Priests must be pastors first, scholars second, and they should never forget Christ, their “first love”. This was Pope Francis’ message to all men consecrated to God in the priesthood, at Friday morning Mass in Casa Santa Marta.
“How is your first love?”. That is, are they still as in love with you as the first day? Are they happy with you or do they ignore you? These are universal questions which we should all ask ourselves regularly, says Pope Francis. And not just couples, but priests, bishops too, in front of Jesus. Because He asks us just as He one day asked Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”.
The Pope began his homily reflecting on this dialogue in the Gospel, where Christ asks the first of the Apostles three times if he loves Him more than others: “This is the question I ask myself, my brother bishops and priests: how is your love today, the love of Jesus? Is it like first love? Am I as in love today as on the first day? Or does work and worries lead me to look at other things, and forget love a little? There are arguments in marriage. That’s normal. When there is no love, there are no arguments: it breaks. Do I argue, with the Lord? This is a sign of love. This question that Jesus asks of Peter brings him to first love. Never forget your first love. Never”.
In addition to this first aspect, says Pope Francis, there are three others to be considered in relation to a priest’s dialogue with Jesus. First of all – before study, before wanting to become “a scholar of of philosophy or theology – [a priest must be ] a “shepherd”, as Jesus urged Peter: “Feed my sheep”. The rest, says the Pope, comes “after”:
“Feed. With theology, philosophy, with patrology, with what you study, but feed. Be the shepherd. For the Lord has called us to this. And the bishop’s hands on our head is to be shepherds. This is a second question, is not it?The first is: ‘How is your first love?’. This, the second: ‘Am I a shepherd, or an employee of this NGO that is called the Church?’. There is a difference. Am I a shepherd? A question that I have to ask myself, that bishops need to ask, even priests: all of us. Feed. Lead. Go forward”.
Pope Francis continued, there is no “glory” or “majesty” for the pastor consecrated to Jesus: “No, brother. You will end up in the most common, even humiliating circumstances: in bed, having to be fed, dressed … useless, sick … “. It is our destiny is “to end up like Him”: Love that dies “as the seed of wheat, that will bear fruit. But I will not see it”.
Finally, the fourth aspect, the “strongest word”, with which Jesus concludes his conversation with Peter, “Follow me!”.
“If we have lost the way or do not know how to respond to love, we do not know how to respond to being pastors, we do not know how to respond or we do not have the certainty that the Lord will not abandon us even in the worst moments of life, in sickness. He says, ‘Follow me’. This is our certainty. In the footsteps of Jesus. On that path. ‘Follow me”.
Pope Francis concludes, may the Lord give all of us priests and bishops “the grace to always find or remember our first love, to be pastors, not to be ashamed of ending up humiliated on a bed or even losing our faculties. And that He always give us the grace to follow Jesus, in the footsteps of Jesus: the grace to follow Him”.