Pope at Chrism Mass: A Good Priest Makes Christ Present to His People
VATICAN CITY — At his annual chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, Pope Francis said that a good priest is one who is close to his flock and who makes Jesus’ presence felt in people’s lives.
“A priest who is close to his people walks among them with the closeness and tenderness of a good shepherd; in shepherding them, he goes at times before them, at times remains in their midst and at other times walks behind them,” the Pope said March 29.
“We either make Jesus present in the life of humanity or let him remain on the level of ideas, letters on a page, incarnate at most in some good habit gradually becoming routine.”
Francis spoke to priests living in Rome about the “virtue of closeness” during the chrism Mass of Holy Week, the Mass at which the Pope, as the bishop of Rome, blesses the oil of the sick, the oil of catechumens and the chrism oil, which will be used throughout the diocese over the coming year.
In his homily, he said that closeness is more than just a good action, but “an attitude that engages the whole person, our way of relating, our way of being attentive both to ourselves and to others.”
When people say that a priest is close to them, they usually mean two things, he explained. One, that the priest is always present to them and does not appear too busy to spend time with them. The other is that he speaks with everyone: young, old, poor and unbelievers. These are “street priests,” Francis said.
“Closeness is crucial for an evangelizer because it is a key attitude in the Gospel,” he continued. It is also the key to mercy, because “mercy would not be mercy” if it was not carried out in proximity to the other person, like the works of the Good Samaritan.
The Pope also said he believes closeness is the key to truth. This is because truth is more than the definition of situations and things “from a certain distance,” but it is also fidelity. “It makes you name people with their real name, as the Lord names them, before categorizing them or defining ‘their situation,’” he noted.
He also warned against the temptation to turn truth into an idol, something which gives comfort and is dressed up in the words of the Gospel, but which does not “let those words touch the heart.”
“Much worse, it distances ordinary people from the healing closeness of the word and of the sacraments of Jesus,” he stated.
He also described three areas where priests should be especially attentive to Mary’s words to the servants in the Gospel account of the Wedding at Cana: “Do everything Jesus tells you.”
The first is closeness in spiritual conversation. Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman is a good example of how to gently help people see and acknowledge their sins, Francis said.
“The Lord gives us a model of spiritual conversation; he knows how to bring the sin of the Samaritan woman to light without its overshadowing her prayer of adoration or casting doubt on her missionary vocation.”
The second area where priests need to be close to people is in confession. Just like Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, “nor do I condemn you,” we, too, can add, “Go, and sin no more,” the Pope said. “The right tone of the words ‘sin no more” is seen in the confessor who speaks them and is willing to repeat them 70 times seven.”
And, finally, priests need to be close to both God and their flocks in their preaching, he noted, explaining that, “in the homily, we can see how close we have been to God in prayer and how close we are to our people in their daily lives.”
He encouraged priests, if they feel far from God, to draw nearer to their people. The little ones, especially, will teach them “to look at Jesus in a different way.” And if priests begin to feel far from their people, they should approach the Lord and Scripture, he said.
“In the Gospel, Jesus will teach you his way of looking at people and how precious in his eyes is every individual for whom he shed his blood on the cross. In closeness to God, the Word will become flesh in you, and you will become a priest close to all flesh.”
“Through your closeness to the people of God, their suffering flesh will speak to your heart, and you will be moved to speak to God,” he continued. “You will once again become an intercessory priest.”
As a priest, you realize there is no such thing as coincidence
God had sent me to this Mass to speak to this daughter of his who had such a great need for him.
I had woken up content and looking forward to celebrating Mass in the parish. I sprang from bed, eager to get ready and to arrive early for my appointment with Our Lord and his people.
Mass went beautifully.
At the end, some women approached me, “Father, could you hear our confessions?”
I said yes — there were only three of them — but after I’d finished hearing the confessions of the first three women, I saw more people had gotten in line, and then more and more … until three hours had passed. I was hungry, thirsty and ready for a break.
I started to head back to the seminary, content with the morning’s ministry, when another woman approached me. “You’re a priest, right? My father died yesterday and they are going to bury him today, but I haven’t been able to find a priest.”
The prayer that came to my mind was, “Lord, I see that you want me to work in your name today! I just ask that you give some peace to my stomach!”
I celebrated a Mass of Christian burial for the woman’s dad, and decided to take a taxi back to my house and finally get some breakfast, and perhaps even lie down for a bit. Though you might not realize it, celebrating two Masses and hearing three hours of confessions on an empty stomach isn’t that easy.
So with an almost childlike excitement, I readied to dig into my sandwich … and as if the world was suddenly in slow motion, a brother arrived to tell me: “They are looking for you. Father. The parish priest got sick and there’s no-one to celebrate the 1 p.m. Mass …”
My human frailty immediately began to protest and my thoughts turned in complaint to God. “But, Lord, you know that I haven’t even had breakfast! I’ll go, but afterward, give me a break … or better yet, send another priest!”
God never ceases to amaze me, because just as I finished complaining to him, I clearly felt his response: “On the day of your ordination, you told me that you offered yourself completely to me and to my people.
“Besides, go to this Mass. I have a surprise for you.”
I gobbled down my sandwich and went to celebrate another Mass, feeling, quite frankly, angry.
I went out of a sense of obligation and not because I felt any desire to go.
But as I entered the sacristy to vest, my anger started to calm down. A couple approached me and said, “Father, our daughter tried to kill herself a month ago and we have convinced her to come with us to Mass today. Please include her in your intentions.”
This must have been the surprise: God had sent me to this Mass to speak to this daughter of his who had such a great need for him. As a priest, you realize that there is no such thing as a coincidence. God himself directs our paths.
It was a marvelous moment of Providence because the Gospel of the day was just what the girl needed: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
As I celebrated the Mass, I was convinced that it was God who had placed me there — before beginning, I had prayed before the tabernacle, asking him to speak through me. I “reminded” him that I hadn’t had breakfast, and that I was a little angry …
And the Mass was overflowing with grace. I don’t know how to explain it, but it was Jesus himself who guided it. He was the one speaking while I gave the homily. They were his words — even today I can’t describe what happened — his words were words of comfort, of caresses, of fortitude, of encouragement.
After Mass had ended, the couple approached me again, this time with their daughter. She was crying and embraced me. “Father, I so desperately needed to hear everything you said. I need God’s help so much. I have distanced myself from him. Now I just want to place myself before him, and ask him to love me and to help me go forward …”
When this young woman embraced me, I felt God’s whisper: “I needed you in this Eucharist. This is why I had you come …”
I love Our Lord — how he finds his ways to get where people need him. This young woman who tried to kill herself is now a regular at the 1 p.m. Mass. God has changed her life.
And since that day, any time that I feel tired or angry because of the excess of work, I think, “Get going. Go to Mass and live it as if it were your first and last Mass. God needs you.”
And it seems that God answers me, “Be at peace. Go. I celebrate Mass in your place. Only lend me your hands and your mouth …”
Say a prayer today for the priest of your parish. Undoubtedly, he’s also gone to celebrate a Mass or two without having had breakfast, and even feeling a little angry …
[Translated and adapted from Aleteia’s Spanish edition. This piece reflects how both the demands made of priests and also the regulation of their ministry vary from country to country, depending on factors such as the number of faithful relative to the number of priests.]
A Pre-Lenten Preparation for Priests and a Request for Prayers from the Faithful
Msgr. Charles Pope http://blog.adw.org/2018/02/pre-lenten-preparation-priests-request-prayers-faithful/
February 12, 2018
Priests need to prepare for Lent too. The Book of the Prophet Malachi provides a kind of mini-examen for them.
As we consider the sins of the priests enumerated below, please understand that neither the biblical text nor my commentary should be construed as meaning that all or even most priests are like this. Sadly, though, sins and shortcomings are far too common among the clergy. As priests must strive to be better and more holy, so must the laity remember to pray for us.
With that in mind let’s consider the sins of the priests (as described by Malachi) in three basic areas.
A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? So says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. You say, “How have we despised thy name?” By offering polluted food upon my altar. And you say, “How have we polluted it?” By thinking that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that no evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that no evil? Present that to your governor; will he be pleased with you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts. And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. Oh, that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire upon my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and the food for it may be despised (Malachi 1:6-12).
Those are strong words indeed. While the injunction regarding blemished and polluted animals has changed, the intrinsic problem remains: careless celebration of the Liturgy and the sacraments.
One of the most common complaints from the faithful regards priests who violate liturgical norms and/or allow others to do so. Few things offend charity and unity as much as the open, sometimes egregious violation of liturgical norms. Although some violations are minor, why not just celebrate the Liturgy as it is set forth in the books? There are of course options, and not every complaint of the faithful is accurate or fair, but God’s people have endured several decades of exotic and often egocentric liturgical experiments, which are not approved and which take the focus off God and the proper worship due Him.
A priest cannot be expected to clear up every problem in the Liturgy the day he walks through the door, but proper liturgical formation of the faithful with due regard to charity and patience is one of his essential tasks as pastor of souls—and he should begin with himself. The liturgy, both its mechanics and its spiritual significance, should be his study and his great love.
Another problem that can emerge is inattentiveness to the dignity and beauty of the Mass and the sacraments. Proper attire and decorum are important ways that we communicate our love for God and one another. Priests should be properly vested, prepare their sermons prayerfully, and avoid mannerisms that are inappropriate or overly casual. Opulence is not necessary, but priests should ensure that liturgical appointments are clean, in good repair, and of proper dignity.
Decades ago, poor immigrant communities sponsored the construction of some of the most beautiful churches. They also supplied some of the finest art and liturgical implement. It is important that we keep what they have bequeathed to us in good repair. Further, priests can and should teach the faithful to follow the example of these recent ancestors of ours by seeking to build and maintain worthy churches, erected for the glory of God and not just the utility of man. In the recent past, many of the faithful have been shocked and hurt by the senseless “wreckovation” of sanctuaries and altars. Thanks be to God, many people today are growing in their appreciation of older churches and are seeking to preserve them.
If God was offended by the offering of a lame or sick animal, why should we think He is pleased with just “any old stuff” in the Sacred Liturgy? God does not need our gold chalices or our tall churches, but He knows that the shoddy, perfunctory, “anything goes” celebration of the Sacred Liturgy says something about our hearts, our priorities, and what we value.
Priests must avoid all conscious violation of liturgical norms, make central the devoted study of liturgy, and inspire respect among the faithful for the Sacred Liturgy. St. Paul summarizes well his liturgical teaching of 1 Cor 11-14 by concluding with this: But all things should be done decently and in good order (1 Cor 14:40).
Burdens not Blessings? Behold your Barrenness!
“What a weariness this is!” you say, and you sniff at me, says the Lord of hosts … And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings; indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung upon your faces, the dung of your offerings, and I will put you out of my presence. So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may hold, says the Lord of hosts. My covenant with him was a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him, that he might fear; and he feared me, he stood in awe of my name (Malachi 1:13, 2:1-5).
The priests of that ancient time had families, and God warned that if the fathers did not obey, their children would suffer many curses. While priests today do not have children of their own, many call us “Father”!
In our day, the sins and omissions of priests surely have brought trouble upon the faithful. We have been through a period in which too many priests have been rebellious, unfaithful to Church teaching, slothful, unprepared to preach, un-prayerful, and irreverent. Some have even been guilty of grave sins and violations of their state in life. In addition, far too many priests and religious have left the sacred call they agreed to live for life.
All of this has resulted in many troubles for the faithful. Some are discouraged and angry; most are poorly catechized and ill-informed on critical moral issues. Many are confused by priests and bishops who have openly dissented, who do not listen to God or lay to heart His teaching and stand in awe of His name.
In this way, the flock is often harmed by this poor priestly leadership and example. Eighty percent of Catholics no longer attend Mass. Many of those who do attend are barely in communion with the Church’s teaching and struggle to live the glorious vision set forth in the Gospel.
Sadly, this text from Malachi echoes a similar one from Zechariah: Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered (Zech 13:7). This is why the sins of priests are so serious and why the faithful must pray for them fervently. Not only are priests subject to targeted attack by Satan, they are also especially susceptible to grandiosity, pride, and the sin of craving human respect.
Pray that priests do not become weary of exhortation or speak of their office as a burden. Pray, too, that they do not succumb to modern notions that the Gospel is too burdensome for the faithful and therefore fail to preach it or to encourage the faithful to live it.
True instruction was in [Levi’s] mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you have not kept my ways but have shown partiality in your instruction (Malachi 2:6-9).
Silent pulpits are all too commonplace in the Church today. Some priests prefer to “play it safe,” fearing to preach about the issues of the day out of human weakness. Others do not believe certain teachings themselves or think them impractical in modern times. Still others have turned aside from the truth, preaching and teaching outright dissent; by preaching corruption they cause many to stumble.
It is tragic as well that so many priests are permitted to mislead the faithful without being disciplined for it by their religious superiors.
The text says that a priest should guard knowledge. That is, he should protect it from those who would distort it; he should refute error. He must also guard it from misunderstanding and see that it is presented in balance with other truths in Scripture and Tradition. St. Paul says this of a presbyter: He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it (Titus 1:9).
The text of Malachi also warns against partiality, wherein a priest chooses which truths he will teach or emphasize and which he will not. St. Paul said to the elders at Miletus, Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:26-27). Yes, the whole counsel, the complete truth, is to be taught by the priest.
Some of these rebukes concerning partiality must still be made today. Encourage your priests when they speak confidently and clearly. Thank them; give them support even if they challenge you. The job of a priest is not to be popular but to be a prophet. It’s tough work and it isn’t always welcomed. Even the prophets needed support from the 7000 who had still not bent the knee to Baal or kissed him (cf 1 Kings 19:18). Pray for priests and encourage them to announce the whole counsel of God.
These are some of the sins of priests that God sets forth, but let us not forget that the world has many hard-working, dedicated, loyal, and holy priests. Yet, as these passages remind us, priests can lose their way. They can forget the glory of the liturgies they celebrate, refer to their office and the gospel as burdensome, and grow silent out of fear or laziness.
Pray for priests!