Pope's teachings

St. Joseph and the priesthood

We present two themes among the teachings of Francis in February. On the one hand, St. Joseph and his relationship with us. On the other hand, the figure of the Catholic priesthood, in the present context and in relation to evangelization, as an introduction to a symposium on the priesthood. 

Ramiro Pellitero-March 3, 2022-Reading time: 8 minutes
San Jose

(You can read the Italian version here)

As an explanation of the Apostolic Letter Patris corde (December 8, 2020), which celebrated the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Joseph as patron of the universal Church by Blessed Pius IX, Francis dedicated twelve general audiences to him. His aim was to present him as "support, comfort and guidance"for "to let ourselves be enlightened by their example and testimony".

This catechesis on St. Joseph covers three main areas: the figure and role of the saint in the plan of salvation, his virtues and his relationship with the Church. 

St. Joseph and his role in the design of salvation

The "environment in which St. Joseph lived". (cfr. 7-XI-2021) invites us to value the essential in the simple, through discernment, personally and in the Church. The role of the saintly patriarch in the "salvation history". (24-XI-2021) is that of guardian of God's plans and, therefore, of those whom the Lord entrusts to us (a recurring argument in this pontificate from the beginning, cf. 19-III-2013). 

In discussing "Joseph, righteous man and husband of Mary". (1-XII-2021) gave a message to engaged and newlyweds, about the need to move from infatuation ("romantic" aspect) to mature love, a demanding but necessary step to free true love and make it resistant to the tests of time, turning difficulties into opportunities to grow. 

San José as "man of silence". (December 15-2021), invites us to "to make room for the Presence of the Word made flesh".. With references to Sacred Scripture, St. Augustine, St. John of the Cross and Pascal, the Pope noted that Jesus grew up in that "school" of silence in Nazareth, which favors prayer and contemplation, as noted in the Gospel.. This teaches us to use the tongue to bless and not to harm (cf. James 3:2-10), and not to fall into the activism of work.

The virtues of St. Joseph

San José, "persecuted and courageous emigrant".(29-XII-2021), was the theme of the following catechesis. Joseph seems like a just and courageous or strong man as required by ordinary life, which always brings us adversity. This prompted the Pope to invite us to pray for migrants, the persecuted and the victims of adverse circumstances, political, historical or personal. 

Already in the new year, Francis reflected on St. Joseph, putative father of Jesus(5-I-2022). He considered the reality of adoption in contrast to the sense of orphanhood that we experience today; and asked that it be facilitated by the institutions, monitoring the seriousness of the procedure.

He then stopped at work, under the heading. St. Joseph the carpenter (12-I-2022). The work is "an essential component in human life, and also in the path of sanctification".. Invited to think "what can we do to recover the value of work; and what can we contribute, as a Church, so that it may be rescued from the logic of mere profit and may be lived as a fundamental right and duty of the person, which expresses and increases his dignity?".

It later passed to the consideration of saint Joseph, father in tenderness (January 19, 2022), focusing on his affection and mercy. He evoked the mercy of the Lord, who always forgives (sacrament of Confession). And the need for a "revolution of tenderness".to promote the redemption of offenses - also for the incarcerated - as part of justice. 

By focusing on the figure of "St. Joseph, a man who dreams". (26-I-2022), Francis reflected on the four dreams of St. Joseph according to the Gospels (Mt 1:18-25; Mt 2:13; Mt 2:19-20; Mt 2:22-23). He proposed, especially when faced with situations we do not understand, to turn to the prayer. God never leaves us without help or at least inspiration. In this context, he proposed to pray for so many people who need faith and hope in the face of various problems and difficulties. Francis referred to "parents who see different sexual orientations in their children".and prayed that they would know "how to manage this and accompany the children and not hide in a condemning attitude.". He did not fail to note that, as we see in the life of St. Joseph, authentic prayer translates into work and love.

St. Joseph, the "Communion of Saints" and his protection in death

Already in the final stretch of these catecheses, in February, the Pope addressed the reality of saint Joseph and the communion of saints (2-II-2022), which is precisely the Church (cfr. Catechism of the Catholic Church946), both on earth and in heaven. 

On earth, Francis pointed out, "the Church is the community of saved sinners."We are brothers and sisters by baptism, which is an indestructible bond on earth. Hence our solidarity, both for good and for evil. The "communion of saints" includes the deceased (in purgatory) and unreconciled sinners, while they are in this world, including the dead. "those who have denied the faith, who are apostates, who are persecutors of the Church, who have denied their baptism, (...) the blasphemers, all of them".

Indeed, it should be recalled that, according to the Second Vatican Council (cf. Lumen Gentium, nn. 14 and 15) sinners, if baptized, "belong" to the communion of saints, which is the Church, in an imperfect or incomplete way. And if they are not baptized, they are "ordained" to the mystery of the Church, in some way related to her insofar as they seek the truth and consistently live charity. 

The penultimate catechesis was about St. Joseph, Patron of the good death (9-II-2022). Francis evoked the help that we Christians traditionally ask of the patriarch at the moment of death. And he praised Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who, at the age of 95, testified to his awareness of the reality of death. The Christian faith," Francis explained, "helps us to face death. It illuminates it from the resurrection of Christ; it helps us to detach ourselves from material things and to focus on charity; it urges us to care for the sick and not to "discard" the elderly. 

Finally, the bishop of Rome reflected on St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church (16-II-2022). We too are responsible for the protection and care of life, of the heart, of work and of mankind, and of the Church: "We are the ones who are responsible for the protection and care of life, of the heart, of work and of mankind, and of the Church.Every person who is hungry and thirsty, every foreigner, every migrant, every person without clothes, every sick person, every prisoner is the 'Child' that Joseph guards.". We must also learn from Joseph to "guard" the goods that come to us with the Church: "to love the Child and his mother; to love the Sacraments and the people of God; to love the poor and our parish." (cfr. Patris corde, 5). 

We must love the Church as it isThe Pope concluded, as a people of sinners who encounter God's mercy. At the same time, we must recognize all the good and holiness that is present in the Church. The Church is all Christians. Therefore, we must take care of and protect ourselves, and not destroy ourselves. And for this he asked the intercession of St. Joseph for all of us. 

The priest and his "surroundings": from the priestly heart of Christ

The Pope's address to the Symposium For a fundamental theology of the priesthood (February 17-19, 2022), organized by the Congregation for the Bishops, consists of an introduction and four sections, corresponding to the "four commuter trains" of the priest. 

In his introduction, the Pope claims to speak from his own experience and the witness received from so many good priests; and also from the experience of having accompanied others whose priesthood was in crisis. He affirms that in priestly life, trials can coexist with peace, provided that one allows oneself to be helped by God and others. 

He points out that in times of major changes -such as the current one- it is necessary to avoid a double risk: that of taking refuge nostalgically in the past, and of trusting too much in the future with exaggerated optimism, thus disregarding the wisdom that comes from discernment in the present. The desirable attitude "arises from confidently taking charge of reality, anchored in the wise living Tradition of the Church, which can allow itself to put out into the deep without fear (...) with the confidence that He is the Lord of history and that, guided by Him, we will be able to discern the horizon that we must travel.".

As for the priest, he must seek his own holiness, following the call he first received in baptism; and let himself be helped and evangelized (cf. John Paul II, Exhortation ap. Pastores dabo vobis26), so as not to fall into functionalism. 

As for the "vocation discernment".each, Looking at his humanity, his history and his disposition, he must ask himself if in conscience this vocation can unfold in him the potential of Love that he received at baptism. To this end, Christian communities that are fervent and apostolically vibrant are of great help.

From these elements, the Pope explained the four harmonies of the priest (and of the bishop) that he has explained on other occasions, such as pillars for a style that imitates that of God (reflected in the priestly heart of Christ): closeness, compassion and tenderness. 

Closeness to God (spiritual life)

It is about spiritual life of the priest, of his "life of prayer" in order to remain in Christ (cf. Jn 15:5-7). From this comes the strength for the ministry and its fruitfulness; the ability not to be scandalized by anything that happens, whether humanly pleasing or not; the strength to overcome temptations, counting on the struggle, on the spiritual combat of the priest. It is not just a matter of "religious practice" (practices or devotions), but also of "of listening to the Word, of the Eucharistic celebration, of the silence of adoration, of surrender to Mary, of the wise accompaniment of a guide, of the sacrament of Reconciliation".

The priest should not take refuge in activism or in other distractions, but should present himself in prayer with "a contrite and humbled heart" (cf. Ps 34 and 50). In this way, his heart will be enlarged to the measure of Christ's, in order to accommodate the needs of his people, which in turn will bring him closer to the Lord. Prayer is the first task of the bishop and the priest. There he learns to "diminish" before God (cf. Jn 3:30), and it is no problem for him to make himself small in the eyes of the world.

Closeness to the bishop (obedience)

For a long time, Francis says, it has been misinterpreted as a obedience. "To obey, in this case the bishop, means." -The successor of Peter points out. "learn to listen and remember that no one can claim to be the possessor 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 avoids closing in on oneself and leading a "bachelor" life with the corresponding manias. 

The priest, therefore, must "defending the links" with the bishop and with the particular Church. He should pray for the bishop and express his opinion with respect, courage and sincerity. This "it also requires from the bishops humility, the ability to listen, to be self-critical and to allow themselves to be helped.".

Closeness among priests (priestly fraternity)

The priestly fraternity, the Pope stressed, has Christ as its foundation (cf. Mt 18:20). "Fraternity is deliberately choosing to try to be saints with others and not in solitude, saints with others.". The characteristics of fraternity are those of love (cf. 1 Cor. 13), presided over by patience and the capacity to enjoy and suffer with others. In this way, indifference, isolation and even envy are combated. bullying priestly, rancor and gossip. 

Brotherly love is like "a training camp for the spirit" and the thermometer of the spiritual life (cf. Jn 13:35). It leads to living the mission, opening oneself and feeling at home, guarding and protecting one another. This is how celibacy is lived with serenity, as a gift for sanctification, a gift that requires healthy relationships. "Without friends and prayer, celibacy can become an unbearable burden and an anti-testimony to the very beauty of the priesthood.".

Closeness to God's people (passion of the shepherd)

For this, the Pope refers to Lumen gentium It is, he points out, not a duty but a grace (cfr. Evangelii gaudium, 268-273). The priestly mission implies at the same time "passion for Jesus and passion for his people".We should not be the "orphans" in the midst of the difficulties, the wounds, the "orphanhood" that abounds in our society of "networks". Not as civil servants, but as courageous, close and contemplative pastors, in order to be able to "to proclaim over the wounds of the world the operative power of the Resurrection".

The forgetfulness that the priestly life is due to others - Francis observes - is at the basis of the clericalism and its consequences. "Clericalism is a perversion, and also one of its signs, rigidity, is another perversion.". Clericalism is constituted, curiously enough, not on proximity, but rather on distances. And it is associated with the "clericalization of the laity".forgetting their own mission. 

By taking care of these four areas, concludes the Pope, the priest can better identify himself with the priestly heart of Christ, to allow oneself to be visited and transformed by Him.

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