Here is a translation of the Holy Father Francis’ June 10, 2021 address in the course of the Audience to the “Pius XI” Pontifical Marche Regional Seminary of Ancona.
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The Holy Father’s Address
I’m happy to welcome your community of the “Pius XI” Pontifical Marche Regional Seminary. I thank the Rector for his words of greeting. This Rector is enthusiastic!
The meeting takes place in the Year dedicated to Saint Joseph and that leads me to share with you some thoughts on a vocation inspired by “this extraordinary figure, so close to the human condition of each one of us” (Apostolic Letter Patris Corde, December 8, 2020) and also close to the call that God willed to address to you.
I like to imagine the Seminary as the Family of Nazareth, in which Jesus was received, protected, and formed in view of the mission entrusted to Him by the Father. The Son of God accepted to allow Himself to be loved and guided by human parents, Mary and Joseph, teaching each one of us that, without docility, no one can grow and mature. I would like to underscore this because there is not much talk about docility. To be docile is a gift we must request. Docility is a virtue not only to acquire but to receive. It’s important that each one of you asks himself always “Am I docile? Am I rebellious and don’t care about anything; do I do as I please?” No, docility is a constructive attitude of one’s vocation and also of one’s personality. Without docility, no one can grow and mature. In fact, the Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis affirms that the priest is a disciple continually on the way in the footsteps of the Master and, therefore, his formation is a process in evolution, which initiated in the family, continued in the parish, was consolidated in the Seminary and lasts one’s whole life. The figure of Saint Joseph is the most beautiful model in which your Formators are called to be inspired in protecting and taking care of your vocation. Therefore, it is them that I intend to address first of all.
Dear brothers of the Marche Episcopal Conference, the first responsible for the formation of these young men. Dear Rector, Spiritual Director and all Formators: be for your seminarians what Joseph was for Jesus! They can learn more from your life than from your words, as happened in the home of Nazareth, where Jesus was formed in the school of Joseph’s “creative courage.” May they learn docility from your obedience; laboriousness from your dedication; generosity with the poor from the testimony of your sobriety and availability; paternity thanks to your strong and chaste affection. “Next to the name father, tradition has given Joseph that of “most chaste.” It’s not a merely affective indication, but the synthesis of an attitude that expresses the opposite of possession. Chastity is freedom from possession in all ambits of life. Only when a love is chaste, it is truly love. Love that wants to possess, in the end always becomes dangerous; it imprisons, suffocates, renders one unhappy” (Apostolic Letter Patris Corde).
And now, dear seminarians, I want to turn to you. The Church asks you to follow the example of Jesus, who allows Himself with docility to be educated by Joseph. From His childhood, He had to experience the effort that every path of growth entails; pose the great questions of life; begin to assume His responsibilities, and make His own decisions. But He was God; He had no need, no. He learned, but He really learned; He did not feign that He learned. No, He learned. Yes, He was God, but he was true man: He went through all the stages of a man’s growth. Perhaps we haven’t reflected enough on the young Jesus, committed to discerning His vocation, to listen and to confide in Mary and Joseph, to talk with the Father to understand His mission.
May the Seminary be for you also like the Nazareth home, in which the Son of God learned from His parents’ humanity and closeness. Don’t be content to be skilled in the use of the social media to communicate. Only by being transformed by the Word of God will you be able to communicate words of life. The world is thirsty for priests who are able to communicate the goodness of the Lord to one who has experienced sin and failure, priests that are experts in humanity, Pastors willing to share the joys and difficulties of brothers, men who let themselves affected by the cry of one who suffers. Draw the humanity of Jesus from the Gospel and from the Tabernacle, look for it in the lives of the Saints and of the many heroes of charity, think of the genuine example of those that transmitted the faith to you, your grandparents, your parents. Paul already said it to his beloved disciple Timothy: “Remember your mother and your grandmother, your roots.” And read also those writers that were able to read into the human spirit. I am thinking, for example, of Dostoevsky, who in the miserable events of earthly pain was able to reveal the beauty of the love that saves. But some of you might say: but what does Dostoevsky have to do with it here? These are for the literati! No, no, they help us to grow in humanity. Read the great humanists. A priest can be very disciplined; he can be capable of explaining Theology well, also Philosophy, and many things. However, if he isn’t human, it’s no good. Let him go out and be a professor, but if he isn’t human, he can’t be priest; he is lacking something. Is he lacking a tongue? No, he can talk. He is lacking a heart. Be experts in humanity!
Hence, the Seminary must not steer you away from reality, from dangers and, even less so, from others. On the contrary, it must make you closer to God and to brothers. Dilate your heart within the walls of the Seminary — have a dilated heart — extend it to the whole world, be passionate about what brings you “close,” be passionate about what brings you close, what “opens,” what makes you “encounter.” Beware of experiences that lead to sterile intimism, of “satisfying spiritualism,” which seems to give consolation but, instead, leads to closure and rigidity. And I pause here a bit. Rigidity is somewhat fashionable today, but rigidity is one of the manifestations of clericalism. Clericalism is a perversion of the priesthood; it’s a perversion, and rigidity is one of its manifestations. When I meet a rigid seminarian or young priest, I say: ”something awful is going on within him.” Behind all rigidity, there is a serious problem, because rigidity lacks humanity.
Finally, I would like to suggest to you some points regarding the four dimensions of formation: the human dimension, the spiritual dimension, the intellectual dimension, and the pastoral dimension. First of all, don’ distance yourselves from your humanity; don’ leave the complexity of your interior world outside the door of the Seminary, or your sentiments and affectivity, don’t leave them outside. Don’t shut yourselves in yourselves when you are living a moment of crisis or weakness. It’s proper to humanity to speak about them. Open yourselves in all sincerity to your Formators, fighting against any form of interior falsehood — those that have the face of Blessed Imelda but inside are a disaster. No, this is interior falsehood. Don’t pretend to be an angel, no. Cultivate clean, joyful, humanly liberating, full relations, capable of friendship, of sentiments, of fruitfulness.
The spiritual dimension; spirituality, prayer must not be ritualism. Those who are rigid always end up in ritualism. May prayer be an occasion of a personal encounter with God. And if you get angry with God, do so, because to get angry with a father is a way of communicating love. Don’ be afraid, He understands that language, He is a Father — have a personal encounter with God, dialogue with Him, and have confidence in Him. Be vigilant so that it does not happen that the Liturgy and communal prayer become celebrations of ourselves. Once I went to buy shirts – when I could still go out; now I can’t – in an ecclesiastical clothes store. There was a young man, seminarian or priest, who was looking for clothes. I looked at him; he was looking at himself in the mirror, and this phrase came to me. This one is celebrating himself, and he’ll do the same thing before the altar. Please, may every liturgical celebration not be a celebration of ourselves. Enrich your prayer with faces; henceforth feel yourselves intercessors for the world.
The third dimension: may study help you to enter, with awareness and competence, in the complexity of contemporary culture and thought, and don’t be afraid or hostile to them. Don’t be afraid. “But, Father, we are living in a time marked by atheistic thought.” But you must understand it; you must dialogue and proclaim your faith, and proclaim Jesus Christ to this world, to this thought. It is there that the wisdom of the Gospel is incarnated, And the challenge of the mission that awaits you requires today more than ever, competence and preparation — today more than ever. Study, competence, and preparation are necessary to talk with this world.
And may the fourth dimension, pastoral formation spur you to go with enthusiasm to encounter people. You are priests to serve the People of God, to take care of the wounds of all, especially of the poor. Be available to others: this is sure proof of your yes to God – and no clericalism, I’ve already said it. To be disciples of Jesus means to free oneself from oneself and to conform oneself to His same sentiments. Be conformed to Him who came “not to be served, but to serve” (cf. Mark 10:45). A true Pastor doesn’t detach himself from the People of God; he is in the People of God, before them, to indicate the way; in their midst, to understand them better, or behind, to help those who stay somewhat behind, and also to let the people, the flock indicate a bit with its scenting where there are new pastures. The true Pastor must move continually in these three positions: before, in the midst, and behind. Sometimes I see books or congresses on the priesthood that touch on this; however, if these aspects don’t have roots in your belonging to the holy faithful People of God, they are only academic reflections that are useless. You are a priest of the holy faithful People of God; you are priests because you have the baptismal priesthood and you can’t deny this.
Finally, I would like to thank your Pastors – you and your colleagues. Thank you – and your diocesan communities for the witness of ecclesial communion, given by your choice, to appreciate the inter-diocesan and regional institution of the Seminary. This pleases me a lot. And also out of necessity because a diocese that has four seminarians cannot have a Seminary with four or five or six seminarians: a community is necessary. In a historic time in which we are witnessing — both outside and inside the Church — “parochial-style” closures, the experience of communion you are living is a good example also for other dioceses that, through the sharing of a common formative plan, will help to find appropriate formators and docents for the great challenge of vocational accompaniment.
And, one last thing: in these four dimensions — intellectual, pastoral, communal and spiritual — you will have professors, formators, spiritual directors and you must speak with them But in your dioceses, look for elderly priests, those that have the wisdom of good wine, those that with their witness will teach you how to resolve pastoral problems, those that, as parish priests, knew everyone’s name, that of each of their faithful, even the name of their dogs: one of them told me this. But I said to him, how were you able to do so having four parishes? It can be done, he said to me with humility. But did you succeed in knowing all of them? “Yes, I knew each one’s name, even the name of the dogs.” Bravo. He was a priest who was so close and also very close to the Tabernacle: he looked at everyone with Jesus’ faith and patience; elderly priests who have borne on their shoulders so many problems of the people and have helped them to live more or less well and have helped all of them to die well. Talk with these priests, who are the treasure of the Church. So many of them are forgotten in a rest home: go find them, they are a treasure.
May Saint Joseph accompany you and Our Lady protect you. I bless you and you, please, pray for me, because this work is in no way easy! Thank you.
© Libreria Editrice Vatican
[Original text: Italian] [Exaudi’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]