Pope Francis today repeated his advice to priests (and other shepherds) that includes smelling of their sheep.
Of course, the Holy Father isn’t suggesting that in a (completely) literal fashion. He is making the point that priests must be close to their flock, to the people they serve. And if a shepherd is close to his sheep he will likely pick up some of their characteristics.
Pope Francis even wrote a book about it: With the Smell of the Sheep: Pope Francis Speaks to Priests, Bishops, and Other Shepherds.
The Pope’s comments today came in an address at the Vatican to the Priests of the Saint Louis of the French Boarding School in Rome.
The Holy Father had other down-to-earth suggestions for the priests:
- “In this year, dedicated to Saint Joseph, I invite you to rediscover the face of this man of faith, of this tender father, model of fidelity and trustful abandonment to God’s plan.
- “I encourage you to live precious moments of sharing and of community prayer in active and joyous participation.
- “I invite you to always have great horizons, to dream, to dream of a Church altogether of service, of a more fraternal and solidary world. “
- “A priest who doesn’t have a sense of humor is not pleasing, something isn’t right. Imitate those great priests that laugh of others, of themselves, and also of their shadow: a sense of humor is one of the characteristics of holiness, as I pointed out in the Apostolic Exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et Exultate.“
Of special significance, Francis concluded by encouraging the priests to always exhibit an attitude of gratitude.
Here is a translation of the Pope’s address to those present at the meeting.
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The Holy Father’s Address
I am very happy to welcome you as the priestly community of Saint Louis of the French. I thank the Rector, Monsignor Laurent Bréguet, for his kind words.
In a society marked by individualism, by self-assertion, by indifference, you have the experience of living together with its daily challenges. Located in the heart of Rome, your house, with its witness of life, can communicate to the people that frequent it the evangelical values of a varied and solidary fraternity, especially when someone is going through a difficult time. In fact, your fraternal life and your different commitments are able to make one feel the faithfulness of God’s love and His closeness. It is a sign, a signal.
In this year, dedicated to Saint Joseph, I invite you to rediscover the face of this man of faith, of this tender father, model of fidelity and trustful abandonment to God’s plan. “God’s will also passes through Joseph’s anguish, His history, His plan. Joseph teaches us thus that to have faith in God also includes believing that He can also work through our fears, our fragilities, our weakness” (Apostolic Letter Patris Corde, 2). It’s not necessary to leave fragilities aside; they are a theological place. My fragility — that of each one of us –, is a theological place of encounter with the Lord. “Superman” priests end badly, they all do. The fragile priest, who knows his weaknesses and talks about them with the Lord; this is good. With Joseph, we are called to return to the experience of simple acts of hospitality, of tenderness, of gift of self. In community life, there is always the temptation to create small closed groups, of isolating themselves, of criticizing and speaking badly of others, of believing themselves superior, more intelligent. Gossip is a habit of closed groups; it is also a habit of priests who become old maids, they get together, talk, speak badly, this doesn’t help. And this undermines everyone, and it’s not good. It’s necessary to lose this habit and to look to and think of God’s mercy. May you always be able to receive one another as a gift. In a fraternity lived in truth, in the sincerity of relations, and in a life of prayer, we can form a community in which the air of joy and tenderness is breathed.
I encourage you to live precious moments of sharing and of community prayer in active and joyous participation. Also in moments of gratuitousness, of a gratuitous encounter . . . A priest is a man that spreads, in the light of the Gospel, the taste of God around him and transmits hope in anxious hearts: it must be so. The studies you do in the various Roman Universities prepare you for your future tasks as Pastors and enable you to appreciate better the reality in which you are called to proclaim the Gospel of joy. However, you don’t go into the field to apply theories without taking into consideration the environment in which you find yourselves, as well as the people that are entrusted to you. I hope you will be “Pastors with ‘the odor of sheep’” (Homily, March 28, 2013), persons capable of living, of laughing, and of crying with your people, in a word, to communicate with them. I am preoccupied when reflections are made, thoughts on the priesthood, as if it were something of a laboratory: this priest, that other priest . . . There can be no reflection on the priest outside the holy People of God. The ministerial priesthood is a consequence of the baptismal priesthood of the holy faithful People of God. This must not be forgotten. If you think of the priesthood isolated from the People of God, that isn’t the Catholic priesthood, no, and not even Christian priesthood. Despoil yourselves of yourselves, of your preconceived ideas, of your dreams of grandeur, of your self-assertion, to put God and people at the center of your daily concerns. It’s necessary to be Pastors to put the holy faithful People of God at the center. “No, I would like to be only an intellectual, not a Pastor.” Well, ask for reduction to the lay state, it will be better for you, and be an intellectual. However, if you are a priest, be a Pastor. You will be a Pastor in many ways of doing so, but always in the midst of the People of God, that which Paul reminded his beloved disciple: “Remember your mother, your grandmother, the people, who taught you.” The Lord said to David: “I took you from the flock,” from there.
Dear brother priests, I invite you to always have great horizons, to dream, to dream of a Church altogether of service, of a more fraternal and solidary world. Therefore, as protagonists, you have your contribution to make. Don’t be afraid to dare, to risk, to go forward; with Christ, who gives you the strength, you can do all (cf. Philippians 4:13). With Him, you can be apostles of joy, cultivating in yourselves the gratitude of being at the service of brothers and of the Church. And together with it is a sense of humor. A priest who doesn’t have a sense of humor is not pleasing, something isn’t right. Imitate those great priests that laugh of others, of themselves, and also of their shadow: a sense of humor is one of the characteristics of holiness, as I pointed out in the Apostolic Exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et Exultate. And cultivate in yourselves gratitude for being at the service of brothers and of the Church. As priests, you were “anointed with the oil of joy to anoint with the oil of joy” (Homily, April 17, 2014). And it is only by remaining rooted in Christ that you can have the experience of a joy that spurs you to conquer hearts. Priestly joy is the source of your acting as missionaries of your time.
Finally, I invite you to cultivate gratitude. Gratitude to the Lord for what you are to one another. With your limitations, fragilities, tribulations, there is always a look of love posed on you, and that gives you trust. Gratitude “is always ‘a potent weapon’” (Letter to Priests on the 160th Anniversary of the Death of Saint John Mary Vianney, August 4, 2019), which enables us to keep the flame of hope kindled in moments of discouragement, of loneliness, and of trial.
I entrust each one of you, your family members, the staff of your House, as well as the members of the Saint Louis of the French parish to the intercession of the Virgin Mary and to the protection of Saint Louis. I bless you from my heart and I ask you, please, not to forget to pray for me, as I need it. This office isn’t easy and, in books of spirituality, there is a chapter — in some books, but we think of Saint Alphonsus Maria Liguori and so many others — a chapter on the subject and then an example, and some say: where it is proved, I said it with an example,” and they give an example of life. Today, before you came in, Father Landousies told me that at the end of June he will leave this office here, in the Curia: he was my French translator for a long time. But I would like to make a summary of his person. He is an example. I found in him the testimony of a happy priest, of a coherent priest, a priest who was capable of living with martyrs now beatified — that he knew one by one — and also of living with an illness of which nothing was known, with the same peace, with the same witness. And I take advantage of this publicly, also in front of L’Osservaotre Romano, in front of everyone, to thank him for his witness, which did me good so many times.
And his way of being did me good. He will leave, but he’s going to carry our his ministry in Marseilles, and he will do so much good with his capacity to welcome all; but he leaves here the good scent of Christ, the good scent of a priest. So, in front of you I say thank you to him, thank you for all that you have done.
© Libreria Editrice Vatican
[Original text: Italian] [Exaudi’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]