By Vatican News
After a meditation by the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, Angelo De Donatis, the priests of the diocese had the opportunity to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation during a penitential liturgy at St John Lateran. Normally, Pope Francis, as the Bishop of Rome, is present for the event, and personally hears the confessions of several priests. This year, however, due to a “slight indisposition”, the Pope “preferred to remain in the vicinity of Santa Marta”, according to a statement from the Director of the Holy See Press Office. The Holy Father’s prepared remarks were read out to the Roman clergy by Cardinal De Donatis.
In his address, Pope Francis reflects on the “bitterness” some priests experience, while expressing the hope that it might “show us [clergy] the way to greater adoration of the Father, and help us to experience anew the power of His merciful anointing”.
Sources of bitterness
The Pope finds three particular causes of bitterness focused around priests’ relationsships: with the faith, the bishop, and other priests.
With regard to the faith, he says bitterness is rooted in disappointment, which springs from our own misguided expectations, rather than any failing on God’s part. To move from disappointment to hope, he says, we must move beyond ourselves, to trust in God.
The “omissions” by bishops can also be a source of bitterness for priests, who sometimes see a kind of “soft authoritarianism” when people who see things differently from the bishop are excluded, or when perceived loyalty is valued above competence. Although the bishop must have the final say, Pope Francis says that authoritarianism is not the answer; rather, bishops should consult the needs of all, and engage everyone in decisions that concern the common good.
Relationships among priests, the Pope notes, have been affected by scandals, especially sexual and financial scandals. This can lead to a “Donatist” vision of the Church that separates the “impeccable” from the erring or sinful, which in turn leads to a sort of ecclesiological puritanism. In response, the Pope says, we must remember that in this life, “the wheat and the chaff”, good people and bad, will always be found together in the Church.
The dangers of “isolation”
All these things can make it more difficult to form relationships, the Pope says, adding that there is also a question not simply of loneliness, but of “isolation”: isolation with respect to grace, a feeling of distance from the spiritual world; isolation from history, focusing on the here and now rather than the larger picture of salvation history; isolation from others, an “inability to establish meaningful relations of trust and evangelical sharing”.
To combat this, it is important for priests to have a wise spiritual father, to be able to share their burdens, lest they close in on themselves, and draw away from others.
Communion with the people of God
Pope Francis closes his reflections by reminding the clergy that the People of God know their shepherds better than anyone else; they respect them, accompany them, and pray for them. “We add our own prayers to theirs, and ask the Lord to turn our bitterness into fresh water for His people,” he says in conclusion. “Let us ask the Lord to give us the ability to recognize what is causing bitterness in us, and thus allow ourselves to be reconciled people who reconcile; people at peace who bring peace, hopeful people who instil hope.”