Like Christ, priests are to let mercy give meaning to their entire lives.
Pope Francis stressed this as he gave his first meditation, called, ‘From Estrangement to Celebration,’ at Rome’s Papal Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano this morning as he spoke on the occasion of the Jubilee of priests and seminarians, June 1-3, during their retreat titled, “The Good Shepherd: the Priest as a Minister of Mercy and Compassion, Close to His People and Servant of All.”
The Jesuit Pope delivered three meditations today, starting in the Basilica of San Giovanni at 10 a.m., the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore at noon, and the Basilica San Paolo Fuori le Mura at 4 p.m.
During the meditation, the Pope reflected on the parable of merciful Father and the prodigal son found in Luke’s Gospel, in which mercy is presented as an excess of God’s love. He called on those present to think to the Gospel, to the saints, and to their own lives, about moments of embarrassment and shame, when mercy was given freely.
“If, as we said, the Gospel presents mercy as an excess of God’s love, the first thing we have to do is to see where today’s world, and every person in it, most needs this kind of overflow of love. We have to ask ourselves how such mercy is to be received. On what barren and parched land must this flood of living water surge? What are the wounds that need this precious balm? What is the sense of abandonment that cries out for loving attention?”
The Pope called on the clergy to think about the “embarrassed dignity” of this prodigal yet beloved son.
“If we can serenely keep our heart balanced between those two extremes – dignity and embarrassment – without letting go of either of them, perhaps we can feel how the heart of our Father beats with love for us,” he said.
Francis pointed out how the Father seeks the sinners, noting, “He draws us to himself, purifies us and sends us forth, new and renewed, to every periphery, to bring mercy to all. That blood is the blood of Christ, the blood of the new and eternal covenant of mercy, poured out for us and for all, for the forgiveness of sins.”
“We contemplate that blood by going in and out of his heart and the heart of the Father,” Francis said. “That is our sole treasure, the only thing we have to give to the world: the blood that purifies and brings peace to every reality and all people. The blood of the Lord that forgives sins. The blood that is true drink, for it reawakens and revives what was dead from sin.”
“In our serene prayer, which wavers between embarrassment and dignity, dignity and embarrassment, let us ask for the grace to sense that mercy as giving meaning to our entire life, the grace to feel how the heart of the Father beats as one with our own. It is not enough to think of that grace as something God offers us from time to time, whenever he forgives some big sin of ours, so that then we can go off to do the rest by ourselves, alone.”
The Pope acknowledged that often priests find themselves caught between sentiments of dignity and shame, feeling “dirty, impure, mean and selfish, yet at the same time, with feet washed, called and chosen to distribute the Lord’s multiplied loaves, blessed by our people, loved and cared for.”
“Only mercy makes this situation bearable. Without it, either we believe in our own righteousness like the Pharisees, or we shrink back like those who feel unworthy,” he said. Noting mercy is a matter of freedom, the Pope called on them to accept and nurture it, rather than reject it.
“Deep down, we realize that what is needed is an infinite mercy, like that of the heart of Christ, to remedy all the evil and suffering we see in the lives of human beings… Anything less than this is not enough. We can understand so many things simply by seeing someone barefoot in the street on a cold morning, or by contemplating the Lord nailed to the cross – for me!”
To be “excessive” in responding to God’s excessive mercy, Francis went on to say, means being completely open to receiving it and to sharing it with others, just as the various examples seen in the Bible.
Pope Francis concluded, urging them to pray the Magnificat of mercy, Psalm 50 by King David, “which we pray each Friday at Morning Prayer” because “it is a Magnificat of ‘a humble and contrite heart’ capable of confessing its sin before the God who, in his fidelity, is greater than any of our sins.”
On ZENIT’s Web page:
Full 1st Meditation at St. John Lateran: https://zenit.org/articles/popes-1st-meditation-at-jubilee-for-priests-from-estrangement-to-celebration/