Rome retreat: Pope offers 'crash course' on mercy in priestly ministry

IMAGE: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano

By Carol Glatz

CITY (CNS) — The spiritual retreat Pope Francis offered priests and
seminarians as part of the Jubilee of Priests could be seen as a “crash
course” on the role of mercy in priestly ministry.

series of three meditations in three Roman basilicas June 2 and Mass June 3 were
to be “a full immersion because Pope Francis’ heart is immersed in the
heart of Jesus the Good Shepherd,” said Archbishop Jorge Patron Wong,
secretary of seminaries at the Congregation for Clergy.

pope wanted the jubilee for priests and seminarians to be a time to step back
from busy schedules and “find a bit of respite, relief, solace in the
heart of the Good Shepherd, in the arms of the good Lord’s mercy,” the archbishop
told Vatican Radio.

three days of prayer, reflection and liturgies aim to help priests sharpen
their focus on Christ and his infinite love and mercy, and recall that all graces
and gifts received were given “not because we are great or worthy of his
love, but because he is merciful,” the archbishop said.

his meetings with clergy, homilies and through his own lived example, Pope
Francis has already given priests clear standards and concrete advice, filling
some with a mixture of inspiration and fear.

certainly brought about a Copernican Revolution” for the church with this
new manner of speaking, living and interacting with people, one priest told the
pope during a Q&A in Caserta, Italy, in 2014.

Because, he said, the pope was triggering an existential
crisis for priests, he asked what they needed to do to be the right kind of
pastor for the third millennium.

the priest lamented that the church always seems behind the times, the pope
disproved the image of a revolution, saying the energy needed to bring God’s
mercy to the world is not about upheaval, but about revolving always and every
day around Christ.

priestly ministry is centered on Christ, and past popes have focused on very
different, yet interlocking, aspects of the Good Shepherd when they’ve talked about
the role of the priest.

John Paul II liked to emphasize holiness — God’s “incessant call to
sanctification” and the need to strive to be saints.

own priestly ordination fell on the feast of All Saints and, celebrating his
50th anniversary Nov. 1, 1996, he explained how ordination gives priests the
unique power to bring the sacraments to the people, which helps them on their
path to leading holier lives.

priest exists to offer the faithful the means Christ made available for this
journey of progressive sanctification,” he said. By offering the
sacraments, “the priest becomes the servant of sanctity and communion of
the baptized.”

Benedict XVI often emphasized the priests’ special familiarity with and dedication
to God’s truth. The priest, as pastor, was to guide the faithful along the
right path that leads to true joy and happiness.

priests we must communicate to people the joy for the fact that the right way
in life has been shown,” he said, concluding the Year for Priests in 2010.

Good Shepherd, for Pope Benedict, was also a strong fearless guardian. The
shepherd’s staff must be used, he said, to “protect the faith against
counterfeiters, against tendencies that are, in reality, disorienting.”
And the staff is also strong support to help one “walk on difficult paths
and follow the Lord.”

that strength and determination are found in humility and tireless service, he
showed, when he held up St. John Vianney — the patron saint of parish priests
— as the role model for priests.

Cure of Ars was very humble,” he said in his letter declaring the Year for
Priests. “A good shepherd, a pastor after God’s heart, is the greatest
treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most
precious gifts of divine mercy,” he quoted the priest as saying.

many of the virtuous qualities Pope Benedict highlighted in St. Vianney mirror the
same things Pope Francis has been underlining.

French priest was “a great hospital of souls;” he was available day
and night for his people, “ready to listen and offer forgiveness”; he
knew it was not the sinner who returns to God, but “God who runs after the
sinner and makes him return to him,” Pope Benedict wrote in his letter.

Francis told priests in Rome that his focus on mercy comes from St. John Paul,
who had the prophetic intuition “that this was the time for mercy,”
and that “slowly it progressed” from there.

are no new recipes for being good pastors, Pope Francis told clergy
and pastoral workers in Assisi in 2013.

there are many qualities different popes have pinpointed such as saints, sages
and servants. Each pope continues to call on priests to carry on the fullness
of Christ’s ministry on earth with the sacraments, the truth and God’s infinite

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Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

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