There Is No Priesthood Without Mission
Pope Francis' discourse to seminarians from Agrigento
In the Consistory Hall on Saturday morning, 24 November , the Holy Father met seminarians from the Archdiocese of Agrigento. He chose to set aside his prepared remarks, consigning them to the Rector for later distribution, in order to address the group extemporaneously instead. The following is a translation of the spontaneous discourse Pope Francis delivered in Italian.
There is a prepared address, with the icon of the disciples of Emmaus, which you can read quietly at home and meditate in peace. I am consigning it to the Rector. I will feel more at ease speaking somewhat spontaneously.
In that discourse, the last word was ‘mission’. I liked what the Rector said about the horizon of Albania. Because mission, truly, is something that the Spirit impels us to do: to go out, go out, always go out; but if there is no apostolic horizon, there is the danger of making mistakes and going out not to bear a message but to ‘take a stroll’, that is, to go out ineffectively. Rather than making a journey of strength, going out of oneself, it is entering a labyrinth, where one never manages to find a way, or takes the wrong path! ‘How can I be sure that my outward bound ministry is what the Lord wants, what the Lord wants from me, whether in formation or afterwards?’. There is the bishop! The bishop is the one who says on behalf of God: ‘This is the way’. You can go to the bishop and say: ‘I feel this’, and he will discern whether or not that is it. But ultimately the one who gives the mission is the bishop. Why do I say this? One cannot live priesthood without a mission. The bishop not only gives a task — ‘handle this parish’, as a bank manager gives tasks to his employees — no, the bishop gives a mission: ‘Sanctify those people, bring Christ to those people’. It is another level. This is why dialogue with the bishop is important: this is what I wanted to get at, at the dialogue with the bishop.
The bishop must get to know you as you are: each one has his own personality, his own way of feeling, his own way of thinking, his own virtues, his own flaws.... The bishop is a father: he is a father who helps one to grow; he is a father who prepares for the mission. And the better the bishop knows the priest, the less danger there will be of making a mistake in the mission he is called to. One cannot be a good priest without a filial dialogue with the bishop. This is something non-negotiable. Some like to say: ‘No, I am an employee of the Church’. You are mistaken. Here there is a bishop; there is no assembly where one negotiates his position. There is a father who creates unity: this is how Jesus wanted things. A father who creates unity. It is beautiful when Paul writes to Titus, to Titus who has left Crete in order to ‘organize’ things. And he recounts the virtues of presbyterates, of the bishop and of lay people, of deacons too. But he allows the bishop to organize: to organize in the Spirit, which is not the same as sorting into an organizational chart. The Church is not an organogramme. It is true that at times we use an organizational chart to be more functional, but the Church goes beyond an organogramme; she is something else: she is life, life ‘organized’ in the Holy Spirit.
And who plays the role of the father? The bishop. The bishop is not the head of the company, no. He is not the one who commands: ‘I command here’, some obey, others pretend to obey and others do nothing. No, the bishop is father; he is fruitful; he is the one who creates the mission. This word mission, that I wished to take up, is laden, laden with Jesus’ will; it is laden with the Holy Spirit. For this reason, from the Seminary, may you learn to see in your bishop the father who was placed there to help you grow, to go forth and to accompany you in the moments of your apostolic ministry: in good times, in bad times, but always to accompany you; in moments of success, in moments of defeat that you will always have in life, everyone.... This is something very, very important.
Another thing, that of the potter’s clay. I like to refer to Jeremiah. He says: when the vessel does not come out well, the potter reworks it. While the vessel is being made and there is something that does not work, there is time to take it all up again and start over; but once it is baked.... Please, allow yourselves to be shaped. What the formators propose are not passing fancies. If you do not agree, talk about it. But be men, not children, courageous men, and tell the rector: ‘I do not agree with this; I do not understand it’. This is important, to say what you feel. In this way your character can be shaped, in order to be truly a vase full of grace. But if you stay silent and do not dialogue, do not state your difficulties, do not recount your apostolic apprehensions and all that you want: a silent man, once ‘baked’, cannot be changed. All of life is like this. It is true that at times it is unpleasant that the potter may intervene in a decisive way, but it is for your own good. Allow yourselves to be shaped, let yourselves be shaped. Before the baking, because this way you will be good.
And then, another two things. What is the spirituality of the diocesan clergy? As that priest was saying to the religious: ‘I have the spirituality of the religious congregation that Saint Peter founded’. What is the spirituality of diocesan clergy? It is diocesan communion. Diocesan communion has three approaches, three relationships. The first is the relationship with the bishop, but I have already spoken enough about this. The first relationship: one cannot be a good diocesan priest without a relationship with the bishop. Second: the relationship within the presbyterate. Friendship among you. It is true that one cannot be a close friend to everyone, because we are not equals, but good brothers, yes, whom we love. And what is the sign that there is brotherhood in a presbyterate, there is fraternity? What is the sign? When there is no gossip. Gossip, chatter is the scourge of the presbyterate. If you have something against him, say it to his face. Say it man to man. But do not talk behind his back: this is not human! I am not speaking of spiritual humanity, no, it is simply not human. When there is no gossip in a presbyterate, when that door is closed, what happens? Well, there is a little racket, in meetings things are said to one’s face, ‘I disagree!’, one raises one’s voice a bit.... But as brothers! At home, we brothers would argue like this. But in truth. And then, taking care of one’s brothers, loving them. ‘Yes, Father, but you know, I find that other person unpleasant...’. But I too find many who are unpleasant and I am unpleasant to someone else; this is a natural part of life, but the level of our consecration leads us to something else, to be harmonious, in harmony.
This is a grace that you must ask of the Holy Spirit. That phrase of Saint Basil — which some say was not Saint Basil’s — in the treatise on the Holy Spirit: ‘Ipse harmonia est’, He is harmony. The Holy Spirit seems somewhat curious, because with his charisms — because all of you are different — he creates, so to speak, disorder: everyone diverse. But then he has the power to create within that disorder a richer order, with many different charisms that do not nullify each one’s character. The Holy Spirit is the One who creates unity: unity in the presbyterate.
The relationship with the bishop, the relationship among you. A negative sign: gossip. No gossip. A positive sign: to state things clearly, to debate, even to get angry, but this is healthy, this is human. Gossip is cowardly.
The relationship with the bishop, the relationship among you, and third: the relationship with the People of God. We are called by the Lord to serve the Lord in the People of God. Rather, we have been drawn from the People of God! This helps a great deal! That memory of Amos, when he says: ‘You are a prophet...’. Me? What prophet? I was taken from the back of the flock, I was a shepherd.... Each of us was drawn from the People of God, was chosen, and we must not forget where we come from. Because many times, when we forget this, we fall into clericalism and forget the people we came from. Please, do not forget mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, the village, the poverty, the difficulties of the families: do not forget them! The Lord has drawn you from there, from the People of God. Because with this memory, you will know how to speak to the People of God, how to serve the People of God. The priest who comes from the people and does not forget that he is drawn from the people, from the Christian community, at the service of the people. ‘But no, I have forgotten; now I feel a little superior to everyone...’. Clericalism, my dear friends, is our worst perversion. The Lord wants you to be shepherds, shepherds of the people, not clerics of the State.
This is the spirituality [of the diocesan priest]: the relationship with the bishop, the relationship among you, and the contact, the relationship with the People of God with the memory — where I come from — and in service — where I am going. And how does one make this grow? With the spiritual life. You have a spiritual father: open your heart to the spiritual father. And he will teach you how to pray, prayer; how to love Our Lady...: do not forget this, because She is always close to the vocation of each of you. The meeting with the spiritual father. Who is not an inspector of conscience; he is one who, on behalf of the bishop, helps you to grow. Spiritual life.
Thank you for coming. I forgot to bring you a booklet that I wanted to give you, but I will send it to the bishop, for each of you. And pray for me; I will pray for you. Do not forget this: the spirituality of the diocesan clergy. Take courage!
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30 November 2018, page 4
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