Pope Francis highlighted priestly joy during the Chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica this Holy Thursday morning.
Addressing his brother priests, Francis said there is a gift of joy inside a priest that is not intended to stay only for him, but to be for all God’s people.
The Holy Father directed their attention to the “happy day of the institution of priesthood” as well as to the day of their own priestly ordination.
Quoting John the Evangelist, he said the Lord wishes the joy of this Love to be “ours” and to be “complete”’ and that Mary is “a wellspring of joy for God’s little ones.”
The Holy Father said priests’ “small” size relative to the universe does not impede their efforts as long as they trust in God’s help.
He continued: “I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that a priest is very little indeed: the incomparable grandeur of the gift granted us for the ministry sets us among the least of men.”
Underscoring what seems to be contradictory, he said, “In that littleness we find our joy. Joy in our littleness.”
The Holy Father highlighted three significant features of priestly joy: that it anoints, is imperishable, and missionary.
Discussing the first, Francis noted that a joy which anoints us is not “one which ‘greases’; us, making us unctuous, sumptuous and presumptuous.” Rather, it penetrates “deep within our hearts, it has shaped them and strengthened them sacramentally.”
Explaining imperishable joy, the Pope noted that no one can take it away or increase it. It is “an unfailing source of joy.” He said the Lord has promised it to us and no one can take it away. He noted, “It can lie dormant, or be clogged by sin or by life’s troubles, yet deep down it remains intact.”
Finally, Pope Francis turned to missionary joy, which “is deeply bound up with God’s holy and faithful people,” and is meant for “for baptizing and confirming them, healing and sanctifying them, blessing, comforting and evangelizing them.” This joy “spreads and attracts, starting backwards – with those farthest away from us.”
The Holy Father explained that priestly joy has three “sisters:” poverty, fidelity, and obedience.
Discussing the sister poverty, he explained that since the priest “has given up so much!” and is poor, having given “so much to others,” he must “seek his joy from the Lord and from God’s faithful people.”
Francis noted fidelity refers to “renewed fidelity to the one Bride, to the Church.” He stressed, “Here fruitfulness is key. The spiritual children which the Lord gives each priest, the children he has baptized, the families he has blessed and helped … are the ‘Bride’ whom he rejoices to treat as his supreme and only love.”
Turning to obedience, he said it is not just attending to your own assignments and tasks, but involves union with God “the Father, the source of all fatherhood” as well as obedience to the Church in service “in availability and readiness to serve everyone, always and as best I can.”
Encouraging new priests, Francis asked the Lord to “preserve the joy sparkling in the eyes of the recently ordained who go forth to devour the world, to spend themselves fully in the midst of God’s faithful people, rejoicing as they prepare their first homily, their first Mass, their first baptism, their first confession.”
Turning to priests who have ministered for some years, he acknowledged that joy is “found on their shoulders …. of those who bear the burden of the ministry.” He noted these priests “who, having experienced the labours of the apostolate, gather their strength and rearm themselves: ‘get a second wind,’ as the athletes say.”
In closing, the Holy Father wished elderly priests the experience of the “joy of handing on the torch, the joy of seeing new generations of their spiritual children.” (D.C.L.)
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