Here is an address by Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, given to the Bishops and Clergy of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Monday at the Archdiocesan Day of Sanctification of Priests.
Fr Rosica draws from the Pope’s teachings to consider 7 points summarizing Pope Francis’ vision of priestly ministry.
Dear Brother Priests,
Thank you for the privilege of addressing your Clergy Day of Sanctification. I would like to speak to you today about Pope Francis and his understanding of priesthood. In a conversation with some representatives of the Lutheran Evangelical church in Rome on November 15, 2015, a young boy named Julius asked Pope Francis this question: “What do you enjoy most about being pope?” The Pope’s very personal and simple reply is worth sharing with you in its entirety. He said:
“The answer is simple. If I ask you what food you enjoy most you will say cake, dessert. Won’t you? But we need to eat a bit of everything. Actually, what I enjoy most is being a parish priest, a pastor. I don’t like paperwork. I don’t like those jobs. I don’t like giving formal interviews – this one isn’t formal, it’s family! – But I have to do it. So, what do I enjoy most? Parish work. Once, when I was rector of the theology faculty, I was also priest of the parish that was next to the faculty, and you know, I loved teaching the children their catechism and doing a Mass with the children on Sundays. There were about 250 children, so it was difficult for all of them to keep quiet, it was difficult.”
Francis continued with Julius: “Talking with children… I enjoy that…You are a boy so perhaps you will understand me. You children are down to earth, you don’t ask airy-fairy theoretical questions: “Why is this like that? Why… ?” You see, I like being a parish priest and in parish work what I enjoy most is being with children, talking with them, and you learn such a lot. You learn such a lot. I like being pope in a parish-priest way.”
“Service. I enjoy it, meaning that I feel good doing it, when I visit the sick, when I talk to people who are a bit desperate or sad. I love going into prisons but I don’t mean I want to go to jail myself! Because when I talk with prisoners… perhaps you’ll understand what I mean – every time I go into a prison, I ask myself: “Why them and not me?” Then I feel Jesus Christ’s salvation, Jesus Christ’s love for me. Because he’s the one who saved me. I am just as much of a sinner as they are, but the Lord has taken me by the hand. I feel that too. And when I go into a prison I’m happy.”
“Being pope means being a bishop, being a parish priest, a pastor. If a pope doesn’t behave like a bishop, a parish priest, a pastor he may be a very intelligent, very important person and have a lot of influence in society, but I think – I think! – he won’t be happy in his heart. I don’t know if I have answered what you wanted to know.”
(excerpted from a book soon to be released by Orbis Press, Pope Francis, With the Smell of the Sheep. I highly recommend this book to every pastoral minister in the Church today).
From the Holy Father’s reply to Julius’s question, we may say beyond the shadow of any doubt that this Pope really likes being “pope in a parish-priest way,” “being a pastor.” How can we forget his homily at his first Chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on March 28, 2013, only two weeks after his election to the See of Peter? It was during that homily that the bishop from the Global South sounded the overture of his understanding of priestly ministry: we are called to be pastors “with the smell of the sheep.” I have gone back and reread that homily dozens of times over the past three and a-half years. Just listen to some of his vivid and stirring images that he used at his first Chrism Mass with the presbyterate of his new diocese of Rome:
“From the beauty of all these liturgical things, which is not so much about trappings and fine fabrics than about the glory of our God resplendent in his people, alive and strengthened, we turn now to a consideration of activity, action. The precious oil which anoints the head of Aaron does more than simply lend fragrance to his person; it overflows down to “the edges”. The Lord will say this clearly: his anointing is meant for the poor, prisoners and the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone. My dear brothers, the ointment is not intended just to make us fragrant, much less to be kept in a jar, for then it would become rancid … and the heart bitter.”
“A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed: this is a clear proof. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with “unction”, they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the “outskirts” where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith.”
“We need to “go out”, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. …Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, “has already received his reward”, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks. This is precisely the reason for the dissatisfaction of some, who end up sad – sad priests – in some sense becoming collectors of antiques or novelties, instead of being shepherds living with “the odor of the sheep”.
“This I ask you: be shepherds, with the “odor of the sheep”, make it real, as shepherds among your flock, fishers of men. True enough, the so-called crisis of priestly identity threatens us all and adds to the broader cultural crisis; but if we can resist its onslaught, we will be able to put out in the name of the Lord and cast our nets. It is not a bad thing that reality itself forces us to “put out into the deep”, where what we are by grace is clearly seen as pure grace, out into the deep of the contemporary world, where the only thing that counts is “unction” – not function – and the nets which overflow with fish are those cast solely in the name of the One in whom we have put our trust: Jesus.”
Over the past three and a-half years, Francis has unpacked those words and modeled for us what he outlined in his first programmatic homily of his pontificate. What is his vision for the priesthood and episcopal ministry? How are bishops, priests and future priests to serve their people most faithfully and fruitfully? Here are seven motifs or themes which have emerged from both Pope Francis’ spoken words and also the witness of his own priestly, episcopal and Petrine ministry.
The strength of a priest depends on his relationship with Christ. Pope Francis has said that the touchstone of how deeply a priest is living his vocation is the extent to which he seeks Christ in his daily life. In a typically direct question, Pope Francis asked a gathering of Rome’s priests at the beginning of Lent 2015, “At night, how does your day end? With God, or with television?” At the heart of any priest’s ministry must be a living relationship with Christ, so that the priest sees as Christ sees and loves as he loves. It took the disciples time to really “become Christ” to others so this is not a given at ordination. For this to happen, the priest needs to continue to grow in union with Christ through prayer and intimacy.
- Pope Francis has been a role model for good preaching and he has challenged us in our own homilies. In his programmatic document Evangelii Gaudium, he offers an excellent compendium for homiletic preparation. Describing it as an “important ministry,” he labels the homily as “the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people.” The faithful “attach great importance to it,” but “both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them!” (No. 135).
Francis affirms that “the homily can actually be an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth.” It can “set hearts on fire,” as Jesus did when he spoke with the disheartened disciples who were leaving Jerusalem for Emmaus after the events of Good Friday and Easter morning. Pope Francis has demonstrated for us how this can happen with his morning homilies, which he delivers without reading from a prepared text. He has revealed his method: “I begin at midday, the day before. I read the Scripture texts of the following day, and I choose one of the two. I then read aloud the text I have chosen. I need to hear the sound, to listen to the words. And then I underline, in the notebook that I use, the words that struck me most. I circle the words that hit me. During the rest of the day, as I do what I have to do, the words and thoughts come and go. I meditate, reflect, savor the things….”
In preparing our homilies, the Pope invites us first to “listen to the lives of people. If you do not listen to people, how can you preach?” “The closer you are to people, the better you will preach or bring the word of God nearer their lives. In this way, you link the word of God to a human experience that has need of this word.” He has also remarked: “The more distant you are from people and their problems, the more you will take refuge in a theology that is framed as ‘You must,’ and ‘You must not,’ which communicates nothing, which is empty, abstract, lost in nothing, in thoughts. At such times we respond with our words to questions that nobody is asking.”
He recalled that Jesus was “in contact with people” when he spoke; his homilies “are direct, concrete: he spoke of things that the farmers and the shepherds knew well from experience. He did not use abstract concepts.”
Francis identified a second essential element: “To preach to people it is necessary to look at them, to know how to look and how to listen, to enter into the ebb and flow of their lives, to immerse oneself in them,” to be “in contact with them, touch them, caress them” or “in silence look into their eyes.” He is against reading the homily from a prepared text “because if you are reading, you are not looking into the eyes of people.”
- The priest is called to humility and simplicity of life. There can be no place in priests for a haughty clericalism, any kind of abuse of our position or a concern to climb the ecclesiastical career ladder. Our authority derives not from worldly power and prestige but from simplicity of life, personal integrity and humility in imitation of Christ. Authentic humility and simplicity of life inspire and call forth belief, apostolic zeal and generosity from among those whom we serve.
As Pope Francis emphasized in the homily of his inaugural Mass on March 19, 2013, a priest’s authority must be linked to service, especially to the care and protection of the poorest, weakest, the least important and most easily forgotten. This means that we have to leave our comfort zone and have “real contact with the poor and the marginalized.”
Diocesan priests do not take a vow of poverty, but commit themselves to a simple lifestyle. Pope Francis has repeatedly criticized priests who give in to vanity and worldly ambition. He models for us a Gospel simplicity through many gestures that have become substance. In a recent homily in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Martae on November 18, 2016, he said:
“The people of God have a great flair for accepting, for canonizing as well as condemning – because the people of God are capable of condemning – for forgiving so many weaknesses, so many sins by priests but they cannot forgive two of them: attachment to money, because when they see a priest attached to money, they do not forgive him, and mistreating people, because when a priest mistreats the faithful: the people of God can’t accept this and they do not forgive him. …Following the lord of money leads a priest to be the head of a firm or be a prince or we can go even higher… . Be courageous: be courageous. Make a choice. Sufficient money like that of an honest worker, sufficient savings like those of an honest worker. But all these financial interests are not permissible, this is idolatry. May the Lord grant us all the grace of Christian poverty.”
- The priest must be a minister of mercy. The Holy Father’s own episcopal and papal motto, Miserando atque eligendo (Chosen Through the Eyes of Mercy) highlights that his own vocation was born in an experience of God’s mercy, when as a 17-year-old boy en route to a high school dance, he went to confession on the feast of Matthew, the apostle and evangelist who himself experienced conversion because of his encounter with Jesus. In his recent Apostolic Exhortation Misericordia et misera at the conclusion of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis wrote:
“I invite priests once more to prepare carefully for the ministry of confession, which is a true priestly mission. I thank all of you from the heart for your ministry, and I ask you to be welcoming to all, witnesses of fatherly love whatever the gravity of the sin involved, attentive in helping penitents to reflect on the evil they have done, clear in presenting moral principles, willing to walk patiently beside the faithful on their penitential journey, far-sighted in discerning individual cases and generous in dispensing God’s forgiveness. Just as Jesus chose to remain silent in order to save the woman caught in adultery from the sentence of death, so every priest in the confessional should be open-hearted, since every penitent is a reminder that he himself is a sinner, but also a minister of mercy.” (#10)
The Pope has frequently employed the expression of “field hospital” to describe this church that “goes out.” Many think that Francis coined the expression ‘field hospital.’ It’s not his expression. It’s drawn from the spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. ‘Field hospitals’ are tents set up in the midst of battle. The wounded who arrive at these emergency health stations don’t come for analyses of cholesterol levels or other such lab tests. That’s done at a later stage. Field hospital workers are trained in triage, they recognize very quickly the wounds, stop the bleeding, and initiate the process of healing; field hospitals refer patients to specialists. It is a very apt image for the Church, especially for those of you working on the front lines in parishes, chaplaincies, etc.
What does life in the field hospital require of us? –That we know, first of all, the many battles that are being waged: those public battles, and those less evident. We have to know about doing triage work and assess wounds and brokenness that at times are not evident to our eyes: the psychological wounds, the wounds of alienation, the wounds of sadness, the wounds of grief. Francis invites us to be warm, welcoming, and forgiving, as Jesus has modeled to us on every page of the New Testament. He reminds us day after day of his Petrine ministry that we have a Lord and master who shared in the joy of the spouses of Cana in Galilee, and the anguish of the widow of Nain. A Lord and master who enters into the house of Jairus, touched by death, and the house of Bethany, perfumed with nard. He took upon himself illness and suffering, to the point of giving his life in ransom. Jesus forgives the woman caught in adultery, while admonishing her at the same time to sin no more.
There’s a very powerful scene that Francis describes in his recent book The Name of God is Mercy. He speaks about a Capuchin priest in Buenos Aires who went to Cardinal Bergoglio one day and said, “Monseñor, I’m very worried that I’ve been too merciful when I’ve heard confessions.” The archbishop asked the Capuchin, “Have you prayed about this?” The Capuchin priest said to Bergoglio, “I go to our chapel, and I stand in front of the tabernacle, and I say to Jesus, ‘Lord Jesus, forgive me if I’ve forgiven too much, but you’re the one that gave me the bad example.’”
In Misericordia et misera, the Pope writes: “Our communities can remain alive and active in the work of the new evangelization in the measure that the “pastoral conversion” to which we are called will be shaped daily by the renewing force of mercy. Let us not limit its action; let us not sadden the Spirit, who constantly points out new paths to take in bringing to everyone the Gospel of salvation.” (#5)
In his preaching and teaching, Pope Francis has stressed the great importance of discernment in our lives and pastoral ministries. He has also noted the absence of discernment in the formation of priests. Without a proper formation in discernment and application of it in our pastoral ministry, we run the risk of getting used to “black and white,” to only that which is legal. The word “discernment” runs throughout Pope Francis’ Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitita. Our world today doesn’t like discernment. Many of us don’t like discernment and are afraid of it. We Google things to find the answer right away. We want an immediate response and a quick solution to every problem. We must acknowledge that people coming to us to seek our advice and counsel are searching and seeking. We must presume goodness and enter into the stories, experiences and hearts of those seekers who come to us in need. With the proper discernment of spirits, we learn to recognize the good that dwells in each situation and to choose what leads to the greater good.
Amoris Laetitia draws on the long history of Church teaching and reflects a very intense Synodal experience that extended over two and a half years. The very title suggests the positive thrust that despite all of the challenges, despite the failures, there is a joy of love, and a beauty of marriage. At the beginning of Amoris Laetitia, the Pope rebukes those who reduce the Gospel message to a set of rigid disciplines. He said they’re nothing but stones to be hurled at people. And he wants to remind us that what Christ said of the Sabbath is also true of the sacraments and the rules surrounding them: they were made for us, not we for them. The sacraments were instituted and given to protect us, nurture and sanctify us on our journey to God. Amoris Laetitia teaches us (#304) that general rules set forth a good, which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation, they cannot provide absolutely for every particular situation. At the same time, it must be said that, precisely for that reason, what is part of a practical discernment, in particular circumstances, cannot be elevated to the level of a rule. These are very wise reflections. Some people are alarmed that Francis’ suggestions mean that even the best rules have exceptions, while others are very disappointed with his refusal to turn the exception into the basis for new rules.
The discernment of which Pope Francis speaks is a constant effort to be open to the Word of God that can illuminate the concrete reality of everyday life. One of the very important results of the 2015 Synod was the proper formation of conscience. A very important paragraph of Amoris Laetitia speaks to the Synod’s great respect for the consciences of the faithful as well as the necessity of formation of consciences:
“We have long thought that simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace, we were providing sufficient support to families, strengthening the marriage bond and giving meaning to marital life. We find it difficult to present marriage more as a dynamic path to personal development and fulfilment than as a lifelong burden. We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations. We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.” (AL #37)
The Church does not exist to take over people’s conscience but to stand in humility and before faithful men and who have discerned prayerfully and often painfully before God the reality of their lives and situations. Discernment can never be separated from the Gospel demands of truth and the search for charity and truth, and the tradition of the Church. Amoris Laetitia offers people the guarantee that the Church and her ministers care about them and their concrete situations. It wants them to feel and to know that they’re part of the Church. Those in irregular situations are not excommunicated. They’re not thrown out. What is the mission of the Church? It is one of reaching out to reinstate people. The key concept of the exhortation is integration. We are invited to do everything possible to help people to be included and integrated into the life of the community.
If we truly believe in the Incarnation – of God becoming flesh and pitching his tent among us, it means that we have a God who loves us from the inside out, a God who takes flesh and deals in all of the facts of the human condition, as beautiful and messy as they may be. Pope Francis said something very powerful of his two predecessors – John XXIII and John Paul II at their canonization ceremony in 2014. He gave us insights into his own understanding of holiness and humanity: Both new saints “were not afraid to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch his torn hands and his pierced side. They were not ashamed of the flesh of Christ, they were not scandalized by him, by his cross; they did not despise the flesh of their brother, because they saw Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles. These were two men of courage, filled with the parrhesia of the Holy Spirit, and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy.” John XXIII and John Paul II resisted every attempt to disincarnate the message of their founder, Jesus Christ.”
If we learned anything from the two-year Synodal process, we discovered once again that the Church is truly the community of the Incarnation and must deal with reality as it is and not as we think it should be. My experience of the two Synods of Bishops revealed to me a Church that truly believes that the future of humanity passes through the family, just as St. John Paul II repeatedly taught us during his Pontificate. But the Synodal process also taught us that we struggle at times to find the right words to speak of the fleshiness and humanity of God’s people who live within the tsunami of history that presses down upon them and often leads them to other dangerous shores. We struggle with our own attempts to disincarnate the message of Jesus Christ.
The Synods on the Family have taught us that we must find new ways to speak about the dignity of the human person, the beauty of marriage and family life, the gift of human sexuality in the language of the people and not in the language that we think they should be speaking. Finding this new language is not an invitation to turn our backs on the faith that has been handed down to us but rather to continue the ancient traditions of the Church that have always listened to people and learned their language and symbols. Is this not what true inculturation is all about? As priests and bishops, we cannot ignore the great split that has taken place between what the Church teaches and what the world follows. But if we truly believe that the Word became flesh and pitched his tent amount us, we must also believe that the times and places in which we find ourselves cannot be ignored. This is exactly what Pope Francis referred to in #59 of Amoris Laetitia when he encouraged us to be in touch with reality rather than inhabiting some abstract world which can produce a “dry and lifeless doctrine” and “a cold, bureaucratic morality” (# 312).
Where is God in the midst of the cultural and moral tsunamis of our time? God is there, in the thick of things whether we choose to believe this or not. We must develop a keen eye, ear, mind and heart to detect the signs of his presence and slowly move from our lovely theories and theological abstract ideas to encounter the women and men of our times – many of whom long to see the face of God and hear the voice of the One whom God sent us. I would like to dwell for a moment on the theme of Pope Francis’ letter at the conclusion of the Jubilee Year of Mercy: Misericordia et misera. Herein lies the key to our existence and ministry in the midst of the messes of our times. To recognize and bring out the sin in others means also recognizing oneself as a sinner, and in need of God’s boundless mercy. To preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ without acknowledging the necessity of profound personal conversion and the free gift of God’s mercy is to deny the central Christian message of conversion.
Pope Francis chose the words misericordia et misera from St. Augustine’s very moving commentary on John’s story of the woman caught in adultery (Io. Ev. tract 33, 5). St. Augustine writes: “The Lord, in his response, neither failed to respect the law nor departed from his meekness.” Augustine added that with these words, Jesus obliged the accusers to look into themselves, to examine themselves to see whether they too were sinners. Thus, “pierced through as if by a dart as big as a beam, one after another, they all withdrew.”
When they had all left, Jesus remained alone with the woman. Augustine paints the scene for us: “relicti sunt duo, misera et misericordia” (and two were left, the wretched one, and mercy). The one who had bent down to write in the dust, raised his eyes and met those of the woman. He did not ask for explanations. Is it not ironic when he asked the woman: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” (v 10). Jesus’ reply was overwhelming: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again” (v 11).
Jesus’ attitude becomes a model to follow for every community, which is called to place love, forgiveness and mercy at the center of its life. Who are we at this moment in our journey? There is so much misery in our world and in our Church, and both the world and the Church desperately need the experience of mercy – in merciful communities, and merciful, compassionate people. But this mercy is not a watering down of the Gospel message. Rather it is God’s tough love for us, a love worth struggling for each day.
- Bishops and priests are called to be instruments, agents and ambassadors of dialogue in a world and sometimes a Church that seem to operate in monologue. We are called to an alternative way of being in the world and in the Church. What the Lord requires of us is boldness and courage to be open to all, to be pastoral ministers who listen deeply to others, accompany them on their arduous journeys through life, all the while never dismissing nor diminishing the one absolute in our lives: that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of us all.
During his visit to the United States last year, Pope Francis used the word “dialogue” twenty-three times in five of his addresses. Notably, in his historic address to Congress on September 24, 2015, he made clear his desire to enter into a dialogue “with all of you,” referring to the American people. He elevated Thomas Merton, the great 20th century American Trappist monk, as the preeminent model of dialogue for the country: “It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same.”
The Holy Father teaches us and models for us that dialogue is not limited to political activity outside of the Church. In his stirring address to the Bishops of the United States gathered in St. Matthew’s Cathedral on September 23, 2015, he presented a portrait or job-description of shepherds (and also priests):
“It is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but joyfully proclaiming Christ who died and rose for our sake. The “style” of our mission should make our hearers feel that the message we preach is meant “for us”.
The Pope spoke of one of the essential roles of shepherds in today’s Church:
“And yet we are promoters of the culture of encounter. We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty. We are witnesses of the abasement and the condescension of God who anticipates in love our every response.”
“Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love (Mt 20:1-16).”
“The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly. The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia, (boldness) the more eloquent should be the humility with which you should offer it. Do not be afraid to set out on that “exodus” which is necessary for all authentic dialogue. Otherwise, we fail to understand the thinking of others, or to realize deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain. Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.”
- We are called to be bearers of joy. The joy of ordained ministry finds its origin in the heart and mind of Christ. Before taking leave of the Apostles on Holy Thursday Jesus said to them: “I tell you this that my joy may be full!” Certainly this wish is not addressed only to the priest, but is ratified and confirmed in the heart of a priest. The priest experiences Christ when He is received with faith and served with love, as a fount of inexhaustible and unalterable joy! Pope Francis reminded us of this point in an unmistakable way in Evangelii Gaudium #10: “An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!”
I have often wondered why we don’t depict Jesus smiling or laughing. How is it that the Scriptures don’t mention anything about Jesus smiling or his humorous responses to his slow disciples? How could he not have laughed and smiled when he was swarmed by children who obviously loved his company? What did Jesus look like when he stared at Zacchaeus hiding in that Jericho sycamore tree? I am certain that there were smiles, laughter, and humor. When the crowds took leave of him on that Galilean hillside, having eaten their fill… how could Jesus not have smiled in relief? There are many in the Church today who have difficulty with the image of a smiling happy Jesus and even more difficulty with a smiling and joyful pope! They would prefer stern, dour, tragedy-stricken figures and shepherds who lead people into deep depression and don’t seem to offer much hope!
Why should priests be joyful? Why must we be joyful? Because it is in our DNA as priests to be bearers of joy! In Pope Francis’ address to the Congregation for the Clergy on November 20, 2015, he said: “It isn’t normal for a priest to be often sad, irritable, or harsh. Iqt’s no good and it does no good either to the priest or to his people. …We priests are apostles of joy, we proclaim the gospel that is the supreme “good news.” Pope Francis is convinced that “a priest who is a man at peace will be able to spread serenity around him, even in difficult moments, and convey a sense of the beauty of a relationship with the Lord.” He urges pastors to reflect the joy and love of God— never to be “sad priests.”
Ours is a daunting task as we try to respond joyfully and realistically to Pope Francis’ portrait of priestly ministry. It is good to recall his words to priests, religious and seminarians assembled in St. Patrick’s Cathedral last September 24, 2015:
“We can get caught up measuring the value of our apostolic works by the standards of efficiency, good management and outward success which govern the business world. Not that these things are unimportant! We have been entrusted with a great responsibility, and God’s people rightly expect accountability from us. But the true worth of our apostolate is measured by the value it has in God’s eyes. To see and evaluate things from God’s perspective calls for constant conversion in the first days and years of our vocation and, need I say, great humility. The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds: God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and produce no fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus… and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.”
The Argentine Pope models for us each day a Church of tenderness and mercy, an incarnational Church that walks with people on the journey. A Church that listens, discerns, accompanies, forgives, blesses, speaks boldly and courageously; a Church that weeps with those who weep and rejoices with those who rejoice. A Church that does everything she can to resist the temptation to reduce the faith to moralism; a Church that resists all attempts to disincarnate the message and the person she holds deep within her heart: Jesus Christ. A Church that strives to integrate people back into the community of faith.
From the Pope’s reply to young Julius’s question at the beginning of my presentation this afternoon, we may safely say that the Bishop of Rome “enjoys being pope in a parish-priest way,” “being a pastor” because it gives him joy. What is our image of this “Franciscan” papacy? Hopefully it is one of a smiling and happy Francis carrying a lamb on his shoulders during his visit to the Roman parish of Sant’Alfonso de’ Liguori, in his diocese of Rome, on January 6, 2014. It is an image of a good shepherd who truly has the smell and the weight of the sheep on his shoulders, and the deep joy and mercy of the Lord in his heart
Let us also take to heart his parting words to his brother bishops of the United States of America last year, on September 24, as he took leave of them in St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, DC. Francis spoke of the Church and priestly ministry that he envisions for America and for the world:
“…a Church which can gather around the family fire remains able to attract others. And not any fire, but the one which blazed forth on Easter morn. The risen Lord continues to challenge the Church’s pastors through the quiet plea of so many of our brothers and sisters: “Have you something to eat?” We need to recognize the Lord’s voice, as the apostles did on the shore of the lake of Tiberius (Jn 21:4-12). It becomes even more urgent to grow in the certainty that the embers of his presence, kindled in the fire of his passion, precede us and will never die out. Whenever this certainty weakens, we end up being caretakers of ash, and not guardians and dispensers of the true light and the warmth which causes our hearts to burn within us (Lk 24:32).”
Nor can we forget the words that were spoken by the Bishop of Rome in this very chapel on September 27, 2015, when Pope Francis met again with his brother bishops in Philadelphia:
“If we prove capable of the demanding task of reflecting God’s love, cultivating infinite patience and serenity as we strive to sow its seeds in the frequently crooked furrows in which we are called to plant – for very often we really do have to sow in crooked furrows –, then even a Samaritan woman with five “non-husbands” will discover that she is capable of giving witness. And for every rich young man who with sadness feels that he has to calmly keep considering the matter, an older publican will come down from the tree and give fourfold to the poor, to whom, before that moment, he had never even given a thought.”
Thank you Bishops, Priests, Deacons and Seminarians of the Church and the city of brotherly love. May the Lord strengthen you to be the living embodiment of his mercy in the face of so much misery around us. May your hearts continue to be on fire for Francis, for Jesus, and for the Church.
Biography of Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Ordained a priest in the Congregation of St. Basil in 1986, Fr. Thomas Rosica, a native of Rochester, New York, holds advanced degrees in Theology and Sacred Scripture from Regis College in the University of Toronto, the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and the Ecole Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jerusalem. Fr. Rosica has lectured in Sacred Scripture at Canadian Universities in Toronto, Windsor and London and served as Executive Director of the Newman Centre Catholic Chaplaincy at the University of Toronto from 1994-2000.
In June 1999, he was appointed by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops as the Chief Executive Officer and National Director of the World Youth Day and the Papal Visit of Pope John Paul II, that took place in Toronto during July, 2002. On July 1, 2003, Fr. Rosica became the founding Chief Executive Officer of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, Canada’s first national Catholic Television Network.
Appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 2009, Fr. Rosica also served as Media Attaché at four Synods of Bishops at the Vatican in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2015. In addition to his leadership of Salt and Light Television in Canada, since the Papal Transition in 2013, he served as English language attaché to Holy See Press Office and relating on a daily basis to several hundred English language journalists and television and radio personnel around the world.