What is required of ministers of the Church – bishops, priests and deacons – for their service to be authentic and fruitful?”. This was the question posed by Pope Francis in his catechesis during this Wednesday’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
In his pastoral epistles, St. Paul lists, alongside faith and spiritual life, a number of human qualities essential for these ministries: hospitality, temperance, patience, gentleness, reliability, and goodness of heart. These, said the Holy Father, are “the alphabet, the grammar at the base of every ministry! Without this predisposition to encounter, know, enter into dialogue with, appreciate and relate to one’s brethren in a respectful and sincere way, it is impossible to offer a service and a truly joyful and credible witness”.
There is another basic attitude that Paul recommends to his disciples and, consequently, to all those in whom pastoral ministry is invested: the continual renewal of the gift received. “This means always keeping alive the awareness that one does not become a bishop, priest or deacon for being more intelligent or better than others, but by receiving a gift from God … for the good of His people. This knowledge is truly important and constitutes a grace to be asked for every day. Indeed, a pastor who is aware that his ministry stems solely from the mercy and from the heart of God can never assume an authoritarian attitude, as if he had everyone at his feet and as if the community were his own property, his own personal kingdom”.
“The awareness that it is all a gift, it is a grace, also helps the pastor not to give in to the temptation to place himself at the centre of attention and to trust only in himself. These are the temptations of vanity, pride, sufficiency, arrogance. God does not like it when a bishop, priest or deacon thinks that he knows it all, that he always has the right answer for everything and has no need for anyone else”, exclaimed Francis. “On the contrary, the knowledge that he, first and foremost, is the object of God’s mercy and compassion must lead a minister of the Church always to be humble and understanding towards others. While in the knowledge of being required to courageously guard the faith entrusted to him, he must always be willing to listen to the people. Indeed, he is aware that there is always something to learn, even from those who may be distant from the faith and from the Church. All this must lead him to assume, with his brethren, a new attitude characterized by sharing, co-responsibility and communion”.
“We must always be grateful to the Lord Who, in the person and the ministry of the bishops, priests and deacons, continues to guide and form His Church, enabling her to grow along the path of sanctity. At the same time, we must continue to pray, so that the pastors of our communities may be the living image of communion and of God’s love”, concluded the bishop of Rome.