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Pope Francis’ Meditation at 3rd World Retreat of Priests (Part I)

“The first motivation to evangelize is love of Jesus, that love that we receive, that experience of being saved by Him, which moves us to love Him ever more.”

Here is Part I of the Pope’s meditation during the 3rd World Retreat of Priests on Friday, June 12th at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, Rome.

Part II will be published on Wednesday, June 17th.

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Good afternoon. I’m going to speak in Spanish because I was told that everyone can understand because there is simultaneous translation, is this true? (Applause) Moreover, I know that yesterday you had the Day of Reconciliation and that you received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as brothers, and you confessed to one another. It’s ok because otherwise the poor confessor who would come to hear your confession would have been destroyed (laughs).

First of all, I want to thank the organizers of this Third World Retreat of Priests, Catholic Fraternity and ICCRS for having organized it and also for the way they organized it. I am happy to see Bishops together with priests, it is one of the more beautiful things of a particular Church, when the Bishop is with the priests, when they are close even when they argue, even when they fight, as brothers, but the Bishop is at the side of the priest. When the Bishop does not put a princely distance from the priests and this is something that … It is a grace that I see God gives here, Brother Bishops, brother priests, one next to the other, and this must happen in the dioceses  — proximity, the proximity, the closeness of the priest with the Bishop — on both sides, because priests also like to speak badly of the Bishop, no? If they have to say something they don’t like to the Bishop, they should say it to his face as men; and the Bishop, if he has something to say to the priest, which he won’t like, must say it to his face, as man, as father, with affection.

Only the Holy Spirit can make this community. We can ask for it but we need pastors, pastor-priests close to the People of God, pastor-Bishops close to the People of God and to their priests  — there will be fights in the chocolate-Church because of news — because this has happened since the beginning. What saved the primitive Church from division? It was Paul’s courage to say things to one’s face; the courage of the Apostles to meet and discuss among themselves. That lovely formula that indicates the proximity between priests and Bishops, which makes us like the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit of God is there, where there is proximity and that is a grace that must be asked for continually, continually, for each particular Church — proximity between the Bishops with the Priests and the faithful, the priests with their faithful and their Bishops.

Well, I am happy to see you together here, and of course you are going to fight later; there will be arguments, but blessed be God, because a Church where there are no arguments is a dead Church. Do you know where there is no argument? In the cemeteries, no one argues anything, no one, even the son-in-law puts flowers on his mother-in-law because he knows she won’t argue (applause).

I am happy to see you priests of the peripheries of the world in the first rows. And I am happy to see my Vicar of Rome, sat there as one more, without the chair that would correspond to him here, just one more (applause). And I want to thank all the persons who are serving in the different ministries, ministries that make this Retreat possible. And in a special way, I want to thank the women who are not priests but who are here, because, one day when the Holy Spirit came, women were there; they didn’t celebrate Mass with them but they were there. The feminine genius in the Church is a grace, because the Church is a woman, not a man. The Church is the Bride of Christ, the Church is Mother of the holy faithful People of God, the Church is a Woman. And these women who are here are an image and figure of the Church and of the Mother, Mary. I want to thank them in a special way for their collaboration, and in face of certain claims, — I don’t know, of feminists, they must not forget — Mary is much more important than the Apostles.

Today is the feast of the Sacred Heart; it’s not a coincidence, it is the day in which the Lord wanted us to reflect on the infinite and merciful love of the Father, expressed in the Heart of his Son Jesus, with the vivifying strength of the Holy Spirit — priests that are transformed by love; Trinitarian Love. Once Blessed Paul VI was asked: If you had to choose a verse of the Bible, which one would you choose? And he answered, without hesitation: God is love.

The call to the ministerial priesthood, before anything else, is a call of love. Our response is a response of love. It’s true, none of us, from the moment of giving our first answer, had a total rectitude of intention, there was always rectitude of intention, but there were always secondary things that, if love lasts, are purified in time. It is the path of holiness through love. Jesus’ call to you, to us, is a call of love. There is a lovely song of Father Lucas Casaert that you ‘spiritualists’ (laughs) usually sing; he was a Belgian missionary for forty years in Bolivia, in love with Jesus. The song is called: “What a lovely gesture you have done for me, Lord, when you called me, when you chose me, when you said to me that you were my friend; what joy I feel when I say your name, what peacefulness inundates me when I hear your voice, what emotion tingles me when I hear your word in a silence that enhances my interior silence.” I don’t know if you know how to sing it (answer and singing). It is a consideration of love. And I will ask you a question, but don’t answer out loud. When you are alone, when you are tired, when you are overwhelmed by temptations, when some of you fall in love, are you able to go to the Tabernacle and sing it to the Lord? Do not answer, but don’t forget the worst moments, when you have even fought with the Lord, or when you were unfaithful to the Lord, don’t be afraid, approach the Tabernacle and sing it to him again. In all those moments say to the Lord I am rubbish, look what I did, see what I suffer, see what I’m going through and say to him, but you had consideration, and let the tears fall. That will be a moment of great holiness even if you are in mortal sin, because he forgives you there because it is a dialogue of love. And then you go to the poor priest confessor to have your chimney cleaned, isn’t that right? But to be able to sing to the Lord who never forgets, since the day he said to you, you aren’t blind men, you are friends, you said I was your friend; what a beautiful gesture, Lord.

It is a call of love that is answered with love. I told the seminarians in Naples that if Jesus isn’t at the center of their lives, that they should wait to be ordained, that they should not be in a hurry. I say it to you deacons who are here. When a man or a woman falls in love they never stop talking about their loved one, his/her name sprouts naturally several times a day. The same happens when the priest is enamoured of Jesus, it is noted, it is recognized, even if he is as tired as a floor cloth, but he has something that is a love which he transmits. With the sensus fidei that the People of God have, which according to the Council is infalibile incredendo, is able to recognize immediately when a priest is enamoured of Jesus or when he is an employee of a fixed schedule or attached to the letter of the law. A priest who “functionalizes” himself and is like an employee of the municipality, ends up “neura” (crazy ndr), he shouts at people, mistreats them, he lacks love, the call of love. A priest attached to the law is like those doctors of the law that are described in chapter 23 of Matthew to whom with anger, with truth, with acuteness, Jesus says the compliment “hypocrites.” Please, let there be no duplicity of heart, not duplicity of life, may there be love and not hypocrisy, may there be mercy, may there be tenderness. Something that always impressed me is from that chapter 23 of Matthew, when Jesus said to those who were so attached to the law: you must honor your father and your mother.  And I am glossing Jesus’ idea, and if father and mother are in need, you must go to help them, but if you say no to them because you made a vow and you are going to give all the money to the Church, or give all the money to the Altar, you renounce love to take refuge in the law. Always remember this, it’s a very acute example, because Jesus puts as example here the negation of the greatest and most noble commandment after the love of God, which is the fourth, the only one that has a promise, and he puts it in the hypocrisy of attachment to the law. Please, be merciful with people. People wear one out, it’s true. A priest, a Jesuit, who his whole life was a professor of Literature in the University and in schools, when he retired, at almost 70, asked the Provincial to send him to a poor neighborhood, to a shantytown, to a slum, and he wouldn’t be a parish priest there, he wanted to be a first hand pastor not from the chair — one is also a pastor from the chair — and he belonged to the Community where I was, which was the Faculty of Theology, and one day he said to me: “Look, tell your professors of Theology that they are lacking two theses of Ecclesiology. How so? Yes, and I will tell you which they are: the holy faithful People of God are ontologically Olympic and essentially wearing, that is, the people are tiring, that is priestly tiredness, tiredness, the tiredness of service. When a priest arrives tired at night he doesn’t need little pills to sleep … he goes to bed in peace.

The first motivation to evangelize (I don’t want to go over the allotted time, sorry. At what time is the Mass? At five …) A question: is the simultaneous translation working, does everyone hear? (Answers). The first motivation to evangelize is love of Jesus, that love that we receive, that experience of being saved by Him, which moves us to love Him ever more. Feel yourselves saved. I recommend that you read Ezekiel 16, and that each one of you see in that story, which is the story of the people of Israel, which prostitutes itself, which moves away from the Lord, each one of you read in that story his own story, but the most important thing is the end, and the truth of each one of us is there. When God says to his people: look, with all that you have done to me, how you behaved, with all your adulteries, those infidelities, to your own shame, I am going to put you over your sisters, over other peoples. May each priest feel in his heart the weight of his failures, infidelities and precisely because of this, Jesus puts him to serve his people, and that is something very beautiful. When we see the little that we are, when we feel that holy shame and that he places us not as servants but as friends, to serve his people. And it is that love which leads us to evangelize, to take Jesus’ message, to speak of the Beloved, to show him. If we don’t feel the immense desire to communicate him, we need to pause in prayer to ask him to captivate us again. An experience that you all have, I have so often in the morning Mass in Saint Martha’s, which is like a small parish, when those little elderly come, with 50, 60 years of marriage, and I look at them, they hold one another by the hand, ask a blessing for the rings and I ask them who endured whom, they both say, that old love, that love that grows with life and that does not lose excitement. When as youths perhaps they caressed one another with passion, as elderly they caress each other with great tenderness. And in the measure that a priests walks in the love of Jesus, he feel the caress of his teacher in a different way and he seeks him, communicates him and loves him with old caresses, with renewed caresses, with more genuine caresses. Amen, let yourselves be loved, open your hearts to Him, and not only should we contemplate Jesus, allow him to contemplate me, may he look at me, here I am, Lord. It’s not easy to do this when one is tired with many things and sometimes, sleep brings one down and one stays asleep before the Tabernacle; it’s a beautiful prayer because it is to let him see you asleep as a father looks at his child who is asleep. If you fall asleep before the Tabernacle, don’t have a problem; he is looking at you, let yourself be looked at this way, but go to the Tabernacle, to pray, don’t leave that, don’t leave that. In other dioceses I sometimes asked the priests suddenly, tell me, how do you lie down? They didn’t understand. Yes, how do you lie down at night? How do you end the day? And the majority would say to me, or many at least, I come finished, I scarcely eat anything, I throw myself down and go to bed, I put the television on and then I fall asleep. What a pity, you ended the day without letting your friend look at you, you ended the day without looking at your friend. The Tabernacle can be boring and dry; it’s not a television, but love is there, and if you don’t know what to say to him … if you are tired, tell him you are tired, and if you fall asleep in front of the Lord let him look at you and let the Holy Spirit pray for you from within, in that dialogue that is the dialogue of love, without words. To evangelize implies this love, it implies being enamoured and letting oneself fall in love.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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