Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pope Francis at Chrism Mass: Priesthood Not About Itself, but Action

Pope Francis, in his homily for the Chrism Mass, pretty much laid it on the line: he has little patience for empty trappings or for priests who do not preach - or live - in ways that matter and galvanize their people. He called for priests to go out, to act, and to spend themselves in order to find their own fulfillment and blamed a failure to do that as the reason some priests are unhappy and "lose heart."  To illustrate his message, he focused on two sacramental symbols of priesthood: oil and vestments, both of which are received at ordination.
Connecting his message to the  Chrism oil used in anointing at ordination, he named the role of the priest as one who shares his oil and "anoints his people."  Priestly vestments, too, are sacred symbols, he noted, but are not as important as the action and activity of the priest and the effect on his people. In fact, he noted, the people should "feel that their names are written upon our priestly vestments." Speaking to vestments and holy oil:
From the beauty of all these liturgical things, which is not so much about trappings and fine fabrics than about the glory of our God resplendent in his people, alive and strengthened, we turn to a consideration of activity, action. The precious oil which anoints the head of Aaron does more than simply lend fragrance to his person; it overflows down to “the edges”. The Lord will say this clearly: his anointing is meant for the poor, prisoners and the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone. The ointment is not intended just to make us fragrant, much less to be kept in a jar, for then it would become rancid … and the heart bitter.
A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed. This is a clear test. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with “unction”, they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the “outskirts” where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith.
He notes the importance of the priest "going out" - and of not staying in a "self-help" mode - instead, spending what little they have for others. In that, he said, a priest finds his true satisfaction.
A priest who seldom goes out of himself, who anoints little – I won’t say “not at all” because, thank God, our people take our oil from us anyway – misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, “has already received his reward”, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks. This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, become sad priests, lose heart and become in some sense collectors of antiques or novelties – instead of being shepherds living with “the smell of the sheep”, shepherds in the midst of their flock, fishers of men...
Clearly, living among the "smell of the sheep: is how he himself has lived his priestly ministry - spending himself tirelessly for his people - and he will continue to do that as Pope.

Our role as the laity? " close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart."
I will appoint for you shepherds after my own heart, who will shepherd you wisely and prudently. (Jeremiah 3:15)
All of what Pope Francis has named - proclaiming the Good News, going out to those who need to hear, spending one's self for the good of the people - these are all signs of that good shepherd. May our priests continue to be inspired by the Spirit, under the new leadership of our Pope, to become more like Christ, the ultimate Good Shepherd, who emptied and humbled himself even unto death on a cross to do the will of the Father.

Read the full text of his homily here.

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