Here is a translation of the Pope’s address today when he received in audience participants in the plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Clergy.
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Dear Brother Bishops and Priests,
Brothers and Sisters,
I address to each of you a cordial greeting and my sincere gratitude for your collaboration in the Holy See’s solicitude for ordained ministers and their pastoral action. I thank Cardinal Beniamino Stella for the words with which he introduced this meeting.
What I would like to say to you today pivots around three topics, which correspond to the purposes and activity of this Dicastery: vocation, formation and evangelization.
Taking up the image of Matthew’s Gospel, I am pleased to compare the vocation to the ordained ministry to the “treasure hidden in the field” (13:14). It is truly a treasure that God has always placed in the heart of some men, chosen by Him and called to follow Him in this special state of life. This treasure, which requires being discovered and taken to the light, is not made only to “enrich” someone. Whoever is called to the ministry is not the “master” of his vocation, but administrator of a gift that God has entrusted to him for the good of all people, in fact for all men, also those who have distanced themselves from religious practice and do not profess faith in Christ. At the same time, the whole Christian community is custodian of the treasure of these vocations, destined to its service, and must realize ever more the task of promoting them, receiving them and supporting them with affection.
God does not cease to call some men to follow and serve Him in the ordained ministry. However, we also must do our part, through formation, which is the response of man, of the Church to God’s gift, that gift which God makes through vocations. It is about protecting vocations and having them grow, so that they bear mature fruits. They are a “diamond in the rough,” to be worked with care, respect of the conscience of persons and patience, so that they shine in the midst of the People of God. Formation, therefore, is not a unilateral act, with which someone transmits theological or spiritual notions. Jesus did not say to those he called “come, I’ll explain to you,” “follow me, I will instruct you”: no! Instead, the formation offered by Christ to his disciples came through a “come and follow me,” “do as I do,” and this is the method that today the Church also wants to adopt for her ministers. The formation of which we speak is the experience of a disciple, who approaches Christ and allows himself to be conformed ever more to Him.
Precisely because of this, formation cannot be a task that ends, because priests never stop being disciples of Jesus, never stop following Him. Sometimes we proceed quickly, at other times our step is uncertain, we stop and we can even fall, but we always stay on the path. Therefore, the formation in discipleship supports the whole life of the ordained minister and has to do entirely with his person, intellectually, humanly and spiritually. Initial formation and ongoing formation are different because they require different ways and times, but they are two halves of one reality, the life of the cleric-disciple, in love with his Lord and constantly following Him.
A similar course of discovery and appreciation of a vocation has a precise purpose: evangelization. Every vocation is for the mission and the mission of ordained ministers is evangelization, in every way. It starts in the first place in “being” to then be translated into “doing.” Priests are united in a sacramental fraternity; therefore, the first form of evangelization is the witness of fraternity and communion among them and with the Bishop. From such communion a powerful missionary impulse can flow, which frees ordained ministers from the comfortable temptation of being more concerned with others’ agreement and their own well-being than animated by pastoral charity, for the proclamation of the Gospel to the most remote peripheries.
In such an evangelizing mission, the presbyters are called to increase their awareness of being pastors, sent to be in the midst of their flock, to render the Lord present through the Eucharist and to dispense His mercy. It is about “being” priests, not limiting themselves to “doing” a priest’s [job], free from every spiritual worldliness, aware that it is their life that evangelizes first, even before their works. How lovely it is to see priests joyful in their vocation, with a profound serenity, which sustains them even in moments of exhaustion and pain! And this never happens without prayer, prayer of the heart, dialogue with the Lord … that is the heart, so to speak, of priestly life.
We are in need of priests, vocations are lacking. The Lord calls, but it is not sufficient. And we Bishops have the temptation to take without discernment the young men who present themselves. This is bad for the Church! Please, the development of a vocation must be well studied! You must examine well if it is from the Lord, if the man is healthy, if the man is balanced, if the man is capable of giving life, of evangelizing, if the man is capable of forming a family and of giving this up to follow Jesus. Today we have so many problems in so many dioceses, because of this error of some Bishops of taking those who come sometimes expelled from seminaries or religious houses just because they need priests. Please! We must think of the good of the People of God.
Dear brothers and sisters, the subjects you are addressing in these days of Assembly are of great importance. A vocation cared for through permanent formation, in communion, becomes a powerful instrument of evangelization at the service of the People of God. May the Lord illumine you in your reflections; my blessing also accompanies you. And please, I ask you to pray for me and for my service to the Church. Thank you.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]