Pope to priests: Turn bitterness into fresh water for the people


 By Vatican News

After a meditation by the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, Angelo De Donatis, the priests of the diocese had the opportunity to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation during a penitential liturgy at St John Lateran.

Normally, Pope Francis, as the Bishop of Rome, is present for the event, and personally hears the confessions of several priests. This year, however, due to a “slight indisposition”, the Pope “preferred to remain in the vicinity of Santa Marta”, according to a statement from the Director of the Holy See Press Office.

The Holy Father’s prepared remarks were read out to the Roman clergy by Cardinal De Donatis.

In his address, Pope Francis reflects on the “bitterness” some priests experience, while expressing the hope that it might “show us [clergy] the way to greater adoration of the Father, and help us to experience anew the power of His merciful anointing”.

Sources of bitterness

The Pope finds three particular causes of bitterness focused around priests’ relationships:

with the faith,
the bishop,
and other priests.

With regard to the faith, he says bitterness is rooted in disappointment, which springs from our own misguided expectations, rather than any failing on God’s part. To move from disappointment to hope, he says, we must move beyond ourselves, to trust in God.

The “omissions” by bishops can also be a source of bitterness for priests, who sometimes see a kind of “soft authoritarianism” when people who see things differently from the bishop are excluded, or when perceived loyalty is valued above competence. Although the bishop must have the final say, Pope Francis says that authoritarianism is not the answer; rather, bishops should consult the needs of all, and engage everyone in decisions that concern the common good.

Relationships among priests, the Pope notes, have been affected by scandals, especially sexual and financial scandals. This can lead to a “Donatist” vision of the Church that separates the “impeccable” from the erring or sinful, which in turn leads to a sort of ecclesiological puritanism. In response, the Pope says, we must remember that in this life, “the wheat and the chaff”, good people and bad, will always be found together in the Church.

The dangers of “isolation”

All these things can make it more difficult to form relationships, the Pope says, adding that there is also a question not simply of loneliness, but of “isolation”:

isolation with respect to grace, a feeling of distance from the spiritual world;
isolation from history, focusing on the here and now rather than the larger picture of salvation history;
isolation from others, an “inability to establish meaningful relations of trust and evangelical sharing”.

To combat this, it is important for priests to have a wise spiritual father, to be able to share their burdens, lest they close in on themselves, and draw away from others.

Communion with the people of God

Pope Francis closes his reflections by reminding the clergy that the People of God know their shepherds better than anyone else; they respect them, accompany them, and pray for them. “We add our own prayers to theirs, and ask the Lord to turn our bitterness into fresh water for His people,” he says in conclusion. “Let us ask the Lord to give us the ability to recognize what is causing bitterness in us, and thus allow ourselves to be reconciled people who reconcile; people at peace who bring peace, hopeful people who instil hope.”


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  1. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Appropriate that Francis’s warning against a revival of Donatism is read by Cardinal Angelo de Donatis ! Obviously an angel?

  2. sean walsh says:

    ‘Ode to the Church’

    Carlo Carretto

    Carlo Carretto, an Italian monk who died in 1988. For many years, he lived as a hermit in the Sahara Desert.

    How much I must criticize you, my church and yet how much I love you!
    How you have made me suffer much and yet owe much to you.
    I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence.
    You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness.
    Never in this world have I seen anything more obscurantist, more compromised, more false, and yet never in this world have I touched anything more pure, more generous, and more beautiful.
    Many times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face – and yet how often I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms!
    No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even though not completely you.
    Then, too – where would I go? ‘To build another church?
    But I cannot build another without the same defects, for they are my own defects I bear within me.
    And again, if I build one, it will be my Church, and no longer Christ’s.
    No, I am old enough to know that I am no better than others.
    I shall not leave this Church, founded on so frail a rock, because I should be founding another one on an even frailer rock: myself.
    And then, what do rocks matter?
    What matters is Christ’s promise, what matters is the cement that binds the rocks into one: the Holy Spirit.
    The Holy Spirit alone can build the Church with stones as ill hewn as we.

    (My good friend, Father Martin Hogan,
    shared with me. 29 02 20)

    “Yes, Seán. A poem like a dart to the heart. Compulsory reading for every priest in Ireland and at every mass.” – John Liddy. Poet.

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