SPEECH OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS
TO BISHOPS PARTICIPATING IN THE TRAINING COURSE PROMOTED BY
CONGREGATION FOR BISHOPS AND THE CONGREGATION FOR EASTERN CHURCHES
Thursday, 12 September 2019
Dear brothers, good morning.
I welcome you to this final meeting of your pilgrimage to Rome, organized by the Congregations for Bishops and for the Eastern Churches. I thank the Cardinals Ouellet and Sandri for their commitment in organizing these days.
Together, as new members of the Episcopal College, you came down a little while ago to the tomb of Peter, the "trophy" of the Church of Rome. There you confessed the same faith as the Apostle. It is not a theory or a compendium of doctrines, but a person, Jesus. His face makes us close to God's gaze. Our world seeks, even unknowingly, this divine closeness. He is the mediator. Without this proximity of love the foundation of reality wavers; the Church itself gets lost when it loses the vivifying tenderness of the Good Shepherd. Here you have entrusted your Churches, for them you have repeated with Jesus: "offered body and blood shed for you". We know of no other strength than this, the strength of the Good Shepherd, the strength to give life, to bring Love closer to love. Here is our mission: to be for the Church and for the world "sacraments" of the proximity of God. I would therefore like to tell you something about closeness, essential for every minister of God and above all for the Bishops. Proximity to God and closeness to his people.
Closeness to God is the source of the Bishop's ministry. God loves us, he got closer than we could imagine, he took our flesh to save us. This announcement is the heart of faith, it must precede and animate all our initiatives. We exist to make this closeness palpable. But one cannot communicate God's closeness without experiencing it, without experiencing it every day, without letting oneself be infected by his tenderness. Every day, without saving time, we must stand before Jesus, bring him people, situations, like channels that are always open between Him and our people. With prayer we give the Lord citizenship where we live. Let us feel, like Saint Paul, tent-makers (see Acts 18: 3): apostles who allow the Lord to live among his people (see Jn 1:14).
Without this personal confidence, without this intimacy cultivated every day in prayer, even and especially in the hours of desolation and aridity, the core of our episcopal mission is unfolding. Without the closeness to the Sower, it will seem to us a little rewarding the effort to throw the seed without knowing the harvest time. Without the Sower, it will be difficult to accompany the slow maturation with patient confidence. Without Jesus, there comes the distrust that He will not complete his work; without Him, sooner or later, one slips into the pessimistic melancholy of those who say: "everything is bad". It is bad to hear a bishop say this! Only by being with Jesus we are preserved from the Pelagian presumption that good derives from our skill. Only by staying with Jesus does the profound peace that our brothers and sisters seek from us reach our hearts.
And from closeness to God to closeness to his people. Being close to the God of proximity, we grow in the awareness that our identity consists in making ourselves close. It is not an external obligation, but it is an internal requirement of the logic of the gift. "This is my Body offered for you", we say at the highest moment of the Eucharistic offering for our people. Our life springs from here and leads us to become broken loaves for the life of the world. Then the proximity to the people entrusted to us is not an opportunist strategy, but our essential condition. Jesus loves to approach his brothers through us, through our open hands that caress and console; of our words, pronounced to anoint the world of the Gospel and not of ourselves; of our heart, when we are burdened with the anguishes and joys of our brothers. Even in our poverty, it is up to us that no one feels God as distant, that no one takes God as a pretext for raising walls, tearing down bridges and sowing hatred. It is ugly even when a bishop breaks down bridges, sows hatred or distrust, acts as a counter-bishop. We have to announce with life a measure of life different from that of the world: the measure of a love without measure, which does not look to its own profit and to its own advantages, but to the boundless horizon of God's mercy.
The Bishop's closeness is not rhetoric. It is not made up of self-referential proclamations, but of real availability. God surprises us and often loves to upset our agenda: be prepared for this without fear. Proximity knows concrete verbs, those of the good Samaritan: seeing, that is, not looking from the other side, not pretending nothing, not leaving people waiting and not hiding problems under the carpet. So get close to each other, stay in contact with people, dedicate time to them more than at the desk, don't fear contact with reality, to know and embrace. Then, bind up the wounds, take charge, take care, spend (see Lk 10.29-37). Each of these verbs of proximity is a milestone in the journey of a Bishop with his people. Everyone asks to get involved and get their hands dirty. To be close is to empathize with the people of God, to share their pains, not to disdain their hopes. To be close to the people is to trust that the grace that God faithfully pours into, and of which we are channels even through the crosses we carry, is greater than the mud of which we are afraid. Please do not let fear of the risks of the ministry prevail, by retracting and keeping your distance. Your Churches mark your identity, because God has combined their destinies, pronouncing your name together with theirs.
The thermometer of closeness is attention to the least, to the poor, which is already an announcement of the Kingdom. Your sobriety will also be so, in a time in which in many parts of the world everything is reduced to a means to satisfy secondary needs, which engulf and sclerotize the heart. Making a simple life is witnessing that Jesus is enough for us and that the treasure of which we want to surround ourselves is constituted rather by those who, in their poverty, remind us of and represent Him again: not abstract poor, data and social categories, but concrete persons, whose dignity it is entrusted to us as their fathers. Fathers of concrete people; that is paternity, ability to see, concreteness, ability to caress, ability to cry.
It seems that today there are stethoscopes that can hear a heart a meter away. We need Bishops capable of feeling the beat of their communities and their priests, even from a distance: feel the pulse. Pastors who are not satisfied with formal presences, table meetings or circumstantial dialogues. I am reminded of pastors so self-cared for that they look like distilled water, which knows nothing. Apostles of listening, who know how to listen even to what is not pleasant to hear. Please do not surround yourself with bagmen and yes men ... the "climbing" priests who are always looking for ... no, please. Do not crave to be confirmed by those of you who have to confirm. There are many forms of closeness to your Churches. In particular I would like to encourage regular pastoral visits: to visit frequently, to meet people and pastors; visit following the example of the Madonna, who wasted no time and got up to go quickly to her cousin. The Mother of God shows us that to visit is to bring near He who makes one jump with joy, is to bring the comfort of the Lord who does great things among the humble of his people (see Lk 1,39 ff).
Finally, I ask you again to reserve the greatest closeness to your priests: the priest is the closest neighbor of the bishop. Love the next neighbor. Please embrace them, thank them and encourage them on my behalf. They too are exposed to the elements of a world that, despite being tired of darkness, does not spare hostility to light. They need to be loved, followed, encouraged: God does not wish them half measures, but a total yes. In shallow waters it stagnates, but their life is made to take off. Like yours. Courage, therefore, dear brothers! I thank you and bless you. Please remember to pray every day for me too. Thank you.
FULL TEXT + Image Source: Vatican.va - Unofficial Translation from Italian