Being merciful, and especially for a priest, is not about doing isolated acts of mercy. Being merciful, instead, is not only “a way of life”, but “the way of life”. There is no other way of being a priest.
This was part of the reflection that Pope Francis offered in his final meditation this afternoon for the Jubilee of priests and seminarians.
The final meditation was titled “The Good Odor of Christ and the Light of His Mercy,” and he gave it at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls at 4 pm
It followed on the two earlier meditations the Holy Father gave, starting in St. John Lateran at 10 a.m., and then at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore at noon.
In the lengthy meditation, that was both reflective and practical, the Pontiff considered facets of Jesus’ mercy as seen in the Gospels, particularly in consideration of the woman caught in adultery.
His talk emphasized that each of us, priests as well, are the poor ones in need of mercy.
“In the Church we have, and have always had, our sins and failings. But when it comes to serving the poor by the works of mercy, as a Church we have always followed the promptings of the Spirit. Our saints did this in quite creative and effective ways. Love for the poor has been the sign, the light that draws people to give glory to the Father,” he observed.
The Pope exhorted the priests to learn from their seminary days to have the heart of a father.
“To see needs and to bring immediate relief, and even more, to anticipate those needs: this is the mark of a father’s gaze,” he said. “This priestly gaze – which takes the place of the father in the heart of Mother Church – makes us see people with the eyes of mercy. It has to be learned from seminary on, and it must enrich all our pastoral plans and projects. We desire, and we ask the Lord to give us, a gaze capable of discerning the signs of the times, to know ‘what works of mercy our people need today’ in order to feel and savour the God of history who walks among them.”
Speaking specifically of the sacrament of confession, Pope Francis reminded the priests that they are signs and instruments.
As signs, they have to be effective and attractive, that is, inviting people to the encounter with God through confession.
As well, they mustn’t be self-referential. A sign doesn’t exist for itself, he pointed out, but is meant to lead beyond itself.
Finally, priests have to be available.
“In my country,” the Pope recounted, “there was a great confessor, Father Cullen. He would sit in the confessional and do one of two things: he would repair worn soccer balls for the local kids, or he would thumb through a big Chinese dictionary. He used to say that when people saw him doing such completely useless things like fixing old soccer balls or trying to master Chinese, they would think: ‘I’m going to go up and talk to this priest, since he obviously doesn’t have much to do!’ He was available for what was essential. He got rid of the obstacle of always looking busy and serious.”
The Pope also offered two bits of practical advice to the priests as confessors: never look like a bureaucrat or a judge, and don’t be curious.
Culture of mercy
Pope Francis exhorted the priests to create a “culture of mercy.”
“Once we begin, we sense immediately that the Spirit energizes and sustains these works,” he said. “He does this by using the signs and instruments he wants, even if at times they do not appear to be the most suitable ones.”
The meditations can be watched at the Vatican’s YouTube channel: