples of Ephesus], and that answer is always timely (cf. Acts 19:2). We all say Glory be to the Father, we all say “I believe in the Holy Spirit”; but how does the Holy Spirit enter your life? Are you able to distinguish the inspirations of the Spirit in our heart? “But, Father, this is for mystics.” No, it’s for all of us! When the Spirit leads you to do something and when the other spirit, the Evil One, leads you to do something else, are you able to distinguish one from the other? Or is your life ruled only by “I would like to …”? The Holy Spirit — docility to the Spirit — something that we should think about so much in our pastoral life: docility to the Spirit.
In the seminary, you must study, learn to grow in prayer, know the spiritual life. Then, you are so many in the Seminary, and community life is important. And then you study. Four pillars: the spiritual life, prayer, community life with <your> companions <and> the life of study, because we must study: the world doesn’t tolerate the figure of a priest who doesn’t understand things, who doesn’t have a method to understand things and who is unable to say the things of God with a foundation; and fourth: the apostolic life; on the weekends go to the parish and have this experience. May these four pillars be present always. “But which one is the most important?” All four are important. If one is lacking, the formation isn’t balanced — all four <are important>. And you, Superiors and Formators, must help so that this happens, that it be so. The balance of these four pillars must not be neglected.
And turning to the Holy Spirit, I would like to stress a virtue, a virtue that is so important and necessary in a priest: apostolic zeal. And to have it, one must open oneself to the Holy Spirit: He will give you apostolic zeal. One needs to ask for it! — discreet but apostolic zeal.
I could continue to talk to you, but I think this is sufficient.
I began with a Sister; I want to end with a priest. I began with the icon of that Sister who was an example of docility to the Holy Spirit for me, of love for Jesus and of love for Christ’s concrete flesh. And I want to end with an icon, an icon without a person, but which I saw as a child so many times: the telephone on the parish priest’s bedside table — these good priests, who get up at any hour of the night to go to a sick person, to give the Sacraments. “But I must rest … The Lord saves all … I’ll unplug the telephone.” This [availability] is apostolic zeal, this is to choose [to consume] one’s life at the service of others. And at the end, what do you have? What? The joy of the service of the Lord!
Think of the Sister and think of the telephone on the bedside table; think of the people; think of the Tabernacle; think of the four pillars. So many things to think about … And think also of the Bishops, of your Fathers: if today or tomorrow, you have something against him, he is the first one who should know this and not others in gossip. You must never gossip, be good men who don’t gossip …
Thank you so much! It’s the hour of the Angelus. We can pray together.
[Original Text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]  

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