“I am always joyful when I meet young priests, because in them I see the youth of the Church,” the Pope said June 1.
He pointed to various young biblical figures, such as David, who was not presented by his father as a potential king because of his young age, and the prophet Jeremiah, who thought that he was too young for the mission the Lord entrusted to him.
Speaking directly to young priests, Francis said “you are chosen, you are dear to the Lord! God looks at you with the tenderness of a Father and, after making your heart fall in love, will not let your steps waver.”
“You are important in his eyes and he has confidence that you will be at the height of the mission to which you have been called,” he said, stressing that it’s important for young priests to find pastors and bishops “who encourage them in this perspective, and not only wait for them because there is need for a replacement and to fill empty places!”
Pope Francis spoke to members of the Congregation for Clergy currently participating in their plenary assembly.
The gathering takes place just six months after the promulgation of the congregation’s new “Ratio Fundamentalis,” the Vatican’s document on priestly formation, which was released Dec. 7, 2016.
This document, Francis said, “speaks of integral formation, capable of including all aspects of life; and so it indicates the path to form the missionary disciple. A fascinating and demanding path.”
In reflecting on the fascinating and demanding aspects of this path, the Pope said he immediately thought of young priests, who “live the joy of the beginning of ministry and, together, feel the weight.”
A young priest, he said, “lives between the enthusiasm of the first projects and the anxiety of apostolic fatigue, in which they immerse themselves with a certain fear, which is a sign of wisdom.”
While the joy and strength of his recent anointing is acutely felt, the new priest’s shoulders gradually become “burdened” by the weight of the responsibility of his various pastoral commitments and the expectations of his flock, the Pope observed.
“How does a young priest live all this? What does he carry in his heart? What does he need so that his feet, which run to bring the joyful announcement of the Gospel, are not paralyzed in front of the fear of the first difficulties?” the Pope asked.
He noted that young people today are frequently judged “a bit superficially, and are too easily labeled as a ‘liquid’ generation, deprived of passions and ideals.”
While there are certainly youth who are fragile, disoriented and “infected by the culture of consumerism and individualism,” this doesn’t mean that youth capable of generous service and involvement don’t exist, Francis said.
“With all their limits, they are always a resource,” he said, and urged participants to ask themselves how they, in their parishes, view young priests.
Turning again to the new Ratio, which speaks of the priest as “a missionary disciple in permanent formation,” Pope Francis underlined three attitudes he said are key for any priest, but especially those who are just beginning their ministry.
These attitudes, he said, are: to pray without ceasing, to always walk and to share with your heart.
Consistent prayer is essential in the life of a priest “because we can be fishers of men only if we first recognize that we have been ‘caught’ by the tenderness of the Lord,” he said.
Like the fishermen of Galilee who dropped their nets and followed Jesus, priests have also left behind their own personal plans in order to take up their own nets and “catch” the faithful entrusted to them, the Pope said, adding that “if we are not strictly linked to (the Lord), our fishing will never be successful.”
To live in harmony in prayer, work and rest “represents a precious resource to face apostolic fatigues,” Francis said, stressing that “every day we need to stop ourselves, putting ourselves in a position to listen to the Word of God and to pause in front of the tabernacle.”
He also touched on the need to listen to one’s body, “which is a good doctor,” and which tells us when we’ve reached the limit.
On the need to always keep walking, the Pope said this is important because a priest never really “arrives,” but remains a disciple, a pilgrim “overlooking the threshold of the ministry of God and the holy ground of the people entrusted to him.”
A priest, Pope Francis said, can never “feel satisfied” or let go of a certain “healthy apprehension that makes him stretch out his hands to the Lord” in order to be trained and fulfilled.
He told priests to always “be open to the surprises of God,” adding that with this openness to what is new, young priests especially “can be creative in evangelization, frequenting with discernment the new places of communication, where faces, stories and the questions of people are met, developing the ability to socialize, to relate and to announce the faith.”
Finally, Francis pointed to the need to share with one’s heart, because “priestly life is not a bureaucratic office nor a collection of religious or liturgical practices to get through.”
Priests, he said, carry in their own flesh “the joys and anguish of the people,” spending time with them and listening “in order to heal the wounds of others, and offering the tenderness of the Father to all.”
New priests have a prime opportunity to live this experience by sharing with youth and teens, Francis said, explaining that this means being with them “not only as a friend among others, but as the one who knows how to share their life with his heart, to listen to their questions and participate concretely in the different ups and downs of their lives.”
“Youth don’t need a professional on the sacred or a hero who, from above and from the outside, responds to their questions,” he said. “Rather, they are attracted by whoever sincerely commits their lives, supporting them with respect and listening to them with love.”
To genuinely share their experiences “means having a heart full of passion and compassion, above all toward youth,” the Pope said, adding that these three qualities imply the priestly life is lived by “looking up and thinking big.”
“It’s not an easy task, but one can full trust in the Lord, because He always precedes us on the journey!” he said, and asked for Mary’s intercession and guidance.
by Elise Harris