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Pope Francis speaks to priests

I have shared with the priests of Dublin the ancient notion that the priest celebrating Mass is speaking, in a sense, on behalf of the entire material creation. This explains why pre-modern Churches, such as the great Gothic Cathedrals, were decorated, inside and out, with images of plants, animals, sun, moon, stars, and planets.

Pope Francis poses with a group of Chinese priests after his general audience in St. Peter's Square May 10 at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

I write these words from the Nuremore Hotel in Monaghan, Ireland, where I am conducting a retreat for the good priests of the Dublin Archdiocese. As I look out at these men, I am reminded of so many of my own relatives on both sides of my family (“Gosh, he looks like Uncle Charlie” and “That one is the spitting image of my cousin Terry”), for I am Irish all the way through. Many of the priests who are making the retreat are retired, and it is edifying to see so many who have bravely borne the heat of the day. Do say a prayer for them.

The theme that I have chosen for my talks is “Pope Francis Speaks to Priests.” I have culled a number of motifs from the Pope’s numerous talks, sermons, and lectures to priests, seminarians, and bishops. Allow me, in the course of this brief article to say just a few words about each one.

The first is “encountering Christ.” Drawing from the writings of Padre Luigi Giussani and others, Pope Francis emphasizes that the single most important feature of Christianity is a personal friendship with the Lord Jesus. The Christian faith is not a philosophy or a social theory or an ideology, but rather a living relationship with Jesus. Therefore, I have told the priests of Dublin, make Christ the center of your lives and let every aspect of your life and ministry revolve around your friendship with the Lord.

The second theme is “living simply.” Nothing about Pope Francis has so captivated the popular imagination than his gestures in the direction of simplicity of life: paying his own bill at the clerical residence just after his election as Pope, riding in the unpretentious Fiat rather than a limo, dining with the homeless, residing in the Santa Marta Hotel rather than the Apostolic Palace, etc. In an address to consecrated religious in 2015, the Pope cited his spiritual father Ignatius of Loyola to the effect that poverty is the “wall and the mother of the consecrated life,” mother because it gives birth to greater confidence in God and wall because it keeps out worldliness.

The third motif I am exploring is preaching, which Pope Francis emphasizes time and again when he addresses priests and seminarians. The Pope once remarked that everyone suffers from preaching, the priests from having to give sermons and the faithful from having to listen to them! In my presentation, I’m stressing that there should always be an element of the surprising and the novel in good Christian preaching, for the preacher is trading in Good News. Something utterly unexpected has happened—namely the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead—and the preacher wants to grab his audience by the shoulders and tell them about it. If he is simply sharing bland spiritual truisms, he is not really preaching.

Fourthly, I’m urging the priests of Dublin to be what the Pope calls “missionary disciples.” Vatican II was, first and foremost, a missionary council, whose purpose was to push the Church outward, bringing the lumen of Christ to the gentes. Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI all followed this impulse in stressing the centrality of the new evangelization. Pope Francis has rung the same bell in his insistence that the Church must go out to the periferia, to the margins both economic and existential. He offers a funny and wise commentary on the famous scene from the book of Revelation in which Jesus stands at the door and knocks. This represents, says Francis, not so much the Lord’s desire to enter into our hearts as his longing to get out into the world!

The fifth topic is perhaps the interpretive key to the Francis papacy, namely, mercy. The Church, he has memorably commented, is like a field hospital, where those deeply wounded by our postmodern society come to be treated. Misericordia (a suffering heart) is therefore prerequisite number one for those who would aspire to serve in that treatment center. Whatever else the Church says and does, I told the Dublin presbyterate, must return to, and be conditioned by, the attitude of mercy.

Finally, I am sharing some reflections on the Pope’s encyclical letter Laudato Si. I realize that many tended to read this text as Francis’s treatise on “global warming,” and whether one celebrates or bemoans the Pope’s view on that particular topic, to read the encyclical from that perspective alone is to miss a lovely forest for one tree. What Francis accomplishes in Laudato Si is the placing of the Christian life into a properly cosmic context, and this brings him close to all of the great pre-modern figures in Christian spirituality and theology. Modernity has tended to construe the human being as, in Descartes’s famous phrase, the “master of nature,” whereas the Biblical, patristic, and medieval commentators saw the human being as stewards of creation, indeed, as the one who has the privilege and responsibility of leading all of creation in an act of praise. I have shared with the priests of Dublin the ancient notion that the priest celebrating Mass is speaking, in a sense, on behalf of the entire material creation. This explains why pre-modern Churches, such as the great Gothic Cathedrals, were decorated, inside and out, with images of plants, animals, sun, moon, stars, and planets. Curiously, an excessive anthropocentrism has actually undermined our attempts to evangelize the contemporary culture.

Again, please pray for the priests of the Archdiocese of Dublin, and indeed for all priests, as we strive to fulfill our mission.

About Bishop Robert Barron 126 Articles

Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. He is the creator of the award winning documentary series, “Catholicism” and “Catholicism:The New Evangelization.” Learn more at www.WordonFire.org.

4 Comments

  1. The priest who offers Mass on behalf of the stars, planets plants, animals, the moon is more Wizard that priest. Ancients offered worship to the goddess Gaia, Mother Earth. New Age simply refers to Mother Earth. A benevolent deity between Man and God precluding any notion of obedience and judgment. Priest is derived from “the Heb. kohen, Gr. hierus, Lat. sacerdos, always denotes one who offers sacrifices”. We find the word first used for Melchizedek. Moses interceded for Israel when God was prepared to annihilate the Nation, the first notable action of intercession on behalf of the people. Jewish priests offered the blood of bulls and goats for Atonement. Christ offered himself as the sacrificial Lamb. It is from Jesus Christ alone that the Catholic priesthood derives its meaning and purpose. We like Christ are ordained to offer ourselves with him on the Cross on behalf of the people. In reparation for their sins and to elicit grace for their salvation. My experience [as self referenced as this may seem for some] is that people in the pews are frightened of more “surprises” coming from the Vatican. What they convince me of is the need for priests who preach with faith conviction and reverence on Catholic doctrine. Particularly the Last Four Things. “Curiously, an excessive anthropocentrism has actually undermined our attempts to evangelize the contemporary culture.” Well said. I love Ireland too although I’m not lucky enough to be Irish. I will pray for the priests and laity of the Archdiocese of Dublin.

  2. I cringe whenever i hear or read “Pope Francis speaks…”

    Usually, it’s more like Pope Francis scolds… not that some don’t deserve to be scolded but, he usually scolds the wrong ones.

  3. As to the themes and motifs presented here:

    1)If the Christian faith is not a philosophy, are the faithful still allowed to adhere to Christian philosophy? The rest of what was said here could have been declared from a Protestant pulpit
    2)The central thing about the teaching concerning a person living humbly (i.e.simply) is that no one else is supposed to know about it
    3)”Bland spiritual truisms” – just another dsyphemism by the New Evangelist for the notion of “doctrine”. My actual experience of “novel and surprising” is that many who try it are not qualified for it and so the only “novel” thing they accomplish is false teaching (which is not “surprising”)
    4) We should all be for being missionary; the problem is that when we opened the door to walk out, we left it open for the thieves and robbers to enter in
    5) This is right. Mercy is an attitude – a disposition to be right-ready to forgive or offer assistance. It is not however what Pope Francis has made it: the only attitude that matters, because at times (for the sake of the Church and Christ) it must be balanced with fraternal correction and defense (an apologetic) and even an excommunication – all which Jesus himself spoke of; but as noted here mercy is essential in the trenches
    6)Oh, so Christianity is now a spirituality and a theology (not just a relationship).
    Truly we need to regain a better understanding of stewardship; but Catholics should prefer Tolkien’s view of a rustic-respect over Pope Francis’ cosmic-sustainability (so very de Chardin)

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