This Christmas has surely been a great blessing to me. A friend of mine gave me a Christmas present that I truly keep appreciating for the rest of my life. I was lovingly given a copy of the book Disciples Together on the Road: The Words of Pope Francis for Priests.
This light-hearted commentary on priestly and consecrated life offers down-to-earth suggestions and practical discernment. It explores both the joys and challenges concerning the aforementioned life. Furthermore, it presents stories and wisdom that act as nourishment and sustenance to priests wherever they are serving. Disciples Together on the Road is a publication of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
As I was leafing through the book I was particularly struck by the extemporaneous speeches Pope Francis delivered to Priests, Religious, Seminarians and Various Lay Movements. In these impromptu speeches lies hidden the treasure which Jesus speaks about in the Gospel. In other words, that “treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matt 13:44).
When visiting Albania, precisely Tirana, Pope Francis delivered this extemporaneous speech at the vespers celebration with priests, men and women religious, seminarians and various lay movements on Sunday 21 September 2014:
“We, who have been called by the Lord to follow him closely, must find our consolation in him alone. Woe to us if we seek consolation elsewhere! Woe to priests and religious, sisters and novices, consecrated men and women, when they seek consolation far from the Lord! Today I don’t want to be harsh and severe with you, but I want you to realize very clearly that if you look for consolation anywhere else, you will not be happy! Even more, you will be unable to comfort others, for your own heart is closed to the Lord’s consolation. You will end up, as the great Elijah said to the people of Israel, ‘limping with both legs’. ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God’.”
Life experience constantly teaches me that this word of warning applies not only to us priests, consecrated men and women, and committed lay faithful in the Church. In reality, it applies to everyone. Simply because we are human beings. The Bible is so clear about this! Who can sideline the psalmist eloquent plea in Psalm 63 when it says: “O God, thou art my God, I seek thee, my soul thirsts for thee; my flesh faints for thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is” (Ps 63:1)?
In the prophet Jeremiah the Bible proclaims to us that the Lord is “the fountain of living waters” (Jer 2:13). Within the same line it also warns us that if we don’t put God first in our priorities we end up building “broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jer 2:13). It is in this sense that the famous verse from Jeremiah: “cursed is the man who trusts in man” (Jer 17:5) needs to be understood. As Saint John Paul II said while commenting on psalm 63 “the word helps us to realize how essential and profound our need for God is; without him we lack breath and even life itself. For this reason the Psalmist comes to the point of putting physical existence itself on the second level, if union with God should be lacking: ‘for your steadfast love is better than life’ (Ps 62: 3). In Psalm 73 he will also repeat to the Lord: ‘There is nothing upon earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever…. for me it is good to be near God’ (Ps 73: 25-28)’ (no.3).
When feeling lonely, abandoned, almost in utter despair, turn to the Lord and pray: O God, thou art my God, I seek thee, my soul thirsts for thee; my flesh faints for thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is. Amen.