(Vatican Radio) Good priests must be close to their people, sharing their suffering and healing their wounds. That was Pope Francis’ message to priests from the Rome diocese who met with their bishop in the Paul VI audience hall on Thursday morning. The Pope focused his words on the theme of God’s infinite mercy, saying a priest can only share this gift with others if he feels it in his own heart first.
Philippa Hitchen takes a closer look:
Pope Francis began his reflection by commenting on the reading from St Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus is moved with compassion as he sees people ‘distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd’. In the same way, he said, priests here in Rome and around the world see so many people suffering in difficult situations and their hearts too must be filled with compassion.
Describing this period in the life of the Church as a time of God’s mercy, Pope Francis said priests must be men of mercy, experiencing that ‘gut reaction’ of compassion as they welcome, listen, advise and absolve those seeking healing and forgiveness. They can only do this effectively, he went on, if they allow themselves to be wrapped in God’s embrace through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Reiterating the image of the Church as a field hospital, the Pope said mercy means first and foremost being close to people and healing their wounds. Priests who are detached from reality, he stressed, do not help the Church and he asked his listeners how well they know the wounds of their own parishioners.
Mercy, the Pope continued, means not being either too lenient or too strict with people who come to Confession. Rather it means being like the Good Samaritan who takes care of the individual, listening, respecting and accompanying people on their journey of healing and Reconciliation.
Finally Pope Francis asked the priests of his diocese if they still cry with their people? If they pray and struggle with God on behalf of their people? If they turn to God or to the TV at the end of their day? If they are able to embrace the elderly, the sick, the children, with hearts that are open and moved to compassion? Only those who are not ashamed to touch the wounded flesh of those on the margins of society, he said, will one day be admitted to God’s kingdom to gaze on the glorified flesh of Christ.