On Sunday morning Pope Francis ordained 19 new priests, exhorting them to serve the flock rather than manage it, and to feed the people of God with heartfelt homilies rather than boring sermons.
“Let this be the nourishment of the People of God,” Francis said during the ceremony in Saint Peter’s Basilica, “that your sermons are not boring, that your homilies reach people’s hearts because they come from your heart, because what you say to them is what you carry in your heart.”
The Pope also urged the new priests to practice what they preach, so that their good example will bear witness to the truth of their words. A good example builds people up, Francis said, “but words without actions are empty words, they are ideas that never make it to the heart and they can even do harm rather than good!”
On the fourth Sunday of Easter, Catholics celebrate “Good Shepherd Sunday,” recalling that Jesus presented himself as the good shepherd who was willing to lay down his life for his sheep, and the Pope drew from this image in appealing to the young priests to give their lives for their people.
“Keep always before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd,” he said, “who came not to be served but to serve; not to stay in his comfort, but to go out to seek and save what was lost.”
“You will share in the mission of Christ,” Francis said, “who is the only Master. Share with all the Word of God that you yourselves have received with joy. Read and meditate assiduously on the Word of the Lord so you may believe what you read, teach what you have learned in faith, and live out what you have taught.”
The Pope also gave practical advice to the new priests: “When you celebrate Mass, be aware of what you are doing. Do not rush through it!” he said.
He told them never to refuse baptism to those who ask for it, and to be ready to hear peoples’ confessions and forgive their sins in the name of Christ and the Church.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Francis said, “I ask you not to grow weary of being merciful. In the confessional, you are there to forgive, not to condemn! Imitate the Father who never gets tired of forgiving.”
Francis also warned the priests to flee from vanity, which only drives people away from God. “Be intent on pleasing God and not yourselves,” he said. “It’s ugly when a priest lives to please himself, and ‘plays the peacock’!”
Later on, after the midday Easter prayer of the Regina Caeli, Pope Francis once again addressed the newly ordained priests, and urged them to see themselves as servants of the people and not as “managers.”
“Follow the Good Shepherd,” he said. “Especially those who have the mission of guiding the Church—priests, bishops, popes—are called to assume the mentality of servants, and not of managers, just as Jesus emptied himself and saved us through his mercy.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome