On December 13, 1969, four days before his 33rd birthday, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was ordained a priest.
The now Pope Francis received this Sacrament with the imposition of hands of the Archbishop of Cordoba, Monsignor Ramon Jose Castellano.
Young Jorge discovered his vocation on September 21, 1953, Memorial of Saint Matthew, the tax collector who converted when Jesus invited him to follow Him. During a Confession, he had a profound experience of God’s mercy, a joy that led him to decide to be a priest, reported “Vatican News.”
Priest, Man of Mercy
Divine Mercy has marked Francis’ priestly life. For him, priests leave everything, without making noise, to dedicate themselves to the daily life of communities, giving their lives to others; they are moved by the sheep, as Jesus was when He saw tired and exhausted persons as sheep without a shepherd.”
“So, in the image of the Good Shepherd, a priest is a man of mercy and compassion, close to the people and servant of all. This is a pastoral criterion that I would like to stress well: closeness. Proximity and service, but proximity, closeness . . . Whoever is wounded in life can find in the priest care and listening . . . The wounds need to be healed — many wounds! This is the time of mercy (Address to Parish Priests, Rome, March 6, 2014).”
Eucharist, Meaning of Life
The Pope also believes that the priest is a man whose center in life is Christ, not himself. That is why he shows his gratitude to presbyters for the daily celebration of the Eucharist. “In the Eucharistic Celebration, we find every day our identity as Pastors. Every time we can make truly our own Jesus’ words: ‘This is my Body that is given up for you,’” points out the same source.
“This is the meaning of our life, they are the words with which, in a certain way, we can renew daily the promises of our Ordination” (Homily for the Jubilee of Priests, June 3, 2016),” he
Mission in the Confessional
Moreover, the Holy Father also highlights that the Church’s Pastors carry out an important part of their mission in the Confessional “It’s normal that there are different styles among the confessors, but these differences can’t refer to the essence, namely, a healthy moral doctrine and mercy,” he says about the Sacrament of Penance.
He also warns that it’s not advisable for a confessor to show either a “rigorous” or “lax” attitude. “The rigorist washes his hands: he nails it, in fact, to the law understood in a cold and rigid way,” whereas the lax confessor “washes his hands: he is only apparently merciful but, in reality, he doesn’t take the problems of that conscience seriously, minimizing the sin. Genuine mercy takes charge of the person, listens to him attentively, gets close, with respect and truth, to his situation, and accompanies him in the journey of reconciliation (Address to Parish Priests of Rome, March 6, 2014).”
Men “of Prayer”
The Bishop of Rome also stresses the importance of prayer in Pastors’ life. “The priest is, in the first place, a man of prayer. It is from intimacy with Jesus that charity springs. It’s union with God that makes one overcome the innumerable temptations of evil.”
In this connection, he stresses, “the devil exists; he isn’t a myth; he is astute, a liar, deceiver. Francis invites to look at Mary, to pray the Rosary every day, especially at this time, to protect the Church from the devil’s attacks who want to bring division (Letter to Priests on the 160th Anniversary of the Death of the Cure of Ars).”
Daily Life and Last Judgment
The Pontiff believes that a priest’s spirituality is also incarnate in daily life, a “prophetic voice” in the face of oppression that mistreats the poor and the weak. The Church, he says, “cannot and must not stay on the margin in the fight for justice,” relegating religion, as some would like, ‘to persons’ secret intimacy, without any influence on social and national life’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 183), given that the Kingdom of God begins here, on earth, and it is where we find Jesus.
In this line, he remarks that the Last Judgment will focus precisely on what we have done to Christ in the poor, in the sick, in strangers, in the imprisoned (Matthew 25) and that, as John Paul II pointed out, we will be judged by love; however, the latter can’t exist without justice.
Francis also referred to abuses committed by priests, expressing his closeness to the victims. Nevertheless, at the same time, he remembers those who have to bear the charge of crimes that they haven’t perpetrated.
He also clarifies that “it would be unjust not to recognize the many priests that, in a constant and honest way, give all that they are and have for the good of others.”
There are Pastors that “make of their life a work of mercy in regions or situations that very often are inhospitable, remote or abandoned, including at the risk of their own life”, whom he thanks for their “courageous and constant example” and he exhorts not to be discouraged. “The Lord is purifying his Bride and He is converting all of us to Himself (Letter to Priests on the 160th Anniversary of the Death of the Cure of Ars).”
The Holy Father says he thinks a lot about the exhaustion of presbyters: “I think a lot and pray often, especially when I am the tired one. I pray for those of you that work in the midst of God’s faithful people, who were entrusted to you, and many of you in abandoned and dangerous places. And our exhaustion, dear priests, is as incense that rises silently to Heaven. Our exhaustion goes directly to the Father’s heart.”
And he adds that exhaustion, as the result of being in the midst of the people, is good, because it’s “the exhaustion of the priest with the scent of sheep,” with the awareness that “only love rests (Homily in the Chrism Mass, April 2, 2015).”
Joy and Good Humour
Moreover, Pope Francis reminds Pastors that “the saint is able to live with joy and a sense of humor,” and that it’s a joy that comes from union Jesus and fraternity.
In an interview given to TV2000 in 2016, he said: “a sense of humor is a grace that I pray for every day,” because “it relieves you, it makes you see how temporal life is and to take things with the spirit of a redeemed soul. It’s a human attitude, but it’s the closest to the grace of God.
”The Homily, Positive Preaching”
In regard to homilies, “Vatican News” points out that the Pope has often stressed the importance that priests prepare them well. He also invites priests to preach homilies that are neither a show nor an indoctrination lesson.
This implies being able to say “words that make hearts burn, with a positive language: not sayings so much what we must not do but proposing what we can do better, as positive preaching always gives hope, orients to the future, and doesn’t leave us enclosed in negativity (Evangelii Gaudium, 159),” he says.
Support and Prayer
Finally, “Vatican News” highlights that the Bishop of Rome asks priests to be always close to the people, but he also exhorts the faithful to support priests. “Dear faithful, accompany your priests with affection and prayer so that they are always Pastors according to God’s heart (Homily for the Chrism Mass, March 28, 2013).”
In the letter he wrote on the occasion of this important anniversary, Monsignor De Donatis, the Pope’s Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, recalled the Pontiff’s constant requests for prayers at the end of his addresses: ‘Please, don’t forget to pray for me.’ These are the last words every Sunday of the Angelus prayed from the window, of every meeting, of every moment.”