Pope Francis stressed this during Holy Mass for the Sacred Heart of Jesus this morning in St. Peter’s Square, which also concluded the Jubilee for Priests, June 1-3.
This Jubilee celebration on this solemn feast day, the Pope noted, invites us all to turn to the heart, the core of each person, contemplating two in particular: the Heart of the Good Shepherd and our own heart as priests.
The Heart of the Good Shepherd, Francis explained is not only the Heart that shows us mercy, but is itself mercy. It is where the Father’s love shines forth and demonstrates that God loves us beyond our sins and limitations. In contemplating the Heart of Christ, the Jesuit Pope continued, clergy are faced with the fundamental question of their priestly life: Where is my heart directed?
In the midst of the plans, projects, and activities filling priestly ministry, Francis stressed, “It’s a question that we priests must ask ourselves many times every day, every week: Where my heart is directed?”
What’s distancing us …
“There are weaknesses and sins in all of us,” the Pope also deviated from his script to say. “But let’s go deeper, to the roots: Where is the root of our weaknesses, our sins, that is to say what precisely is that ‘treasure’ that distances us from the Lord?”
The great riches of the Heart of Jesus are two: the Father and ourselves, the Pope explained, noting Jesus’ days were divided between prayer to the Father and encountering people. Similarly, Francis compared, priests’ hearts are to embrace two “directions”: the Lord and His people.
Since the priest’s heart is pierced by the Love of God, Francis underscored, “He should no longer look at himself.”
“It is no longer ‘a fluttering heart,’ allured by momentary whims, shunning disagreements and seeking petty satisfactions. Rather, it is a heart rooted firmly in the Lord, warmed by the Holy Spirit, open and available to our brothers and sisters.”
The Pope then gave the priests three tools to help them imitate the Good Shepherd: seeking out, including and rejoicing.
The Pope recalled that the prophet Ezekiel reminds us that God himself goes out in search of his sheep.
“Without delaying, he leaves the pasture and his regular workday,” without worrying “about overtime,” Francis said. “He does not put off the search. He does not think: ‘I have done enough for today; I’ll worry about it tomorrow.’”
“Instead,” Francis said, “he immediately sets to it; his heart is anxious until he finds that one lost sheep. Having found it, he forgets his weariness and puts the sheep on his shoulders, fully content.”
Not an Accountant of the Spirit
“A shepherd after the heart of God has a heart sufficiently free to set aside his own concerns. He does not live by calculating his gains or how long he has worked: he is not an accountant of the Spirit, but a Good Samaritan who seeks out those in need.”
The Pope stressed that priests are shepherds to their flock, not “inspectors,” and must not devote themselves “50 or 60 percent to the mission,” but instead, “with all they have.”
“Woe to the shepherds who privatize their ministry!” he said, noting, “a heart that seeks out does not set aside times and spaces as private, a heart that is not jealous of its legitimate quiet time and never demands that it be left alone.”
This heart takes risks to imitate the Lord, and doesn’t worry about protecting it’s comfort zone, Francis said.
Christ loves and knows His sheep, Francis stressed, noting how He gives His life for them.
“He is not a boss to be feared by his flock, but a shepherd who walks alongside them and calls them by name (cf. Jn 10:3-4). He wants to gather the sheep that are not yet of his fold (cf.Jn 10:16). So it is also with the priest of Christ. He is anointed for his people, not to choose his own projects but to be close to the real men and women whom God has entrusted to him.”
A priest, the Argentine Pope said, must be ready to “dirty his hands,” without worrying about gloves.
God is “full of joy,” the Pope reminded the clergy gathered, which stems from forgiveness and mercy. “The joy of Jesus the Good Shepherd is not a joy for himself alone, but a joy for others and with others, the true joy of love. This is also the joy of the priest. He is changed by the mercy that he freely gives.”
“In prayer he discovers God’s consolation and realizes that nothing is more powerful than his love. He thus experiences inner peace, and is happy to be a channel of mercy, to bring men and women closer to the Heart of God.”
The Pope concluded, inviting the priests to rediscover their identity as shepherds each day.