Pope Francis and the Good Priest

This piece is almost prophetic in the sense that the tea leaves were being read before the pope delivered his Chrism Mass homily directed to priests; Fr. Roger Landry writes about the reform of the priesthood that will likely mark Pope Frances’s time as pope:

One of the most urgent reforms facing him is the restoration of the moral credibility of the hierarchy, and especially of the priesthood. The scandals of clerical sex abuse and tales of Vatican corruption have not only severely undermined the Church’s moral authority, but given the impression that living by the Church’s teachings forms freaks and moral monsters rather than saints.

Having read a book-length Spanish-language interview with the former Cardinal Bergolio, Fr. Landry points to seven reforms he has in mind. Perhaps the last two will be the most notable to the layman:

he is calling all priests to live out the real spirit of the liturgy.

After decades of enduring liturgical craziness, many Catholic priests were grateful for Pope Benedict’s leadership in the liturgical reform of the reform. Many focused, however, on the external reverential markers Benedict and his liturgical team established: Communion on the tongue to those kneeling, the crucifix and candles on the altar, the use of chant and the beautiful vestments.
Pope Francis will continue the reform, but will focus much more on the interior markers. He shares with Pope Benedict a clear recognition that Jesus, not the priest, is the center of the liturgy and truly prays the Mass. He also shares with Benedict a profound love for the thought of the great liturgist Romano Guardini, on whom Pope Francis wrote his dissertation.
Finally, Pope Francis wants to form priests to be real agents of the New Evangelization.
A perennial temptation for the clergy, he stressed in El Jesuita, is to be administrators rather than pastors. Priests need to “go out to meet the people,” especially the lost sheep; the pastor who stays in his rectory, he declared, is not an “authentic pastor.”
He praised one priest for knowing his parishioners so well that he knew not only their names, but also their pets’ names. In an age in which so many priests, bishops and curial officials are enslaved by administrative tasks, Pope Francis is summoning them to reprioritize toward the Church’s evangelical mission.
Pope Francis knows that every true reform in Church history has begun with a reform of the clergy. And he’s already hard at work in seeking to bring it about.

In his homily, Pope Francis said, in part:

A priest who seldom goes out of himself, who anoints little – I won’t say “not at all” because, thank God, our people take our oil from us anyway – misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, “has already received his reward”, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks. This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, become sad priests, lose heart and become in some sense collectors of antiques or novelties – instead of being shepherds living with “the smell of the sheep”, shepherds in the midst of their flock, fishers of men. True enough, the so-called crisis of priestly identity threatens us all and adds to the broader cultural crisis; but if we can resist its onslaught, we will be able to put out in the name of the Lord and cast our nets. It is not a bad thing that reality itself forces us to “put out into the deep”, where what we are by grace is clearly seen as pure grace, out into the deep of the contemporary world, where the only thing that counts is “unction” – not function – and the nets which overflow with fish are those cast solely in the name of the One in whom we have put our trust: Jesus.

It’s evangelical Catholicism
. (Read my post-Frances interview on the subject with George Weigel here.) It’s what you heard in his first Wednesday audience. It’s what you see.

Are you drinking in his every word? He gets it. He’s meeting the world where it is — the clerics, the troubled kids, anyone and everyone in need of mercy. He’ll do his best and pray for God’s grace.

Pray for good priests. Pray for the bishop of Rome.

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