Pope Francis shares his vision of what a priest should be today

On the occasion of the inauguration of a colloquium of theologians on the priesthood, Pope Francis developed in a long speech his reflections on what the life of a priest should be like today. He emphasizes their intimacy with the Lord and their closeness to their bishop, the other priests and above all the people “entrusted to them”. 

Thursday, February 17 in Rome, Pope Francis pronounced a speech to inaugurate a colloquium of theologians on the priesthood in which he dwelt on his vision of the figure of the priest in our time.

Francis said he was “grateful” to be able to share his reflections stemming “from what the Lord” has “made him gradually realize during these 50 years of priesthood and more”. He added that his speech was also nourished by the memory of other priests "who, by their lives and their testimonies" showed him "what gives shape to the face of the Good Shepherd".

Because "the priest, rather than recipes or theories, needs concrete tools to approach his ministry, his mission and his daily life", he focused on four "proximities", to offer a concrete way sort of guide to conduct for priests today.

Without relationship with God, the ministry becomes sterile

The most important closeness for a priest, he believes, is his closeness to the Lord, the Holy Father recalls that without this relationship, the ministry becomes “sterile”.

“The priest is invited above all to cultivate this closeness, this intimacy with God. He will be able to draw from this relationship all the strength necessary for his ministry. The relationship with God is, so to speak, the graft that keeps us in a bond of fruitfulness. Without a serious relationship with the Lord, our ministry becomes sterile. »

It is that when this intimacy with God is reduced or even non-existent, this is often the origin of a priestly crisis.

“Many priestly crises have their origin in a poor prayer life, a lack of intimacy with the Lord, a reduction of the spiritual life to a simple religious practice. »

Francis distinguishes in his speech the spiritual life from religious practice by recalling that one can practice without feeling close to God.

Obedience and discernment

Pope Francis then returns to the importance of the relationship that unites a priest and his bishop. A relationship that must not be unilateral and must constantly combine obedience and discernment.

“Obedience is therefore listening to the will of God, discerned precisely in a relationship. »

“The bishop, whoever he is, is not a school supervisor, he is not a guardian, he is a father, and he should show this closeness. The bishop must try to behave in this way, otherwise he will scare away the priests, or he will only attract the ambitious. The bishop remains for each priest and for each particular Church a link which helps to discern the will of God”, he underlines.

Concretely, according to the pontiff, this implies that “priests pray for the bishops and know how to express their opinions with respect, courage and sincerity” while the bishops are called to show humility and “to let themselves be helped”.

An invitation to brotherhood among priests 

The third “closeness” highlighted by Francis invites brotherhood among priests. “Jesus manifests himself where there are brothers willing to love each other,” he says.

This point on fraternity between priests is also an opportunity to evoke the choice of celibacy which, in order to be lived with "serenity", requires, according to Francis, "healthy relationships, relationships of true esteem which have their roots in Christ”.

“Without friends and without prayer, celibacy can become an unbearable burden and a counter-witness to the very beauty of the priesthood,” he concludes.

“Living in close connection with real life”

The last "proximity" mentioned by the pope emphasizes the place of the priest who, according to him, "is in the midst of the people, in a close relationship with the people".

"I am convinced that, in order to understand the identity of the priesthood again, it is important today to live in close contact with the real life of the people, alongside it, without fleeing it in any way", continues- he.

He recalls that this fourth closeness to the people of God “invites” and “demands” to adopt the style of the Lord.

"A style of closeness, compassion and tenderness, which makes it possible to walk not like a judge but like the Good Samaritan recognizing the wounds of his people, the suffering lived in silence, the abnegation and the sacrifices of so many fathers and mothers to advance their families, and also the consequences of violence, corruption and indifference that try to silence all hope. »

Thus, according to the pontiff, rather than getting lost in theological debate on the priesthood, priests must be inspired by the Lord who "looks on with tenderness and compassion" and in fact offers them "the landmarks from which they can recognize and maintain live the ardor for the mission: closeness, which is compassionate and tender, closeness to God, to the bishop, to the brother priests and to the people entrusted to them”.

Camille Westphal Perrier

Image credit: Shutterstock / Riccardo De Luca – Update

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