Pope Francis' Testimony of 52 Years as Priest and Says "Being holy means conforming to Jesus..." at Opening of Vatican Conference on the Priesthood - FULL TEXT + Video



Paul VI Hall
Thursday, 17 February 2022

Dear brothers, good morning!

I thank you for the opportunity to share this reflection with you, which arises from what the Lord has gradually made known to me during these more than 50 years of priesthood. I do not want to exclude from this grateful memory those priests who, with their life and their witness, from my childhood have shown me what gives shape to the face of the Good Shepherd. I meditated on what to share in the life of the priest today and I came to the conclusion that the best word comes from the testimony I have received from so many priests over the years. What I offer is the fruit of the exercise of reflecting on them, recognizing and contemplating what were the characteristics that distinguished them and gave them singular strength, joy and hope in their pastoral mission. (2nd Video is FULL Video of Symposium) 

At the same time, I must say the same of those brother priests whom I had to accompany because they had lost the fire of their first love and their ministry had become sterile, repetitive and almost meaningless. The priest in his life goes through different conditions and moments; personally, I went through various conditions and various moments, and “ruminating” the motions of the Spirit I found that in some situations, including moments of trial, difficulty and desolation, when I lived and shared life in a certain way, peace remained. I am aware that one could talk and theorize a lot about the priesthood; today I wish to share with you this "little harvest" so that today's priest, whatever the moment he is experiencing, can experience the peace and fruitfulness that the Spirit wants to give. I don't know if these reflections are the "swan song" of my priestly life, but I can certainly assure that they come from my experience. No theory here, I'm talking about what I experienced.

The time we live in is a time that asks us not only to intercept the change, but to welcome it with the awareness that we are facing a change of age - I have already said this several times.

If we had any doubts about this, Covid made it more than evident: in fact, his break-in is much more than a health issue, much more than a cold.

Change always places us in front of different ways of dealing with it. The problem is that many actions and many attitudes can be useful and good but not all of them have the flavor of the Gospel. And here is the core, the change and the action that they have and do not have the flavor of the Gospel, it is to discern this. For example, looking for codified forms, very often anchored to the past and which "guarantee" us a sort of protection from risks, taking refuge in a world or in a society that no longer exists (if it never once existed), as if this determined order was capable of putting an end to the conflicts that history presents to us. It is the crisis of going back to take refuge.

Another attitude may be that of an exasperated optimism - “everything will be fine” -; to go too far without discernment and without the necessary decisions. This optimism ends up ignoring the wounded of this transformation, fails to accept the tensions, complexities and ambiguities of the present time and "consecrates" the latest novelty as what is truly real, thus despising the wisdom of the years. (There are two types of escape; they are the attitudes of the mercenary who sees the wolf coming and flees: he flees to the past or flees to the future). None of these attitudes lead to mature solutions. The concreteness of today, we must stop there, the concreteness of today.

Instead, I like the attitude that arises from the confident taking charge of reality, anchored to the wise living and living Tradition of the Church, which can afford to put out into the deep without fear . I feel that Jesus, in this historical moment, invites us once again to "put out into the deep" (cf. Lk 5: 4) with the confidence that he is the Lord of history and that, guided by him, we will be able to discern the horizon from run across. Our salvation is not an aseptic salvation, from a laboratory, no, or from disembodied spiritualisms - there is always the temptation of Gnosticism, which is modern, is current -; discern God's will it means learning to interpret reality with the eyes of the Lord, without the need to escape from what happens to our people where they live, without the anxiety that leads us to seek a quick and reassuring exit guided by the ideology of the moment or by a prefabricated answer, both unable to take on the most difficult and even darkest moments in our history. These two paths would lead us to deny "our history of the Church, which is glorious as a history of sacrifices, of hope, of daily struggle, of life consumed in service, of constancy in hard work" (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium , 96 ).

In this context, priestly life is also affected by this challenge; the vocational crisis that afflicts our communities in various places is a symptom of this. It is also true, however, that often this is due to the absence in the communities of a contagious apostolic fervor, for which they do not excite and do not arouse attraction: functional communities, for example, well organized but without enthusiasm, everything is in place but there is no fire of the spirit. Where there is life, fervor, the desire to bring Christ to others, genuine vocations arise. Even in parishes where priests are not very busy and joyful, it is the fraternal and fervent life of the community that arouses the desire to consecrate oneself entirely to God and to evangelization, especially if this lively community prays insistently for vocations and has the courage to propose to its young people a path of special consecration. When we fall into functionalism, into pastoral organization - all and only this - this is not attractive at all, instead when there is the priest or the community that has this Christian, baptismal fervor, there is the attraction of new vocations.

The life of a priest is above all the story of the salvation of a baptized person. Cardinal Ouellet said this distinction between ministerial and baptismal priesthood. We sometimes forget Baptism, and the priest becomes a function: functionalism, and this is dangerous. We must never forget that every specific vocation, including that to the Order, is the fulfillment of Baptism. It is always a great temptation to live a priesthood without Baptism - and there are, priests "without Baptism" -, that is, without the memory that our first call is to holiness. Being holy means conforming to Jesus and letting our life beat with his own feelings ( cf.Phil2.15). Only when we try to love as Jesus loved, we too make God visible and therefore we fulfill our vocation to holiness. Saint John Paul II rightly reminded us that "the priest, like the Church, must grow in the awareness of his permanent need to be evangelized" (Apostolic Exhortation Postsin. Pastores dabo vobis , 25 March 1992, 26). And you go and tell some bishop, some priest who must be evangelized… they don't understand. And this happens, it is today's drama.

Each specific vocation must be subjected to this type of discernment. Our vocation is first of all a response to the One who loved us first (cf.1 Jn4.19). And this is the source of hope because, even in the midst of the crisis, the Lord does not stop loving and, therefore, calling. And each of us is a witness of this: one day the Lord found us where we were and as we were, in contradictory environments or with complex family situations. I like to reread Ezekiel 16 and sometimes identify myself: he found me here, he found me like this, and he brought me forward ... But this did not distract him from the desire to write, through each of us, the history of salvation . From the beginning it was like this - let's think of Peter and Paul, Matthew…, to name a few -. Having chosen them does not derive from an ideal option but from a concrete commitment with each of them. Everyone, looking at their humanity, their history, their nature,

During these times of change there are many questions to be faced and also the temptations to come. Therefore, in this intervention of mine, I would simply like to dwell on what I feel is decisive for the life of a priest today, keeping in mind what Paul says: "In him - that is, in Christ - the whole building grows well ordered to be a holy temple. in the Lord "( Eph 2:21). Growing well ordered means growing in harmony, and only the Holy Spirit can grow in harmony, like the definition that St. Basil gave, so beautiful: " Ipse harmonia est”, Number 38 of the Treaty [“ On the Holy Spirit ”]. So I thought that every building, in order to keep standing, needs a solid foundation; for this I want to share the attitudes that give solidity to the person of the priest; I want to share - you have already heard it, but I repeat it once again - the four constitutive pillars of our priestly life and which we will call the "four neighborhoods", because they follow the style of God, which is fundamentally a style of closeness (cf. Dt4.7). He himself defines himself to the people as follows: "Tell me, which people have their gods as close as you have me?". God's style is closeness, it is a special, compassionate and tender closeness. The three words that define the life of a priest, and of a Christian as well, because they are taken from God's style: closeness, compassion and tenderness.

I have already referred to it in the past; today, however, I would like to dwell more extensively, since the priest, more than recipes or theories, needs concrete tools with which to face his ministry, his mission and his daily life. Saint Paul exhorted Timothy to keep alive the gift of God that he had received through the laying on of his hands, which is not a spirit of fear, but of strength, love and sobriety (cf. 2 Tm 1,6- 7). I believe that these four columns, these four "neighborhoods" that I will now speak of can help in a practical, concrete and hopeful way to revive the gift and the fruitfulness that one day were promised to us, to keep that gift alive.

First of all closeness to God. Four closenesses, and the first is closeness to God.

Closeness to God

That is, closeness to the Lord of the neighborhood. «I am the vine, you are the branches - this is when John in the Gospel speaks of" remaining "-. Whoever remains in me and I in him bears much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Whoever does not remain in me is thrown away like the branch and withers, and then they pick it up and throw it into the fire and burn it. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for what you want and it will be given to you "( Jn 15: 5-7).

A priest is first of all invited to cultivate this closeness, intimacy with God, and from this relationship he will be able to draw all the strengths necessary for his ministry. The relationship with God is, so to speak, the graft that keeps us within a bond of fruitfulness. Without a meaningful relationship with the Lord, our ministry is bound to become sterile. Closeness to Jesus, contact with his Word, allows us to compare our life with his and learn not to be scandalized by anything that happens to us, to defend ourselves from "scandals". As it was for the Master, you will go through moments of joy and wedding feasts, of miracles and healings, of multiplication of loaves and of rest. There will be times when one can be praised, but there will also be hours of ingratitude, of rejection, of doubt and loneliness, to the point of having to say: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt 27.46).

The closeness to Jesus invites us not to fear any of these hours - not because we are strong, but because we look to him, we cling to him and we say to him: «Lord, do not allow me to fall into temptation! Let me understand that I am living an important moment in my life and that you are with me to prove my faith and my love "(CM Martini, Incontro al Signore Risorto , San Paolo, 102). This closeness to God sometimes takes the form of a struggle: fighting with the Lord especially in moments when his absence is felt most in the life of the priest or in the life of the people entrusted to him. Struggle all night and ask for his blessing (cf. Gen.32.25-27), which will be a source of life for many. Sometimes it's a struggle. A priest who works here in the curia - who has a difficult job, to put order in a place, young - told me, he told me that he came back tired, he came back tired but rested before going to bed in front of the Madonna with the rosary in his hand . He needed that closeness, a curial, a Vatican employee. People in the curia are criticized a lot, sometimes it is true, but I can also say and testify that there are saints in here, this is true.

Many priestly crises have at their origin a scarce life of prayer, a lack of intimacy with the Lord, a reduction of the spiritual life to a mere religious practice. I want to distinguish this also in formation: one thing is the spiritual life, another thing is religious practice. "How's your spiritual life?" - "Very well. I do the meditation in the morning, I pray the rosary, I pray the "mother-in-law" - the mother-in-law is the breviary - I pray the breviary and all this ... I do everything ". No, this is religious practice. But how is your spiritual life? I remember important moments in my life in which this closeness to the Lord was decisive in supporting me, supporting me in dark moments. Without the intimacy of prayer, of spiritual life, of concrete closeness to God through listening to the Word, the Eucharistic celebration, the silence of adoration, entrustment to Mary, the wise accompaniment of a guide, the sacrament of Reconciliation, without these concrete "proximity", a priest is, so to speak, just a tired worker who does not enjoy the benefits of friends of the Lord. In the other diocese I liked to ask the priests: "And tell me - they told me about their work - tell me, how do you go to bed?". And they didn't understand. "Yes yes, how do you go to bed at night?" - “I arrive tired, take a bite and go to bed, and the television in front of the bed ...” - “Ah, bravo! And don't you pass by the Lord, at least to say goodnight to him? ”. That is the question. Lack of closeness. It was normal to be tired from work and to go to rest and watch television, which is lawful, but without the Lord, without this closeness. He had prayed the rosary, he had prayed the breviary, but without intimacy with the Lord. She didn't feel the need to say to the Lord: “Hello, see you tomorrow, thank you very much!”. They are small gestures that reveal the attitude of a priestly soul.

Too often, for example, in priestly life prayer is practiced only as a duty, forgetting that friendship and love cannot be imposed as an external rule, but are a fundamental choice of our heart. A priest who prays remains, at the root, a Christian who has fully understood the gift received in Baptism. A priest who prays is a son who continually remembers being a son and having a Father who loves him. A priest who prays is a child who draws near to the Lord.

But all this is difficult if you are not used to having spaces of silence during the day. If you don't know how to lay down Martha's "doing" to learn Mary's "being". It is hard to give up activism - activism can often be an escape - because when you stop getting busy, peace does not immediately come to your heart, but desolation; and in order not to go into desolation, one is willing to never stop. Work is a distraction, so as not to go into desolation. But desolation is a bit like the meeting point with God. It is precisely by accepting the desolation that comes from silence, from the fasting of activities and words, from the courage to examine ourselves sincerely, right there, that everything takes on a light and a peace. that no longer rest on our strengths and abilities. It is about learning to let the Lord continue to carry out his work in each one and prune all that is infertile, sterile and that distorts the call. Persevering in prayer means not only remaining faithful to a practice: it means not running away when it is precisely prayer that leads us into the desert. The way to the desert is the way that leads to intimacy with God, provided, however, not to flee, not to find ways to escape from this encounter. In the desert "I will speak to his heart", the Lord says to his people through the mouth of the prophet Hosea (cf. 2:16). This is something that the priest must ask himself: if he is capable of letting himself be carried into the desert. The spiritual guides, those who accompany the priests, must understand, help them and ask this question: are you able to let yourself go into the desert? Or do you go straight to the oasis of television or something else?

Closeness to God allows the priest to make contact with the pain that is in our heart and which, if accepted, disarms us to the point of making an encounter possible. The prayer which, like fire, animates the priestly life is the cry of a broken and humiliated heart, which - the Word tells us - the Lord does not despise (cf. Ps 50:19). «They cry out and the Lord listens to them, / frees them from all their anguish. / The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, / he saves the broken spirits "( Ps 34: 18-19).

A priest must have a heart that is "enlarged" enough to make room for the pain of the people entrusted to him and, at the same time, as a sentinel to announce the dawn of God's grace which is manifested precisely in that pain. Embracing, accepting and presenting one's misery in closeness to the Lord will be the best school to be able, little by little, to make room for all the misery and pain that he will encounter daily in his ministry, to the point of becoming himself like the heart of Christ. . And this will also prepare the priest for another closeness: that of the People of God. In closeness to God, the priest strengthens the closeness to his people; and vice versa, closeness to his Lord also lives in closeness to his people. And this closeness with God - which attracts my attention - is the first task of the bishops,Acts 6.4). That is, the bishop's first task is to pray; and this must also be taken by the priest: to pray.

«He has to grow up; I, on the other hand, decrease "( Jn 3:30), said John the Baptist. Intimacy with God makes all this possible, because in prayer one experiences being great in his eyes, and then it is no longer a problem for priests close to the Lord to become small in the eyes of the world. And there, in that closeness, it is no longer scary to conform to Jesus Crucified, as we are asked to do in the rite of priestly ordination, which is very beautiful but we often forget it.

Let's move on to the second proximity, which will be shorter than the first.

Proximity to the bishop

For a long time this second closeness has been read only unilaterally. As a Church too often, and even today, we have given obedience an interpretation that is far from the hearing of the Gospel. Obedience is not a disciplinary attribute but the strongest characteristic of the bonds that unite us in communion. In this case, obeying the bishop means learning to listen and remember that no one can claim to be the holder of God's will, and that it must be understood only through discernment. Obedience therefore is listening to the will of God which is discerned precisely in a bond. This listening attitude allows us to develop the idea that no one is the principle and foundation of life, but everyone must necessarily confront the others. This logic of proximity - in this case with the bishop, but it also applies to the others - it allows you to break all temptations of closure, of self-justification and to lead a life "as a bachelor", or as a "bachelor". When priests close, they close ..., they end up "bachelors" with all the manias of "bachelors", and this is not nice. On the contrary, this closeness invites us to appeal to other instances to find the way that leads to truth and to life.

The bishop is not a school overseer, he is not a watchman, he is a father, and he should give this closeness. The bishop must try to behave in this way because otherwise he pushes away the priests, or he approaches only the ambitious ones. The bishop, whoever he is, remains for every presbyter and for every particular Church a bond that helps to discern God's will. But we must not forget that the bishop himself can be an instrument of this discernment only if he too listens of the reality of his priests and of the holy people of God entrusted to him. I wrote in Evangelii gaudium: «We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than hearing. The first thing, in communicating with the other, is the capacity of the heart which makes proximity possible, without which there is no true spiritual encounter. Listening helps us to identify the right gesture and word that moves us from the peaceful condition of spectators. Only starting from this respectful and compassionate listening can we find the ways for growth, can we awaken the desire for the Christian ideal, the anxiety to respond fully to God's love and the desire to develop the best of how much God has sown in his own life "(n. 171 ).

It is no coincidence that evil, in order to destroy the fruitfulness of the Church's action, seeks to undermine the bonds that constitute us. Defending the bonds of the priest with the particular Church, with the institute to which he belongs and with the bishop makes priestly life reliable. Defend the bonds. Obedience is the fundamental choice of welcoming whoever is placed before us as a concrete sign of that universal sacrament of salvation which is the Church. Obedience which can also be confrontation, listening and, in some cases, tension, but it does not break. This necessarily requires that priests pray for the bishops and know how to express their opinion with respect, courage and sincerity. It also requires humility from the bishops, the ability to listen, to self-criticize and to allow themselves to be helped. If we defend this bond, we will proceed safely on our path.

And I believe that this, as far as closeness to the bishops is concerned, is sufficient.

Proximity between presbyters

It is the third proximity. Proximity to God, closeness to the bishops, closeness to priests. It is precisely starting from communion with the bishop that the third closeness opens, which is that of fraternity. Jesus manifests himself where there are brothers willing to love each other: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them" ( Mt18.20). Even fraternity like obedience cannot be a moral imposition external to us. Fraternity is deliberately choosing to try to be holy with others and not in solitude, holy with others. An African proverb, which you know well, says: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go with the others ". Sometimes it seems that the Church is slow - and it is true - but I like to think that it is the slowness of those who have decided to walk in fraternity. Also accompanying the least, but always in fraternity.

The characteristics of fraternity are those of love. Saint Paul, in the First Letter to the Corinthians (chap. 13), left us a clear "map" of love and, in a certain sense, showed us what fraternity should aim at. First of all, to learn patience , which is the ability to feel responsible for others, to carry their burdens, to suffer in a certain sense with them. The opposite of patience is indifference, the distance we build with others in order not to feel involved in their life. In many presbyters, the drama of loneliness is consummated, of feeling alone. One feels unworthy of patience, of consideration. Indeed, it seems that judgment comes from the other, not goodness, not kindnessThe other is unable to enjoy the good that happens to us in life, or I too am unable to do so when I see the good in the lives of others. This inability to enjoy the good of others, of others, is envy - I want to emphasize this -, which torments our environments so much and which is an effort in the pedagogy of love, not simply a sin to confess. Sin is the last thing, it is the attitude that is envious. Envy is very present in the priestly communities. And the Word of God tells us that it is the destructive attitude: through the devil's envy sin entered the world ( cf.2.24). It is the door, the door to destruction. And on this we must speak clearly, in our presbyters there is envy. Not everyone is envious, no, but there is the temptation of envy at hand. Let's be careful. And from envy comes the chatter.

To feel part of the community, of “being us”, there is no need to wear masks that offer us only a winning image. In other words, we do not need to boast , much less to inflate ourselves or, worse still, to assume violent attitudes, disrespecting those around us. There are also clerical forms of bullying . Because a priest, if he has anything to boast about, it is the mercy of the Lord; he knows his own sin, his own misery and his own limitations, but he has experienced that where sin abounded, love abounded all the more (cf. Rom 5:20); and this is the first good news of him. A priest who has this in mind is not envious, he cannot be envious.

Brotherly love does not seek its own interest , it leaves no room for anger , resentment, as if the brother who is next to me had somehow cheated me of something. And when I encounter the misery of the other, I am willing not to remember the evil received forever , not to make it become the only criterion of judgment, to the point perhaps of enjoying injustice when it concerns the very person who made me suffer. True love takes pleasure in the truthand he considers it a grave sin to attack the truth and dignity of the brothers through slander, slander, gossip. The origin is envy. It comes to this, even to slander, to get to a place… And this is very sad. When information is requested from here to make someone a bishop, many times we receive information sick with envy. And this is a disease of our presbyters. Many of you are formators in seminaries, take this into account.

However, in this sense it cannot be allowed to believe that brotherly love is a utopia, much less a "commonplace" to arouse good feelings or words of circumstance or a reassuring speech. No. We all know how difficult it can be to live in community or in the presbytery - some saint said: community life is my penance -, how difficult it is to share daily life with those we wanted to recognize as brothers. Fraternal love, if we do not want to sweeten it, accommodate it, diminish it, is the "great prophecy" that we are called to live in this society of waste. I like to think of brotherly love as a gymnasium of the spirit, where day by day we confront ourselves and have the thermometer of our spiritual life. Today the prophecy of fraternity remains alive and needs announcers; it needs people who, aware of their limitations and of the difficulties that arise, allow themselves to be touched, challenged and moved by the Lord's words: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples: if you have love for one another" (Jn 13:35).

Fraternal love for priests does not remain closed in a small group, but takes the form of pastoral charity (cf. Apostolic Exhortation , Pastores dabo vobis , 23), which prompts us to live it concretely in the mission. We can say we love if we learn to decline it in the way that St. Paul describes. And only those who seek to love are safe. Those who live with Cain's syndrome, in the belief that they cannot love because they always feel that they have not been loved, valued, taken into due consideration, in the end they always live like a wanderer, without ever feeling at home, and for this reason they are more exposed to evil: to get hurt and to do evil. For this reason, love between priests has the function of guarding, of mutually guarding each other.

I go so far as to say that where priestly fraternity works, the closeness between priests, there are bonds of true friendship, there it is also possible to live the celibate choice with more serenity. Celibacy is a gift that the Latin Church guards, but it is a gift that, in order to be lived as sanctification, requires healthy relationships, relationships of true esteem and true good that find their roots in Christ. Without friends and without prayer, celibacy can become an unbearable burden and a counter-witness to the very beauty of the priesthood.

Now we come to the fourth, the last, closeness to the People of God, to the faithful Holy People of God. It will do us good to read Lumen gentium , number 8 and number 12.

Proximity to the people

Many times I have emphasized how the relationship with the Holy People of God is for each of us not a duty but a grace. "Love for people is a spiritual force that favors an encounter in fullness with God" ( Evangelii gaudium , 272 ). This is why the place of every priest is among the people, in a relationship of closeness with the people.

I have emphasized in  Evangelii gaudiumthat “to be evangelizers it is also necessary to develop the spiritual taste of remaining close to the life of the people, to the point of discovering that this becomes a source of greater joy. The mission is a passion for Jesus but, at the same time, it is a passion for his people. When we pause in front of Jesus crucified, we recognize all his love that gives us dignity and sustains us, however, in that same moment, if we are not blind, we begin to perceive that Jesus' gaze widens and turns full of affection and of ardor for all his faithful people. Thus we rediscover that he wants to use us to get ever closer to the people he loved him. Jesus wants to use priests to get closer to God's faithful Holy People. He takes us among the people and sends us to the people,268 ). Priestly identity cannot be understood without belonging to the faithful Holy People of God.

I am sure that, in order to understand anew the identity of the priesthood, today it is important to live in close relationship with the real life of the people, next to them, without any way of escape. “At times we feel the temptation to be Christians by keeping a prudent distance from the Lord's wounds. But Jesus wants us to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others. He expects us to give up seeking those personal or community shelters that allow us to keep ourselves at a distance from the knot of human drama, so that we truly accept to come into contact with the concrete existence of others and we know the strength of tenderness. When we do this, life is always wonderfully complicated and we live the intense experience of being a people, the experience of belonging to a people "( ibid .., 270 ). And the people is not a logical category, no, it is a mythical category; to understand this we must approach as we approach a mythical category.

Proximity to the People of God. A closeness which, enriched with the "other neighborhoods", the other three, invites - and to a certain extent demands it - to carry on the style of the Lord, which is a style of closeness, compassion and tenderness, because he is capable of walking not as a judge but as the Good Samaritan, who recognizes the wounds of his people, the suffering lived in silence, the self-denial and sacrifices of so many fathers and mothers to keep their families and consequences of violence, corruption and indifference, which as it passes tries to silence all hope. Proximity that allows us to anoint our wounds and proclaim a year of grace from the Lord (cf. Is 61,2). It is crucial to remember that the People of God hope to find shepherds with the style of Jesus, and not "clerics of state" - we remember that time in France: there was the curate of Ars, the curate, but there was "monsieur abbĂ©", clerics of state -. Even today, the people ask us to be pastors of the people and not clerics of the state or "professionals of the sacred"; shepherds who know of compassion, of opportunity; courageous men, capable of stopping in front of the wounded and of reaching out their hand; contemplative men who, in proximity to their people, can announce the working force of the Resurrection on the wounds of the world.

One of the crucial characteristics of our society of "networks" is that the feeling of orphanage abounds, this is a current phenomenon. Connected to everything and everyone, we lack the experience of belonging, which is much more than a connection. With the closeness of the pastor, the community can be summoned and the growth of the sense of belonging can be encouraged; we belong to the faithful Holy People of God, who are called to be a sign of the eruption of the Kingdom of God in the today of history. If the shepherd gets lost, if the shepherd goes away, the sheep too will scatter and will be within the reach of any wolf.

This belonging, in turn, will provide the antidote against a deformation of the vocation that arises precisely from forgetting that the priestly life is owed to others - to the Lord and to the people entrusted to him -. This forgetfulness lies at the basis of clericalism - of which Cardinal Ouellet spoke - and its consequences. Clericalism is a perversion, and one of its signs, rigidity, is another perversion as well. Clericalism is a perversion because it is constituted on "distances". It is curious: not about the neighborhood, the opposite. When I think of clericalism, I also think of the clericalization of the laity: that promotion of a small elite which, around the priest, also ends up distorting its own fundamental mission ( cf.Gaudium et spes, 44), that of the layman. Many clericalized lay people, many: "I am from that association, we are there in the parish, we are ...". The "chosen", clericalized laity, is a beautiful temptation. Let us remember that “the mission to the heart of the people is not a part of my life, or an ornament that I can take off, it is not an appendix, or a moment among many of my existence. It is something that I cannot eradicate from my being a priest if I do not want to destroy myself. I  am a mission  on this earth, and that is why I am in this world. We must recognize ourselves as being branded by this mission of illuminating, blessing, vivifying, relieving, healing, liberating "( Evangelii gaudium , 273 ).

I would like to relate this closeness to the People of God with closeness to God, since the shepherd's prayer is nourished and incarnated in the heart of the People of God. When he prays, the shepherd bears the signs of the wounds and joys of his people, which he silently presents to the Lord to anoint them with the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the hope of the pastor who trusts and fights for the Lord to bless his people.

Following the teaching of St. Ignatius that "not much knowledge satisfies and satisfies the soul, but feeling and tasting things internally" ( Spiritual Exercises, Annotazioni, 2, 4), bishops and priests will do well to ask themselves "how are my neighborhoods going", how I am living these four dimensions that configure my being a priest in a transversal way and allow me to manage tensions and imbalances with which we have to deal with every day. These four neighborhoods are a good school for "playing in the open", where the priest is called, without fear, without rigidity, without reducing or impoverishing the mission. A priestly heart knows of closeness because the first one who wanted to be close was the Lord. May he visit his priests in prayer, in the bishop, in his brother presbyters and in his people. You disrupt the routine and disturb a little, you arouse restlessness - as in the time of first love -,Jn 10:10). The proximity of the Lord is not an additional task: it is a gift that he makes to keep his vocation alive and fruitful. The closeness with God, the closeness with the bishop, the closeness between us priests and the closeness with the faithful Holy People of God.

Faced with the temptation to close ourselves in endless speeches and discussions on the theology of the priesthood or on theories of what it should be, the Lord looks with tenderness and compassion and offers priests the coordinates from which to recognize and keep alive the ardor for the mission : closeness, which is compassionate and tender, closeness to God, to the bishop, to the priestly brothers and to the people entrusted to them. Closeness to the style of God, who is close with compassion and tenderness.

And thank you for your closeness and your patience, thank you, thank you very much! Good work to you all. I go to the library because I have so many appointments this morning. Pray for me and I will pray for you. Good job!