His Holiness had some profound words to say on Sunday.
Commenting on the first reading, Pope Francis recalled the courageous and fearless witness given by St. Peter and the Apostles despite being “flogged, ill-treated and imprisoned.”
“And we? Are we capable of bringing the word of God into the environment in which we live?” he asked the faithful. “Do we know how to speak of Christ, of what he represents for us, in our families, among the people who form part of our daily lives?”
“These words are addressed first and foremost to those of us who are pastors: we cannot feed God’s flock unless we let ourselves be carried by God’s will even where we would rather not go, unless we are prepared to bear witness to Christ with the gift of ourselves, unreservedly, not in a calculating way, sometimes even at the cost of our lives,” the Holy Father said.
Pope Francis went on to say that it is crucial to remember that one can’t proclaim the Gospel without being a true witness in their own lives. Inconsistency on the sayings and actions of both pastors and faithful, he stressed, undermines the Church’s credibility.
The Holy Father concluded his homily calling on all those present to place God first in their lives above all things, to “empty ourselves of the many small and great idols we have and in which we take refuge.”
“They are idols that we sometimes keep well hidden; they can be ambition, a taste for success, placing ourselves at the center, the tendency to dominate others, the claim to be the sole masters of our lives, some sins to which we are bound, and many others.”
Of course, the Pope's words hold to us all - we all carry the idols that prevent us from doing God's Will, be it as banal as needless anxiety all the way to acts of perversion.
But the pastors - the priests - are the ones who have to take this to heart as they have volunteered to save souls and bring people to holiness. That is a tall order. In retrospect, I have been discouraged from seeing this based upon the actions of clergy I know, whether it is petty things like refusing to stop by a parish function because it was held on their "day off" or complaining when a lay person places a pyx on the altar so she could bring the Eucharist to a shut in (I recall one priest saying to the elderly sacristan, "I got enough to deal with with the ciborium, I don't need that cluttering the altar," loudly) or engaging in acts of moral turpitude.
Now, they are still humans and there will be priests with warts and those who are destined to wear the crown of sainthood someday. I was thinking about this after I heard the Pope's words and reflecting on something I did to help a priest, and I was assuaged in my fears that I might have done the wrong thing. I am told from various sources that the priest is doing well, and so I allowed myself an "atta girl." And then I learned that the Handmaids of the Precious Blood, a cloistered order dedicated to praying for the sanctification of the priesthood in Eucharistic Adoration is coming to reside in East Tennessee. I like the words of their founder, Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, SP:
“He who would truly honor the priesthood must do so by helping priests. I would rather have a hand in getting one priest back to the altar of God than to write a thousand books on the priesthood, or to preach a million sermons on the glory of the priesthood, for neither the sermons nor the books can hold Christ in their hands and offer Him to the Father.”
Man, if you are a priest, that's some sobering words - hold Christ in their hands and offer Him to the Father.
Want to help Holy Father? The Handmaids have an "Adopt-a-Priest" page on which you can spiritually adopt a priest. Help the Men in Black - they are, after all, the Devil's first target.
Oh, and finally, the point I wanted to make to the priests - Father, if you think you are not living a consistent life, there is GREAT news . . . it is never too late to make amends and change. After all, isn't that what you teach us about the Sacrament of Reconciliation?