Pope Francis, on Holy Thursday, spoke about the “tiredness” or "weariness" that Catholic priests experience in their daily ministry, often in very difficult and dangerous situations, and offered advice on how they should deal with it.
He did so in an incisive and profound homily at the Chrism Mass, in St Peter’s Basilica on April 2, attended by cardinals, bishops and priests living and working in Rome, during which he blessed the oils that will be used in the administration of the sacraments in the diocese of Rome over the next 12 months.
His words, however, were not just meant for his immediate audience in the basilica, they were clearly destined for the more than 400,000 Catholic priests in the world today.
He began by revealing that as pope he often reflects on “the tiredness” they experience as they go about their pastoral ministry, and he confided: “I think about it and I pray about it, often, especially when I am tired myself. I pray for you as you labor amid the people of God entrusted to your care, many of you in lonely and dangerous places.”
Then early on in a homily where at different stages he offered consolation, encouragement, inspiration and warning, he reminded them that they are never laboring in vain because “our weariness goes straight to the heart of the Father”.
Francis is above all a pastor, a spiritual director, and in this homily, as in the ones on Holy Thursday 2013 and 2014, he drew on his more than 45 years’ experience as a priest, 21 as a bishop in Buenos Aires where he was well-known for his closeness to priests, and now 2 years as Bishop of Rome.
The Argentine pope is a tireless pastor, who seems to take little rest and yet, significantly, he offered these precious words of advice to priests: “Let us never forget that a key to fruitful priestly ministry lies in how we rest and in how we look at the way the Lord deals with our weariness. How difficult it is to learn how to rest! This says much about our trust and our ability to realize that that we too are sheep: we need the help of the Shepherd.”
He said they must learn to rest “by accepting the love, gratitude and affection” which they “receive from God’s faithful people”. But he warned them against seeking “more refined relaxations, not those of the poor but those provided by a consumerist society?” Above all, he said the priest must have resort to prayer, to God and the intercession of the saints, and - speaking from experience - he assured them, "whenever a priest feels dead tired, yet is able to bown down in adoration and say: 'Enough for today Lord' , and entrust himself to the Father, he knows that he will not fall but be renewed".
In his homily, he identified two kinds of “tiredness”: the good one, which he labeled “the weariness of people, the weariness of the crowd”, and the bad one which he called “the weariness of the enemies”.
He described the first -“the weariness of people, the weariness of the crowd” - as “a good weariness, a fruitful and joyful exhaustion”. It is the kind that Jesus experienced during his life on earth. It is one that comes “in the midst of activity” and “is a grace”. He reminded his brother priests, “People love their priests; they want and need their shepherds!” Indeed, “The faithful never leave us without something to do, unless we hide in our offices or go out in our cars with darkened (tinted) windows.”
This is “a good and healthy tiredness”, he added; “it is the exhaustion of the priest who wears the smell of the sheep… but also smiles the smile of a father rejoicing in his children or grandchildren.” But “it has nothing to do with those who wear expensive cologne and who look at others from afar and from above”
The turning to the second kind of tiredness -“the weariness of enemies” - he warned them against this, because it is the work of “The devil and his minions that never sleep and, since their ears cannot bear to hear the word of God, they work tirelessly to silence that word and to distort it. Confronting them is more wearying. It involves not only doing good, with all the exertion this entails, but also defending the flock and oneself from evil”.
As he often does in his daily homilies in Santa Marta, so too on this occasion, Pope Francis reminded priests that “The evil one is far more astute than we are, and he is able to demolish in a moment what it took us years of patience to build up.” He urged them “to implore the grace to learn how to ‘offset’ (and it is an important habit to acquire): to thwart evil without pulling up the good wheat or presuming to protect like supermen what the Lord alone can protect”. He advised them to never let their guard down “before the depths of iniquity”. He assured them that in these situations of weariness, the Lord is with them always.
In the final part of his homily, the Jesuit pope warned priests against what he said “may be the most dangerous weariness of all”, which he had mentioned in his programmatic exhortation – “The Joy of the Gospel” (n.277), namely: “weariness of ourselves”.
This third kind of weariness is more “self-referential”, he said: “it is dissatisfaction with oneself, but not the dissatisfaction of someone who directly confronts himself and serenely acknowledges his sinfulness and his need for God’s mercy, his help; such people ask for help and then move forward.”
He described it as “a weariness associated with ‘wanting yet not wanting’, having given up everything but continuing to yearn for the fleshpots of Egypt, toying with the illusion of being something different”. He has a special name for this kind of weariness: “flirting with spiritual worldliness”. He said this weariness, as The Book of Revelation explains, takes over “when one abandons the first love”.
Pope Francis assured priests that “the Lord deals with our pastoral tiredness” because, “having loved his own; he loved them to the end”. He said, “the Lord gets involved with us, becomes responsible for removing every stain, all that grimy, worldly smog which clings to us from the journey we make in his name”, and a result of this, “we can bring the good news to the most abandoned, knowing that ‘he is with us always, even to the end of the world’ ”.
Francis concluded by urging priests everywhere to ask for “the grace to learn how to be weary, but weary in the best of ways!”
Link to full text of homily in English: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2015/documents/papa-francesco_20150402_omelia-crisma.html