Priests are not like “mushrooms” that “pop out all of a sudden in the cathedral the day of their ordination”. This is what the Pope said when he received in audience at the Vatican, in the Sala Regia, the participants of the conference organized by the Congregation for the Clergy on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Conciliar decrees “Optatam totius“, and “Presbyteriorum ordinis“. “We are not priests for ourselves – Francis warned – and our sanctification is closely connected to that of our people, our anointing to their anointing. Knowing and remembering that they were ‘made for people’, helps priests not to think about themselves, to be authoritative but not authoritarian, firm but not hard, joyful but not superficial; in short: shepherds, not officials”.
Bergoglio invited to consider the three moments of the priest: “taken from among the people”, “made for the good of the people”, present ‘among other people’. “The priest – he said – is a man born in a human context; there he learns the first values, absorbs the spirituality of the people, gets used to relations. Priests have a history as well. It is important for those who form and for the priests themselves to remember this and to know how to take their personal histories into account during formation. You cannot be a priest and think that one has been trained in a laboratory. It needs to be personalized, because it is the specific person that is called to discipleship and priesthood, taking into account that, in any case, only Christ is the Master whom to follow and with whom to conform”.
The Holy Father has provided a veritable handbook for the good priest: “A good priest is first of all a man with his own humanity, who knows his own history, with its richness and its wounds, and who has learned to leave at peace with it, finding that serenity which characterizes a Lord’s disciple. Human formation is therefore a need for the priests, so they may learn not to be dominated by their limits, but rather to make the best out of their talents. A priest who is at peace with himself will transmit serenity to those around him, even in difficult moments, conveying the beauty of the relationship with the Lord. “Hence no to sad and nervous priests: “It is not normal for a priest to be often sad, nervous or be a harsh person; it is not good and it makes no good nor to the priest, nor to his people. We priests are apostles of joy, we announce the Gospel, that is the ‘good news’ par excellence; certainly we cannot give strength to the Gospel, but we can help the encounter between the Gospel and people. Our humanity is the ‘clay pot’ in which we keep God’s treasure, a pot we must take care of in order to convey well its precious content”.
Never lose sight of your roots, Bergoglio warned: “A priest cannot lose his roots, he is still a man of the people and culture that have generated him; our roots help us remember who we are and where Christ has called us. We, priests, do not descend from above, we are called by God, who takes us ‘from among the people’, to constitute us ‘for the good of the people'”. To be a priest means to serve the neighbor, the Pontiff recalled: “By answering God’s call, one becomes a priest to serve his brothers and sisters, to let the mercy of God reach them, to announce his Word of life.” The priest, he pointed out, must always be “among other people”: “He is not a pastoral or evangelization professional who comes in and does what he must do – perhaps even well, but still as if it were a job – then leaves to lead his separate life. One becomes a priest to be among people. The good a priests can do comes mainly from his closeness and from his tender love for people. They are not philanthropists or officials, but fathers and brothers”.
Hence the invitation to always search your own hearts: Where lies my heart? Among people, praying with and for the people, concerned with their joys and sufferings, or among the things of the world, worldly affairs, in my private “space”? Answering this question can help every priest to guide his life and his ministry towards the Lord. The Council has left precious ‘pearls’ to the Church. As the merchant from the Gospel of Matthew, today we go out in search of them, to find new impetus and new tools for the mission the Lord has entrusted to us”.