With the people on his shoulders

This was the ever simple and direct message of Pope Francis this morning to the priests who, together with him, celebrated Mass in the Vatican Basilica on Holy Thursday 2013, in memory of their ordination. The Pope, with few and simple words outlined the profile of a priest “according to God’s heart” and he re-proposed the meaning of the sacrament of anointing with oil. He recalled that it is not important to perfume the priest but to anoint his vestments and to spread oil to its ends in order to reach “the ‘outskirts’ where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith”.

Our people, the Pontiff explained, “like to hear the Gospel preached with ‘unction’, they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality”. Thus it is necessary that the priest comes out of himself and reaches his sheep where there is “suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight”; where there are “prisoners in thrall to many evil masters”.

So that the meaning of his invitation once again to come out of ourselves was clear, the Pope stated: “It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live our priestly life going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all”. And it must be done with joy and love of God. Therefore they must never “sad priests” but “shepherds living with ‘the odour of the sheep’”, he concluded, it is the only thing they must smell if they want to overcome this identity crisis which threatens the priest today.