Today Pope Francis received in audience the participants in an annual course of formation for new bishops, organized jointly by the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.
Here is a ZENIT translation of the Pope’s address:
Dear Brothers, good morning! You are almost at the end of these fruitful days spent in Rome to further your reflection on the richness of the mystery to which God has called you as Bishops of the Church. I greet with gratitude the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. I greet Cardinal Ouellet and I thank him for his kind, fraternal words. In the persons of Cardinal Ouellet and of Cardinal Sandri, I would like to thank them for the generous work carried out for the appointment of Bishops and for the commitment in the preparation of this week. I am happy to receive you and to be able to share some thoughts with you, which come to the heart of the Successor of Peter, when I see before me those who have been “caught” by God’s heart to guide His Holy People.
- The thrill of having been loved first
Yes! God precedes you in His loving knowledge! He has “caught” you with the hook of his amazing mercy. His nets were mysteriously tightened and you could do none other than let yourselves be captured. I know well that a thrill still pervades the memory of His call that came through the voice of the Church, His Bride. You are not the first to be suffused by such a thrill.
Moses was also, who thought he was alone in the desert and discovered, instead, that he was tracked down and drawn by God who entrusted His Name to him, not for himself, but for His people (cf. Exodus3). He entrusted His Name to him for the people; do not forget this. And the cry of grief of His people continues to rise to God, and know that this time it is your name that the Father wishes to pronounce, so that you pronounce His Name to the people.
So was Nathaniel, who, seen when he was still “under the fig tree” (John 1:48) with astonishment finds himself custodian of the vision of the heavens that open definitively. See, the life of so many is still deprived of this opening that gives access to on high, and you were seen from afar to guide to this end. Do not be content with less! Do not stop halfway!
So was the Samaritan woman, “known by the Master at the village well, who then calls her fellow countrymen to encounter Him who has the Living Water (cf. John 4:16-19). It is important to be aware that in your Churches it is not necessary to seek “from one sea to another,” because the Word for which the people hunger and thirst can be found on your lips (cf. Amos 8:11-13).
The Apostles were also suffused by such a thrill when “the thoughts of their hearts “ were revealed; with effort they discovered the access to the secret way of God, who dwells in little ones and hides Himself from the self-sufficient (cf. Luke 9:46-48). Do not be ashamed of the times when you were also touched by this distance from God’s thoughts. Instead, abandon the pretext of self-sufficiency and entrust yourselves as children to Him who reveals His Kingdom to little ones.
Finally, the Pharisees were shaken by such a thrill, when they were often unmasked by the Lord who knew their thoughts, so pretentious as to want to measure God’s power with the narrowness of their own look and thus blasphemed by murmuring against the sovereign liberty of His salvific love (Matthew 12:24-25). God spare you from rendering this thrill vain, of domesticating it and emptying it of its “destabilizing” power. Let yourselves be “destabilized”: this is good for a Bishop.
- Admiral condescension!
It is good to let oneself be pierced by the loving knowledge of God. It is consoling to know that He truly knows who we are and is not alarmed by our smallness. It is reassuring to keep in our heart the memory of His voice that in fact called us, despite our insufficiencies. It gives peace to abandon oneself to the certainty that it will be Him, and not us, who will bring to fulfilment what He Himself has initiated.
So many mask and hide themselves today. They like to create personages and invent profiles. They make themselves slaves of the miserable resources that they scrape together and to which they cling as if it were enough to buy the love that has no price. They do not endure the thrill of knowing themselves known by Someone who is greater and does not scorn our smallness, He is more Holy and does not reproach our weakness; He is truly good and is not scandalized by our wounds. Let it not be so for you: let yourselves be suffused by this thrill; do not remove or silence it.
- Cross the heart of Christ, the true Door of Mercy
For all this, I invite you to live intensely next Sunday — when crossing the Holy Door of the Jubilee of Mercy, which has drawn millions of pilgrims of the City and the World to Christ –, a personal experience of gratitude, of reconciliation, of total entrustment, of delivering your life without reservations to the Pastor of Pastors.
Crossing Christ, the only Door, fix your gaze in His gaze. Let Him reach you “miserando atque eligendo.”
The most precious richness you can take from Rome at the beginning of your episcopal ministry is the awareness of the Mercy with which you were looked at and chosen. The only treasure that I ask you not to let rust in you is the certainty that you are not abandoned to your own strength. You are Bishops of the Church, participants of one Episcopate, members of an indivisible College, firmly grafted as humble shoots onto the vine, without which you can do nothing (John 15:48). Because now you cannot go along anywhere, because you carry the Bride entrusted to you as a seal imprinted on your soul, in crossing the Holy Door , do so carrying on your shoulders your flock: not by yourselves! — with the flock on your shoulders, carry in your heart the heart of your Bride, of your Churches.
- The task of rendering Mercy pastoral
It is not an easy task. Ask God, who is rich in mercy, the secret to render His Mercy pastoral in your dioceses. In fact, it is necessary that Mercy form and inform the pastoral structures of our Churches. It is not about lowering the needs or selling our pearls cheaply. Instead, the sole condition that the precious pearl puts to those that find it is that of not being able to claim less than all; its only claim is to awaken in the heart of one who finds it the need to risk everything to possess it.
Do not be afraid to propose Mercy as the summary of all that God offers to the world, because man’s heart cannot aspire to anything greater. If that were not enough to “bend what is rigid, warm what is cold, to straighten what is crooked,” what else would have power over man? Then we would be desperately condemned to impotence. Would our fears perhaps have the power to oppose walls and reveal openings? Perchance, are our insecurities and mistrusts able to arouse sweetness and consolation in solitude and abandonment?
As my venerable and wise Predecessor taught, it is “Mercy that puts a limit to evil. In it is expressed the altogether peculiar nature of God – His holiness, the power of truth and of love.” It is “the way with which God opposed the power of darkness with His different and divine power,” in fact “that of Mercy” (Benedict XVI, Homily, April 15, 2007). Therefore, do not let yourselves be frightened by the arrogant insinuation of the night. Keep intact the certainty of this humble power with which God knocks at the heart of every man: holiness, truth and love. To render Mercy pastoral is none other than to make of the Churches entrusted to you houses that shelter holiness, truth and love. They shelter as guests come from on high, of which one cannot take possession, but must always be served and repeat: Lord “do not pass by your servant” (Genesis 18:3); it was Abraham’s request.
- Three recommendations to render Mercy pastoral
I would like to offer you three little thoughts as a contribution to this enormous task that awaits you: through your ministry, rendering Mercy pastoral, namely, accessible, tangible, to be found.
Be Bishops capable of enchanting and attracting.
Make of your ministry an icon of Mercy, the only force capable of seducing and attracting in a permanent way the heart of man. Even the thief at the last hour let himself be enthralled by Him who “had done nothing wrong” (cf. Luke 23:41). On seeing Him pierced on the cross, they beat their chest confessing what they could never have recognized on their own, had they not been moved by that love that they had never known and which nevertheless gushed freely and abundantly! A distant and indifferent god can be ignored, but one cannot easily resist a God who is so close and more than that, wounded out of love. The kindness, the beauty, the truth, the love, the goodness – see what we can offer this mendicant world, even if in half broken bowls.
However, it is not about attracting to oneself: this is a danger! The world is tired of lying charmers. And I allow myself to say: of “fashionable “ priests or “fashionable” Bishops. The people “sense” – the people of God have the sense of God – the people “sense” and move away when they recognize narcissists, manipulators, defenders of their own causes, preachers of vain crusades. Instead, try to second God, who has already introduced Himself before your arrival.
I think of Eli with young Samuel, in the First Book of Samuel. Although it was a time in which “the word of the Lord was rare; […] there were no frequent visions” (3:1), God, however, was not resigned to disappear. Only on the third time, the sleepy Eli understood that the young Samuel had no need for his answer but that of God. I see the world today as a confused Samuel, needy of one who can distinguish, in the great noise that disturbs his agony, the secret voice of God who calls him. Useful are persons that are able to make emerge from today’s erroneous hearts the humble stammering: “Speak, Lord” (3:9). Even more useful are those that foster silence, which renders this word heard.
God never gives up! It is we who, used to surrendering, often accommodate ourselves, preferring to let ourselves be convinced that they have really been able to eliminate Him and we invent bitter discourses to justify the sloth that blocks us in the immobile sound of vain complaints.
Be Bishops capable of initiating those who have been entrusted to you
All that is great is in need of a way of being able to get in – all the more so divine Mercy, which is inexhaustible! Once gripped by Mercy, it exacts an introductive way, a path, an initiation. Suffice it to look at the Church, Mother in generating for God and Teacher, in initiating those that she generates so that they understand the truth in fullness. Suffice it to contemplate the richness of her Sacraments, a source to be often revisited, also in our pastoral care, which does not wish to be other than the maternal task of the Church to nourish those that are born of God and through Him. God’s Mercy is the only reality that enables man not to be lost definitively, even when unfortunately he seeks to flee from its fascination. In it man can always be certain of not slipping into that chasm in which he finds himself deprived of origin and destiny, of meaning and horizon.
Christ is the face of Mercy. In Him it remains a permanent and inexhaustible offer; in Him it proclaims that no one is lost – no one is lost! Everyone is unique for Him! — the one sheep for which He risks in the storm; the only coin bought with the price of His blood; the only child who was dead and is alive again (cf. Luke 15). I beg you not to have another point of view when looking at your faithful than that of their oneness, also of not neglecting any attempt to reach them, of not sparing any effort to recover them.
Be Bishops capable of initiating your Churches in this abyss of love. Today fruits are asked too much from trees that have not been sufficiently cultivated. The sense of initiation has been lost, and yet in the truly essential things of life access is only through initiation. Think of the educational emergency, of the transmission of contents and values, think of the affective illiteracy, of vocational itineraries. Of discernment in families, of the search for peace: all this requires initiation and guided ways, with perseverance, patience and constancy, which are the signs that distinguish the good Pastor from the mercenary.
There comes to mind Jesus who initiates His disciples. Take the Gospels and observe how the Master introduces His own with patience in the Mystery of His own person and in the end, imprints His person in them, He gives the Spirit , “who will guide them into all truth” (cf. John 16:13). I am always struck by an annotation of Matthew during the discourse of the parables that says this: “Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying …” (13:36). I would like to pause on this apparently irrelevant annotation. Jesus enters the house, in intimacy with His own, the crowd remains outside, the disciples approach Him, asking for explanations. Jesus was always immersed in the things of His Father, with whom He cultivated intimacy in prayer. Therefore, He was able to be present to Himself and to others. He went out to the crowds, but He had the freedom to re-enter.
I recommend to you the care of intimacy with God, source of the possession and delivery of Himself, of the liberty to go out and to return. Be Pastors that are able to return home with your own, of arousing that healthy intimacy that enables them to approach you, to create that trust that allows the question: “Explain to us.” It is not just any explanation, but of the secret of the Kingdom. It is a question addressed to you personally. The answer cannot be delegated to someone else. One cannot let it go until later because one is always on the move, in an imprecise “elsewhere,” going somewhere and returning from somewhere, often not very firm with oneself.
I beg you to take care with special solicitude the structures of initiation of your Churches, particularly the seminaries. Do not let yourselves be tempted by the numbers and the quantity of vocations, but rather look for the quality of the discipleship — neither number nor quantity only quality. Do not deprive seminarians of your firm and tender paternity. Make them grow to the point of acquiring the freedom to be in God “like a child quieted at its mother’s breast” (cf. Psalm 131:2); not prey to their own whims and slaves of their frailties but free to embrace all that God asks of them, also when it does not seem sweet as the maternal womb was in the beginning. And pay attention when some seminarian takes refuge in rigidity: under this there is always something nasty.
Be Bishops that are capable of accompanying
Allow me to give you one last recommendation to render Mercy pastoral. And here I am obliged to take you back to the road to Jericho to contemplate the heart of the Samaritan that tears like the womb of a mother, touched by mercy in face of that nameless man fallen into the hands of brigands. First of all was this letting himself be lacerated by the vision of the wounded, half dead man and then comes the impressive series of verbs we all know. Verbs, not adjectives, as we often prefer. Verbs in which mercy is conjugated.
This is precisely <what it means> to render Mercy pastoral: to conjugate it in verbs, to render it palpable and operative. Men are in need of Mercy; although unaware of it, they are in search of it. They know well they are wounded, they feel it, they know well they are “half dead” (cf. Luke 10:30), although being afraid of admitting it. When they see Mercy approaching unexpectedly, then exposing themselves they stretch out their hand to beg for it. They are fascinated by the capacity to stop, when so many pass by, of bending down, when a certain rheumatism of spirit impedes bending; of touching the wounded flesh, when the preference prevails for all that is aseptic.
I would like to pause on one of the verbs conjugated by the Samaritan. He accompanies the man, found by chance, to the inn; he takes charge of his fate. He is interested in this healing and his tomorrow. What he had already done was not enough for him. Mercy, which had broken his heart, needs to be poured out and to gush forth. It cannot be plugged. It cannot be stopped. Although he was only a Samaritan, the Mercy that struck him participates in the fullness of God, therefore, no dam can hold it back.
Be Bishops with a heart wounded by this mercy and therefore tireless in the humble task of accompanying the man that “perchance” God has put on your way. Wherever you go, remember that the road to Jericho is not far. Your Churches are full of such roads. Very close to you it will not be difficult to find one who waits not for a “Levite” who turns his face, but a brother who comes close.
First of all accompany your clergy with solicitous patience; be close to your clergy. I beg you to take to your priests the Pope’s embrace and appreciation for their active generosity. Try to revive in them the awareness that Christ is their “destiny,” their part and source of inheritance,” the part that is for them to drink in the “chalice” (cf. Psalm 16:5). Who else can fill the heart of a servant of God and of His Church outside of Christ? I also beg you to act with great prudence and responsibility in receiving candidates or incardinating priests in your local Churches. Please, <exercise> prudence and responsibility in this. Remember that wanted from the beginning was the inseparable relation between a local Church and its priests and a wandering or in transit clergy was never accepted from one post to another. And this is a sickness of our times.
Keep a special accompaniment for all families, rejoicing with their generous love and encouraging the immense good that they lavish on this world. Above all, follow the most wounded. Do not “pass by” in face of their frailties. Stop to let you heart of Pastors be pierced by the vision of their wound; approach them with delicacy and without fear. Put before their eyes the joy of genuine love and the grace with which God raises it to participation in His own Love. So many are in need of rediscovering it, others have never known it, some hope to rescue it, not a few will have to bear the weight of having lost it irremediably. I beg you to accompany them in discernment and with empathy.
Dear Brothers, now we will pray together and I will bless you with all my heart of Pastor, of Father, of Brother. The blessing is always the invocation of God’s face on us. Christ is the face of God, which is never darkened. In blessing you, I will ask Him to walk with you and give you the courage to walk with Him. It is His face that attracts us, is imprinted in us and accompanies us. So be it!
[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]