Message to the newly-ordained 

Tomorrow (Saturday) Deacon Jack Schrader will be ordained a priest at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in Fall River (you can read about him in this Anchor). Please pray for him, that he always responds to the many graces that each day God will give him to carry out his ministry  (if you have time and you receive The Anchor today — Friday — please head over to a Holy Hour at St.  Patrick’s Church in Wareham at 7 p.m. to ask God’s blessings upon him).

Looking over what Pope Francis has said about newly-ordained clergy, it is interesting to read his own memories of when he was a young priest and what he has to say to those recently ordained.

“Once, newly-ordained,” the pope recalled on Nov. 21, 2014, “I was with a group from the university and a couple who wanted to get married. And the parish secretary there, said: ‘No, no, you can’t.’” She told them that they could not have a nuptial Mass, “because you can’t take more than 20 minutes,” the pope remembered the secretary saying. She told the couple that if they wanted a Mass, they needed to pay twice the regular wedding donation. Pope Francis said that this was scandalous and warned that “there are two things that the people of God cannot forgive: a priest attached to money and a priest who mistreats people.”

On March 28, 2014 the Holy Father gave a speech to newly-ordained clerics at a workshop which he described as offered “in order to contribute to the formation of good confessors who are mindful of the importance of this ministry.”

He reminded the young priests that “the protagonist of the ministry of Reconciliation is the Holy Spirit. The forgiveness which the Sacrament confers is the new life transmitted by the Risen Lord by means of His Spirit: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’ (Jn 20:22-23). Therefore, you are called always to be ‘men of the Holy Spirit,’ joyous and strong witnesses and proclaimers of the Lord’s Resurrection. This witness is seen on the face, is heard in the voice of the priest who administers the Sacrament of Reconciliation with faith and ‘anointing.’ He receives penitents not with the attitude of a judge, nor with that of a simple friend, but with the charity of God, with the love of a Father Who sees his son returning and goes out to meet him, of the Shepherd Who has found His lost sheep. The heart of a priest is a heart capable of being moved by compassion, not through sentimentalism or mere emotion, but through the ‘bowels of mercy’ of the Lord! If it is true that tradition points us to the dual role of physician and judge for confessors, let us never forget how the physician is called to heal and how the judge is called to absolve.”

What a thing to mull over in prayer — either for a priest confessor or for a penitent!

The pope then offered the new confessors a “second aspect: if Reconciliation transmits the new life of the Risen One and renews Baptismal grace, then your task is to bestow it generously upon the brethren. To bestow this grace. A priest who does not foster this aspect of his ministry, both in terms of the amount of time he dedicates to it and in terms of its Spiritual quality, is like a shepherd who does not take care of lost sheep; he is like a father who forgets his lost son and neglects to wait for him. But mercy is the heart of the Gospel! Do not forget this: mercy is the heart of the Gospel! It is the Good News that God loves us, that He always loves the sinner, and with this love He attracts him to Himself and invites him to conversion. Let us not forget that the faithful often find it difficult to approach this Sacrament, both for practical reasons and for the natural reticence in confessing their sins to another man. For this reason it is essential to prepare ourselves, our humanity, in order never to be an obstacle, but rather always to foster their drawing near to mercy and forgiveness. However, it happens so many times that a person comes and says: ‘I have not confessed for many years, I had this problem, I stopped going to Confession because I encountered a priest and he told me this,’ and one perceives the imprudence, the lack of pastoral love in what the person recounts. And they turn away because of a bad experience in Confession. Were there this attitude of a father, which comes from the goodness of God, this problem would never occur.”

The parallelism that that pope used above is reminiscent of what Jesus said in describing the separation of the sheep from the goats (Mt 25: 31-46).

The pope also said that priests need to avoid “two opposite extremes: rigorism and laxism. Neither of the two are beneficial, because in reality they do not take care of the penitent. Mercy instead truly listens with the heart of God and wants to accompany the soul along the path of Reconciliation. Confession is not a tribunal of condemnation, but an experience of forgiveness and mercy!”

Speaking about the availability of the Sacrament, the Holy Father said, “It is good that in each parish the faithful know when they can find priests available: when there is faithfulness, we see the fruits.”

On June 2, 2014 the pope told the bishops of Zimbabwe, “Accompany your newly-ordained priests attentively, that they may live wholesome and upright lives. Exhort them to continue preaching and living — in season and out of season — the Gospel values of truth and integrity, and the beauty of a life lived in faith, in love of God, and in selfless service of their neighbor, in prophetic hope for justice in the land.”

This year, on April 26, the Holy Father conducted an ordination at St. Peter’s Basilica. He told the men who were about to be ordained, “When you celebrate the Mass, understand, therefore, what you do. Do not do it in haste! Imitate what you celebrate — it is not an artificial rite, an artificial ritual — so that, participating in the Mystery of the Lord’s death and Resurrection, you may bear the death of Christ in your members and walk with Him in the newness of life.”

He concluded, “Remembering that you have been chosen from among men and constituted on their behalf to attend to the things of God, exercise the priestly ministry of Christ with joy and genuine love, with the sole intention of pleasing God and not yourselves. It is unseemly when a priest lives for his own pleasure and ‘struts like a peacock!’ Always keep before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd Who came not to be served but to serve, not to rest in His own comforts but to go forth, and Who came to find and save those who were lost.”

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts