Pope Francis on Thursday urged Catholic priests to go out among their flocks and know the people they serve like “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep”.
Speaking to a crowd of 10,000 in St. Peter’s basilica during his first “Chrism” Mass — an annual Church service in which sacred oils to be used throughout the year are blessed — the Pope said priests should “anoint” their people by going out of themselves and particularly be with those who suffer.
Priests, he said, need to go the "outskirts” where there is “suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters.” He added that God is not encountered “in soul-searching or constant introspection.”
Although self-help courses “can be useful in life”, he said, they can end up “minimizing the power of grace.”
God’s grace, he added, “comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all.”
He warned that a priest who never puts his heart on the line “never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks.” Instead, he said, he becomes a manager rather than a mediator.
“This is precisely the reason for the dissatisfaction of some, who end up sad — sad priests — in some sense becoming collectors of antiques or novelties, instead of being shepherds living with "the smell of the sheep",” the Pope explained. “This I ask you: be shepherds, with the "odor of the sheep”, make it real, as shepherds among your flock, fishers of men.”
The Chrism Mass, which manifests the unity of the priests with their bishop, is always celebrated on Holy Thursday. The oils are later used for anointing the sick, baptism and holy orders. The Mass immediately precedes the celebration of Easter, the most important event in the Church’s calendar, commemorating Jesus’ death and resurrection that Christians believe saved mankind from sin.
This special Mass, he said, was a reminder to all priests — including himself — of the day of their ordination. The ornate vestments priests wear at Mass, he reminded those present, are “not so much about trappings and fine fabrics” as about “the glory of our God.”
God’s anointing, he added, “is meant for the poor, prisoners and the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone.” It is not intended just to make us fragrant, he added, “much less to be kept in a jar, for then it would become rancid … and the heart bitter.
“What I want to emphasize,” Francis said, “is that we need constantly to stir up God’s grace and perceive in every request, even those requests that are inconvenient and at times purely material or downright banal — but only apparently so — the desire of our people to be anointed with fragrant oil, since they know that we have it.”
In closing, the Pope urged laypeople to “be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart.”
A persistent theme of Francis since he became Pope has been to urge members of the Church to look outward, bringing others and particularly those who suffering the good news of Christ.
In the meetings before the conclave, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio said the Church “is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.”
When the Church does not do so, he added, “she becomes self-referential and then gets sick.” Church institutions, he said, “have their root in self-referentiality and a kind of theological narcissism” that “gives way to that very serious evil, spiritual worldliness.”
The next Pope, he added, must help the Church “to go out to the existential peripheries” so she can be the “fruitful mother, who gains life from the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.”
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