By Debora Donnini
Priests should be joyful and see things from both a human and a divine perspective, as St John Bosco did. That was Pope Francis’ message during Thursday’s Mass at the Casa Santa Marta. He encouraged priests to imitate Don Bosco, who looked upon reality with the heart of a father and of a teacher, as we read in the opening prayer. It was a perspective that showed him the way forward: he was moved at the sight of the poor young boys in the streets, and looked for ways to help them grow. He walked with them, and he wept with them.
Seeing with human eyes and the eyes of God
Pope Francis recalled that on the day of his ordination, Don Bosco’s mother – a humble woman of the land, “who had never studied in the faculty of theology” – said to him: “Today you will begin to suffer.” She wanted to emphasize a reality, but also catch his attention; because if her son did not recognize suffering, it would mean things were not going well. “It is a prophecy of a mother,” the Pope said. For a priest, then, suffering is a sign that things are going well – not because he is acting the part of “a fakir”, but because he has the courage, like St John Bosco, to look upon reality with the human eyes and with the eyes of God. In a “masonic age,” an age of “priest-eaters”, he saw “a closed-off aristocracy, where the poor were really the poor, the discarded, he saw those young boys on the streets and said ‘this cannot be!’”
He saw with the eyes of a man, a man who is a brother but also a father, and he said, “No, things can’t go on like this! These young boys might end up on the gallows, [ministered to] by Don Cafasso… no, things can’t go on like this.” And he was moved as a man, and as a man he began to think of ways to raise the youngsters, to make the young boys grow. Human paths. And then, he had the courage to see with the eyes of God, and to go to God and say, “Make me see this… this is an injustice… how do I deal with this… You have created these people for a fullness, and they are in the midst of a real tragedy…” And so, seeing reality with the love of a father – a father and teacher, today’s liturgy says – and seeing God with the eyes of a beggar who asks for light, he began to go forward.
Don Giuseppe Cafasso comforted the prisoners in Turin in the 19th century and often followed those condemned to death to the gallows. He was a great friend of St John Bosco.
A priest close at hand
The priest, then, should have “these two polarities,” the Pope said: “to look upon reality with human eyes,” and with “the eyes of God.” And this means “spending a lot of time before the tabernacle”:
Looking in this way made him see the path, so that he wasn’t going simply with the Catechism and the Crucifix: “Do this…” with the boys saying, “Good night, see you later.” No, no. He drew close to them, with their liveliness. He played games with them, he put them in groups, like brothers. And in this way he went forth, he walked with them. The priest who looks on the people in a human way, who is always at hand.
Not an employee or a functionary
Pope Francis emphasized that priests should not be functionaries, or simply employees with set office hours. “We have plenty of good officials,” he said, “who do their jobs, as officials must. But the priest is not a functionary, he cannot be.” The Pope then called on priests to see with human eyes – and, he promised, “you will receive that sentiment, that wisdom of understanding that they are your children, your brothers and sisters. And then, [you will] have the courage of going out there to fight. The priest is the one who struggles with God.”
The Holy Father acknowledged, “There is always the risk of regarding the human at the expense of the divine, or the divine at the expense of the human.” However, he warned, “if we do not take the risk, we won’t accomplish anything in life.” This certainly entails a degree of suffering; persecution and gossip begin: “See that priest standing there, in the street,” with those poorly behaved children, who “will break my window” with their games.
Don Bosco, teacher of joy
Pope Francis thanked God for the gift of Don Bosco, who began to work as a child, and knew what it meant to earn his bread each day. He understood what true piety was. God gave Don Bosco a great heart, the Pope said in conclusion, the heart of a father and a teacher:
And what is the sign that a priest is doing well, seeing reality with human eyes and with the eyes of God? Joy. When a priest does not find joy within, he should stop immediately and ask himself why. And Don Bosco’s joy is known, eh? Because he made others joyful, and rejoiced himself. And he suffered. Today, let us ask the Lord, through the intercession of Don Bosco, for the grace for our priests to be joyful: joyful so that they have the true sense of looking at things regarding pastoral ministry, the people of God with human eyes and with the eyes of God.