Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap
Pope Francis is taking the bull by its horns in everything he says and does. Recently he directly addresses an issue which has become so pertinent in the Church and especially in the lives of us priests: priestly holiness.
By holiness the Pope is not proposing being normal or in tune with today’s worldly choices. Much on the contrary is thecase. In fact the Argentinean Pontiff is encouraging us priests to reject all together the temptation of adhering to‘normality’. When receiving in audience the community of the Pontifical Lombard in the Clementine Hall, on Monday 25 January, Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle, the Holy Father said to those preparing themselves for thepriesthood:
“You are preparing to respond to that impulse from the Spirit, to be the ‘future of the Church,’ in accordance with God’s heart; not with individual preferences or passing fashions, but as the announcement of the Gospel requires”. Then he added: “To prepare oneself well one must work in depth, but above all one must undergo an interior conversion, which daily roots the ministry in Jesus’ first call, and revives it in a personal relation with Him, as the Apostle Paul did, whose conversion, in fact, we recall today”.
The Holy Father warned against the danger of thinking that a real priest is the one who thinks he has done alot of success wherever he worked. “Thus this priest begins to be contented with some attention received, he judgesthe ministry on the basis of his successes and he abandons himself to research of what pleases him, becoming tepid and without a real interest in others. … If a priest chooses to be only a normal person, he will be a mediocre priest or worse”.
In his speech Pope Francis referred to Saint Charles Borromeo, a priest full of “pastoral holiness, the giving of life”, whose holy life was “a constant ‘movement of conversion,’ tending to reflect the image of the Pastor: ‘He [Saint Charles Borromeo] identified himself with this image, nourished it with his life, knowing that thediscourse passes in reality through the price of blood: sanguinis ministri, were the true priests for him. Therefore, he realized the image by losing himself. He put all his ‘passion’ into reproducing it’”.
The Pope greatly exhorted the seminarians presented, and through them us priests, to engage in that incessant dialogue with “the Word of God, or better, with God who speaks.” He said:
“In these years you have been entrusted with the mission of training in this dialogue of life: the knowledge ofthe various disciplines you study is not an end in itself, but must instead be made concrete in the conversation of prayer and in the real encounter with people. It is not beneficial to form oneself in a compartmentalised fashion, as prayer, cultural and pastoral ministry are the cornerstones of the same edifice: they must remain steadfast and united to support each other, well cemented together, so that the priests of today and tomorrow will be spiritual men and merciful pastors, unified within by the love of the Lord and able to spread the joy of the Gospel in thesimplicity of life.”
Finally, Pope Francis also observed that a good priest is one that nurtures a contact and closeness with his bishop.
“The characteristic of the diocesan priest is precisely his diocesan nature, and the cornerstone of this is frequent contact with the bishop, in dialogue and discernment with him. A priest who does not maintain a close relationship with his bishop is slowly isolated from the diocesan group and his fruitfulness diminishes, precisely because he does not participate in dialogue with the Father of the Diocese.”
Pope Francis ended his address by asking those present to “cultivate the beauty of friendship and the art of establishing relations, so as to create a priestly fraternity, made stronger by its particular diversities.”
May this powerful speech of Pope Francis help us priests to know how to bend over with mercy upon thedifficult and uncertain journeys of our brothers and sisters in faith. In so doing may we always remember thepatient and benevolent love the Good Shepherd constantly shows to us priests, redeemed sinners.