Pope Francis delivered a meditation on priesthood to thousands of priests from around the world at the Basilica of St. John Lateran this afternoon. The meditation along with the celebration of the Mass concluded the World Retreat for Priests in Rome sponsored by the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services (ICCRS) and the Catholic Fraternity.
Addressing them in his native Spanish, the Holy Father spoke off-the-cuff to the priests and expressed his joy at their celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. “And among you, you confessed each other. It is good because any poor confessor who comes would be destroyed!” he said jokingly.
Noting the presence of both bishops and priests, the Pope began by highlighting the important relationship between priests and their bishops. He also said that this proximity between priests and bishops is crucial, especially during moments of disagreement.
“If you need to say something you don’t like to the bishop, tell him to his face like a man!” he said to those present. “And if the bishop has to say something to a priest that he is not going to like, say it to his face like a man, like a father, with affection.”
The Holy Father said that it was precisely those disagreements that saved the primitive Church from division.
“The courage of Paul to say things face to face. The courage of the disciples to meet and argue amongst themselves. What a beautiful formula this is: that shows the proximity between priests and bishops,” he said. “It is shown by the Holy Spirit and to us because where there is closeness, there is the Spirit of God. And that is grace that needs to be asked for continuously, continuously, for each particular Church. The closeness between bishops and the priests, the faithful and priests with their faithful and their bishop.”
A Church without arguments, he continued, “is a dead Church.”
“You know where there are no arguments? In the cementary! No one argues about anything there. Even the son-in-law puts flowers out for his mother-in law because they are not going to argue!” the Pope said, to which the priests and bishops laughed and applauded.
The Jesuit Pope also took a moment to thank the women who were present during the retreat. He highlighted the important role that women have played in the Church. “The feminine genius in the Church is a grace because the Church is feminine,” he said.
“The Church is the bride of Christ. The Church is the mother of the holy people of God. The Church is a woman. And these women who are here are the image and figure of the Church and of our Mother, Mary.”
Addressing the complaints by “feminists” on the role of women, particularly their exclusion from the priesthood, the Holy Father called on women to not forget that “Mary is much more important than the Apostles.”
Going back to his reflection on the ministry of the priesthood, the 78-year-old Pontiff told those present that the call to the priestly ministry “is a above all a call of love”.
A Beautiful Gesture
Continuing his address, Pope Francis recalled a song often sung by members of the Charismatic Renewal entitled “Que detalle, Señor” (What a beautiful gesture, Lord). When asked whether they knew it, the priests present began to sing the hymn:
“What a beautiful gesture you did to me Lord, when you called me, when you chose me, when you told me you were my friend.”
Calling it a gesture of love, the Holy Father then asked the priests if they also sang this particular him in moments of loneliness, tiredness, temptations.”
“Do not forget: in the worst moments, when you have fought with the Lord, even when you have been unfaithful to the Lord, do not be afraid. Be close to the Blessed Sacrament, and sing it again,” he said.
“In all those moments tell the Lord: ‘I am garbage, look at what I have done, look at what I have suffered, look at what happened.’ And then tell him, ‘You made a beautiful gesture’. And let the tears flow. That will be a moment of great holiness even if you are in mortal sin. Because forgiveness is there and it is a dialogue of love. And then go to the poor confessor priest so that he can sweep the chimney but know when to sing to the Lord. And always remember that you are not servants, you are friends. ‘You called me a friend! What a beautiful gesture Lord.’”
The Holy Father went on to call on the priests to be merciful towards the faithful, saying that some often tend to act more like an employee and lose love for the people of God. He also instructed them on delivering homilies, exhorting them to “have compassion on the poor people.”
“A homily is not a conference, it is not a catechism class, it is sacramental, the word of God in the homily,” he said. “It is a positive language, it is not so prohibitive. The homiletic structure needs to have the kerygmatic announcement, a brief catechesis on that kerygmatic announcement and transmit a bit of morality. Normally, homilies tend to omit the first two and go straight to morality: what you can and can’t do. That is not a homily, it’s a morality class.”
Pope Francis took some time to answer several questions by those present before concluding his address and celebrating Mass with the priests.