By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Priestly ministry is hard, sometimes lonely or dangerous work serving the neediest with an open, vulnerable heart, Pope Francis told the world’s priests.
But priests need to learn how to draw strength from their flock and their love for God, and not look for rest or retreat in “worldly pursuits,” hiding in their office or riding in cars “with tinted windows,” he said April 2 during the chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Priests can find renewal when they do not try to be “supermen,” but instead put their trust in God to embrace them and carry them through, he said.
Presiding over the first of two Holy Thursday liturgies, Pope Francis blessed the oils that will be used in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, ordination and the anointing of the sick.
As Holy Thursday was the day Jesus shared his priesthood with the apostles, Pope Francis led the more than 1,500 priests, bishops and cardinals in a renewal of their priestly vows and dedicated his lengthy homily to the priesthood, focusing on “the tiredness of priests.”
“Do you know how often I think about this weariness all of you experience? I think about it a lot and I pray about it often, especially when I am tired myself,” he told those assembled.
The reading from the Book of Isaiah, he said, outlines the challenging work of priestly ministry: bringing glad tidings to the lowly, healing the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty to those held captive, releasing the imprisoned and comforting those who mourn.
If a priest is doing his job right — if his heart is open and he experiences with compassion all the troubles, fears and joys of his people, then “so many emotions, so much affection exhaust the heart of a pastor,” he said.
For a priest, knowing what one’s flock is going through is not a detached reading of “a news report,” but comes from “suffering with them.”
Sharing in people’s suffering makes the heart feel “broken into a thousand little pieces” and given away so much it almost seems “eaten up by the people,” he said, drawing a parallel with what is said at the Last Supper: take this all of you, eat this, drink this.
The 78-year-old pope, who works at an often demanding pace and is known to not take vacation, said, “How difficult it is to learn how to rest. What comes into play here is our trust and our remembering that we too are sheep and we need the Lord to help us.”
While he had warned members of the Roman Curia in December of “15 spiritual diseases” they should avoid, in his Holy Thursday homily for priests Pope Francis outlined three kinds of “weariness” they should watch out for: exhaustion from being with the people; fatigue from fighting “the devil and his minions;” and ennui from becoming selfish and worldly.
Like Jesus, the priest is called to go out and care for others, he said, which leads to a kind of “weariness of the crowd.”
“People love their priests, they want and need their shepherds,” and a priest “with the smell of sheep” experiences a “good and healthy tiredness” and can smile “the smile of a father who gazes upon his children or grandchildren.”
But that gaze “has nothing to do with those who smell of expensive cologne and look at you from afar and from on high,” he said in a homily delivered in Italian.
If Jesus is there shepherding with the priest, “we cannot be shepherds whose faces are bitter, grouchy or, even worse, bored,” because being with the flock with the smile of a father reflects a weariness that brings joy, he said.
The “weariness of enemies” comes from defending one’s flock from evil and battling the devil, who tries to silence the word of God and distort it, he said.
Priests must not let down their guard and must “neutralize” the bad without destroying the good, but they also must not presume “to protect like supermen what the Lord alone must protect.”
“In these situations of weariness, the Lord says to us: ‘Have courage! I have overcome the world’ and this word gives us strength,” he said.
When talking about the third form of weariness, the “weariness of ourselves,” the pope emphasized that it was his final point “so that you won’t be too worn out by this homily,” which at 21 minutes, was longer than the norm for Pope Francis.
While the first two kinds of weariness “come from being exposed” to the outside world, which is what pastoral care demands, the third kind of weariness was “perhaps the most dangerous” because it is self-centered, he said.
It was a paradox of giving up everything for the priesthood yet yearning for the fleshpots of Egypt — “a weariness I like to call ‘flirting with spiritual worldliness,'” he said.
The best way to avoid this danger, he said, is to never let go of that first love for Christ. “Only love gives rest,” he said.
The weariness that comes from following Christ and being human “is precious in the eyes of Jesus who embraces us and lifts us up,” he said.
The pope told priests to let Jesus continue to personally wash their feet and cleanse them from “every stain, that worldly and grimy smog that clings to us from the journey we make in his name.”
No priest has to let his feet stay dirty and sore, he said. “Like war wounds, the Lord kisses them so that he washes away the grime of our work,” he said.
“Let us learn to be tired out, but a good tired out!”
Later in the day, the pope was scheduled to celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at a Rome prison and wash the feet of six male and six female inmates.
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Editor’s Note: The text of the pope’s homily in English is posted online at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2015/documents/papa-francesco_20150402_omelia-crisma.html
The text of the pope’s homily in Spanish is posted online at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/homilies/2015/documents/papa-francesco_20150402_omelia-crisma.html
Pope asks prisoners to pray that Christ make him a better servant
By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In a moving ceremony that recalled how Jesus loved the world so deeply that he lowered himself to serve and died for everyone’s sins, Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 prison inmates, plus a small toddler who lives with his incarcerated mother.
“Jesus loved us, Jesus loves us, but without any limits, always, all the way to the end,” he said during the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper April 2.
“He does not tire of loving anyone, he loves all of us” so much that he gave his life in order “to give life to us, for each one of us … for you, for you, for me, for them,” he said, pointing to the men and women inmates gathered in the “Our Father” chapel in Rome’s Rebibbia prison complex.
The pope arrived at the prison to the cheers and shouts of hundreds of prisoners chanting “Francesco” and applauding as they stood along metal barricades lining a prison courtyard.
After getting out of a blue four-door vehicle, the pope turned to a large concrete prison block behind him and waved, presumably because voices and cheers were coming from within the heavily barred windows.
He greeted, hugged, clasped hands with and kissed the scores of inmates outside lining the barricade. Many held plastic rosaries out to be blessed; others wanted just to stroke his hand or ask him to pray for someone in a picture they showed him.
Despite the solemnity during the opening procession of Mass, many could not contain their emotion and joy at seeing the pope and the congregation of 300 inmates, prison staff and volunteers broke out in applause and people leaned in close to touch the pope, congesting an already narrow center aisle.
In his brief, off-the-cuff homily, the pope explained the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and the significance of Jesus washing his apostles’ feet.
Back in Jesus’ era, he said, when people came to visit, their feet would be dirty from wearing sandals on dusty roads.
“They didn’t have sampietrini cobblestones back then,” he said, as people smiled, recalling Rome’s signature lava stone-lined streets.
But instead of having a slave wash the apostles’ feet, Jesus performed the ritual himself to the apostles’ shock and incomprehension, the pope said.
Jesus loved people so much, he said, that “he became a slave in order to serve us, heal us, cleanse us,” he said.
Pope Francis said the church today asks “the priest to wash the feet of 12 people in memory of the 12 apostles.”
But in order to draw authentic meaning from the ceremony, everyone must “have the certainty in our hearts, we must be sure that when the Lord washes our foot, he washes away everything, he purifies us, he makes us feel his love once more.”
He said the men and women who would participate in the foot washing ceremony would be representing everyone, all 2,100 people, housed in the detention facility.
The pope then said that he, too, needed to be cleansed by the Lord, and asked that everyone pray that “the Lord also wash away my filth so that I become more of your servant, more of a servant in the service of the people, like Jesus was.”
Earlier in the day, the pope’s @Pontifiex Twitter account had the tweet: “Jesus washes the feet of the Apostles. Are we ready to serve others like this?”
After his homily, the pope removed his vestments and put on a large white garment tied over his alb. He kneeled before each of the 12 detainees: most were Italian, others came from Nigeria, Congo, Ecuador and Brazil. Two aides assisted the 78-year-old pope in kneeling and pulling him back up.
The pope poured water from a white plastic pitcher over each person’s foot, scrubbed it slowly with a white towel, bent low to kiss it and then looked up into the eyes of each person with a broad smile.
The gentle and caring gestures brought many of the inmates to tears while children’s squeals and banter bounced off the tall brick walls of the chapel.
Before washing the foot of a mother from Nigeria, the pope washed the tiny foot of her small boy, who calmly watched the proceedings from his mother’s lap.
She was one of many female detainees at the Mass who live in the prison’s maternity section, which houses incarcerated mothers with their children who are younger than three.
When the Mass ended, the pope patiently and happily made his way down the center aisle that had now become chocked with inmates eager for a hug and blessing. The pope’s guards, squeezed a few spots behind, appeared relaxed.
The evening Mass was the second of two Holy Thursday liturgies over which the pope presided. The first was a morning chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.
As Holy Thursday and the Mass of the Lord’s Supper commemorate Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood, the pope continued a tradition he started by having lunch with a small group of priests from the Diocese of Rome.
The Vatican newspaper said the pope used the occasion to have the 10 priests talk to him about their ministry, especially those who were working in very difficult circumstances, and to encourage them in their mission.
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