“Pray without tiring, because we can only be “fishers of men” if we first realize that we have been “caught” by the Lord’s tenderness.”
Pope Francis stressed this to participants in the plenary assembly, which opened May 30, 2017, of the Congregation for the Clergy, while highlighting three important attitudes for priests: praying without tiring, walking always and sharing with the heart.
In his remarks, Francis focused on how young priests ought to be welcomed and never a burden to their bishops, and how they ought to not feel fearful or inadequate.
To Jeremiah, worried about being too young for the mission, the 80-year-old Pope reminded, the Lord offers His paternal reassurance: “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’ [. . . ] for I am with you (Jeremiah 1:7.8).”
“We can also learn from the Gospels that the Lord’s choice falls on little ones, and the mission to proclaim the Gospel, entrusted to the disciples, is not based on the greatness of human strength, but rather on the willingness to let oneself be guided by the gift of the Spirit.”
“See what I want to say to young priests: you are chosen, you are dear to the Lord! God looks at you with the tenderness of a Father and, after having made your heart enamored, He will not let your steps hesitate.”
“You are important in His eyes and He has confidence that you will be up to the mission to which He has called you. How important it is that young priests find parish priests and bishops that encourage them in this perspective, and not just wait for them because there is need of change and of filling empty places!”
Pope Francis then warned against two unacceptable behaviors.
On ’empty places,’ he said: “do not fill these places with people who were not called by the Lord, do not take them from anywhere; examine well a youth’s vocation, its authenticity, if he comes to seek refuge or because he hears the Lord’s call.”
“To receive them only because we are in need, dear Bishops, is a mortgage for the Church! — a mortgage.”
The second recommendation was to not ignore or be too busy to make time for new priests.
“Do not leave them alone. Closeness: the bishops close to the priests; the bishops close to the priests. How many times I have heard the laments of priests . . . I have said this so many times – perhaps you heard it –: ‘I called the Bishop; he wasn’t there, and the secretary told me he wasn’t there; I asked for an appointment: it’s full for three months . . .’ And that priest remains detached from the bishop.”
Francis noted that he rejoices, when he meets young priests, “because in them, I see the youth of the Church.”
The Jesuit Pope then pointed out, “above all for young priests,” some important attitudes: praying without tiring, walking always and sharing with the heart.
Francis first underscored how priests must pray without tiring. “Pray without tiring, because we can only be “fishers of men” if we first realize what we have been “caught” by the Lord’s tenderness.”
“If we do not remain closely bound to Him, our fishing will not be successful. I recommend: pray always!”
Every day, Francis said, priests need a time of pausing, of listening to the Word of God and of staying before the Tabernacle.
“Prayer, the relationship with God, the care of the spiritual life give soul to the ministry, and the ministry, so to speak, gives body to the spiritual life,” Francis said, also because “the priest sanctifies himself and others in the concrete exercise of the ministry, especially preaching and celebrating the Sacraments.”
On the second attitude of walking always, Francis noted, this is indispensable “because a priest has never ‘arrived.’
“He always remains a disciple, pilgrim on the roads of the Gospel and of life, overlooking the threshold of the mystery of God and of the sacred land of the people entrusted to him.”
Turning to the third attitude, Francis stressed that “sharing with the heart” is also critical “because presbyterial life is not a bureaucratic office or an ensemble of religious or liturgical practices to attend.”
“To be priests, is to stake one’s life for the Lord and for brothers, bearing in one’s own flesh the joys and anguishes of the people, spending time and listening to cure the wounds of others and offering all the tenderness of the Father.”
“Pray without tiring, walk always and share with the heart means to live the priestly life looking up and thinking big,” Pope Francis said, concluding, “It is not an easy task, but one can put full trust in the Lord, because He always precedes us on the way.”