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Friday, September 16, 2016

Advice for newly-named bishops

At 11:15am today, in the Sala Clementina at the Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father, Pope Francis received in audience the bishops who are participating in the annual formation course organized jointly by the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for Oriental Churches.

Speech of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
addressed to newly-appointed bishops

Dear brothers, good morning!

You are almost at the end of these fruitful days you are spending in Rome to deepen the richness of the mystery to which God has called you as Bishops of the Church.  I greet with gratitude the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.  I greet Cardinal Ouellet and Cardinal Sandri and wish to thank them for their generous work in preparing the appointments of Bishops, and also for their commitment of this week.  I am pleased to welcome you and to be able to share with you some thoughts that come from the heart of the Successor of Peter when I see before me those who have been caught by the heart of God to guide his holy people.

The thrill of having been loved in advance
Yes!  God goes before you in his loving knowledge!  He has caught you with the love of his surprising mercy.  His nets have gone out, mysteriously clutching at your hearts and you could not help allowing yourself to be captured.  I know very well that there is still a chill that pervades when we remember his call as it was addressed to us through the voice of the Church, His spouse.  You are not the first to have been enveloped by such a thrill.

This was also the case for Moses, who believed himself to only be in the wilderness, yet found himself being tracked down and caught by God who confided to him his own Name, not for his own sake, but for the sake of his people (cf Ex 3).  He entrusted him with his Name for his people, do not forget this.  And continue to raise to God your cries of suffering on behalf of his people, and know that in this case, it is your name that the Lord wants to pronounce, because you are speaking his Name to his people.

This was also the case for Nathaniel who, saw when he was under the fig tree (Gn 1:48), who in amazement finds himself as the guardian of the vision of the heavens that will definitively open.  Thus, the lives of many others are still deprived of this gate which grants access to the heights, and you have seen from afar in order to guide them toward their goal.  Do not settle for less!  Do not stop half way!

It was also the case for the Samaritan woman, who was known by the Master at the village well; she in turn called the village people to meet the One who possesses the Living Water (cf Jn 4:16-19).  It is important to be aware that in the Church, there is no need to seek from one sea to another for the Word, but rather that those who are hungry and thirsty for it can find it on your lips (cf Amos 8:11-13).

The Apostles too experienced these chills when, being awakened to the thoughts of their hearts, they discovered access to the secret path of God who lives in little ones and hides in those who are comfortable within themselves (cf Lk 9:46-48).  Do not be ashamed of the times when even you have been touched by this remoteness from God's thoughts.  Indeed, having abandoned the pretence of self sufficiency, we confide ourselves like children to the One who reveals his Kingdom to little ones.

Even the Pharisees were shocked by that chill, when they learned that the Lord knew their thoughts, that they were so pretentious that they wanted to measure the power of God with the narrowness of their own gaze, so blasphemous as to whisper against the sovereign freedom of his saving love (Mt 12:24-25).  God preserve me from the vanity of such chills, from trying to domesticate such chills and emptying them of their unsteadying power.  Allow yourself to be unsteadied, this is good, for a bishop.

Admirable condescension!
It is good to allow ourselves to be pierced by the loving knowledge of God.  It is consoling to know that He truly knows who we are and that he is not afraid of our small-ness.  It is reassuring to keep in our hearts the memory of his voice as it called each of us, despite our limitations.  It is peaceful for us to abandon ourselves to the certainty that it will be up to Him, and not us, to bring to completion that which he has begun.

So many mask and hide themselves today. They like to create personages and invent profiles. They make themselves slaves of the miserable resources that they scrape together and to which they cling as if it were enough to buy the love that has no price. They do not endure the thrill of knowing that they themselves are known by Someone who is greater than we yet who does not scorn our smallness, He is more Holy and does not reproach our weakness; He is truly good and is not scandalized by our wounds. Let it not be so for you: let yourselves be suffused by this thrill; do not remove or silence it.

Cross through the heart of Christ, the true Door of Mercy
All this, I invite you to live intensely next Sunday as you go through the Holy Door of the Jubilee of Mercy, which has drawn millions of pilgrims of the City and the World to Christ.  May it be a personal experience of gratitude, of reconciliation, of total entrustment, of delivering your life without reservations to the Pastor of Pastors.

As you cross through Christ, the only Door, fix your gaze on His gaze. Let Him reach you miserando atque eligendo.

The most precious richness you can take from Rome at the beginning of your episcopal ministry is the awareness of the Mercy with which you were looked at and chosen. The only treasure that I ask you not to let rust in you is the certainty that you are not abandoned to your own strength. You are Bishops of the Church, participants in one Episcopate, members of an indivisible College, firmly grafted as humble shoots onto the vine, without which you can do nothing (John 15:48). Because of this, now you cannot go just anywhere, because you carry the Bride entrusted to you as a seal imprinted on your soul.  In crossing the Holy Door , do so carrying your flock on your shoulders: not by yourselves! — with the flock on your shoulders, carry in your heart the heart of your Bride, of your particular Churches.

The challenge of making mercy pastoral
It is not an easy task. Ask God, who is rich in mercy, to reveal to you the secret to making His Mercy pastoral in your dioceses. In fact, it is necessary that Mercy form and inform the pastoral structures of our Churches. It is not about minimizing the requirements or selling our pearls cheaply. Instead, the sole condition that the precious pearl puts on those that find it is that of not being able to claim less than all of it; its only claim is to awaken in the heart of one who finds it the need to risk everything to possess it.

Do not be afraid to propose Mercy as the summary of all that God offers to the world, because man’s heart cannot aspire to anything greater. If that were not enough to bend what is rigid, to warm what is cold, to straighten what is crooked, what else would have power over man? Then we would be desperately condemned to impotence. Would our fears perhaps have the power to oppose walls and reveal openings? Perchance, are our insecurities and mistrusts able to arouse sweetness and consolation in solitude and abandonment?

As my venerable and wise Predecessor taught, it is Mercy that puts a limit to evil. In it is expressed the altogether peculiar nature of God – His holiness, the power of truth and of love. It is the way with which God opposed the power of darkness with His different and divine power, in fact that of Mercy (Benedict XVI, Homily, April 15, 2007).  Therefore, do not let yourselves be frightened by the arrogant insinuation of the night. Keep intact the certainty of this humble power with which God knocks at the heart of every man: holiness, truth and love. To render Mercy pastoral is none other than to make of the Churches entrusted to you houses that shelter holiness, truth and love. They shelter as guests that which comes from on high, of which one cannot take possession, but must always be served and repeat: Lord do not pass by your servant (Genesis 18:3); this was Abraham’s request.

Three recommendations to make mercy pastoral
I would like to offer you three little thoughts as a contribution to this enormous task that awaits you: through your ministry, making Mercy pastoral, namely: accessible, tangible, to be found.

Be Bishops who are capable of enchanting and attracting
Make of your ministry an icon of Mercy, the only force capable of seducing and attracting the heart of man in a permanent way. Even the thief at the last hour let himself be enthralled by Him who had done nothing wrong (cf Luke 23:41). On seeing Him pierced on the cross, they beat their chests confessing what they could never have recognized on their own, had they not been moved by that love that they had never known and which nevertheless gushed freely and abundantly! A distant and indifferent god can be ignored, but one cannot easily resist a God who is so close and more than that, wounded out of love. The kindness, the beauty, the truth, the love, the goodness – see what we can offer this mendicant world, even if in half broken bowls.

However, it is not about attracting to ourselves: this is a danger! The world is tired of lying charmers. And I allow myself to say: of fashionable priests or fashionable Bishops. The people sense – the people of God have the sense of God – the people sense and move away when they recognize narcissists, manipulators, defenders of their own causes, preachers of vain crusades. Instead, try to imitate God, who has already introduced Himself before your arrival.

I think of Eli with young Samuel, in the First Book of Samuel. Although it was a time in which the word of the Lord was rare; … there were no frequent visions (1 Sam 3:1), God, however, was not resigned to disappearing. Only on the third time, did the sleepy Eli understood that the young Samuel had no need for his answer but that of God. I see the world today as a confused Samuel, in need of someone who can distinguish, in the great noise that disturbs its agony, the secret voice of God who calls to it. Useful are persons that are able to make emerge from today’s erroneous hearts the humble stammering: Speak, Lord (3:9). Even more useful are those that foster silence, which makes it possible for this word to be heard.

God never gives up! It is we who, used to surrendering, often accommodate ourselves, preferring to let ourselves be convinced that we have really been able to eliminate Him and we invent bitter discourses to justify the sloth that blocks us in the immobile sound of vain complaints.

Be Bishops who are capable of motivating those who are entrusted to you
All that is great is in need of a way of being able to get in – all the more so divine Mercy, which is inexhaustible! Once gripped by Mercy, it exacts an introductive way, a path, an initiation. We need only look at the Church, our Mother in generating for God and Teacher, in initiating those to whom she gives birth so that they understand the truth in fullness. It is enough to contemplate the richness of her Sacraments, a source to be revisited often, also in our pastoral care, which seeks for nothing more than the maternal task of the Church to nourish those that are born of God and through Him. God’s Mercy is the only reality that enables man not to be lost definitively, even when unfortunately he seeks to flee from its fascination. In it, man can always be certain of not slipping into that chasm in which he finds himself deprived of origin and destiny, of meaning and horizon.

Christ is the face of Mercy. In Him mercy remains a permanent and inexhaustible offer; in Him it proclaims that no one is lost – no one is lost! Everyone is unique in His eyes! — the one sheep for which He risks his life in the storm; the only coin bought with the price of His blood; the only child who was dead and is alive again (cf Luke 15). I beg you not to have another point of view when looking at your faithful than that of their oneness, also of not neglecting any attempt to reach them, of not sparing any effort to recover them.

Be Bishops capable of initiating your Churches in this abyss of love. Today fruits are asked too much from trees that have not been sufficiently cultivated. The sense of initiation has been lost, and yet in the truly essential things of life access is only through initiation. Think of the educational emergency, of the transmission of contents and values, think of the affective illiteracy, of vocational itineraries. of discernment in families, of the search for peace: all this requires initiation and guided paths, with perseverance, patience and constancy, which are the signs that distinguish the good Pastor from the mercenary.

There comes to mind an image of Jesus who initiates His disciples. Take the Gospels and observe how the Master introduces His own with patience in the Mystery of His own person and in the end,  imprints His person in them, He gives them the Spirit , who will guide them into all truth (cf John 16:13). I am always struck by an annotation of Matthew during the discourse of the parables that says this: Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying … (Mt 13:36). I would like to pause on this apparently irrelevant annotation. Jesus enters the house, in intimacy with His own, the crowd remains outside, the disciples approach Him, asking for explanations. Jesus was always immersed in the things of His Father, with whom He cultivated intimacy in prayer. Therefore, He was able to be present to Himself and to others. He went out to the crowds, but He had the freedom to re-enter.

I recommend to you the care of intimacy with God, source of the possession and delivery of Himself, of the liberty to go out and to return. Be Pastors who are able to return home with your own, of arousing that healthy intimacy that enables them to approach you, to create the trust that allows the question: Explain to us. It is not just any explanation, but that of the secret of the Kingdom. It is a question addressed to you personally. The answer cannot be delegated to someone else. One cannot let it go until later because one is always on the move, in an imprecise elsewhere, going somewhere and returning from somewhere, often not very firm with oneself.

I beg you to take care with special solicitude of the structures of initiation of your Churches, particularly the seminaries. Do not let yourselves be tempted by the numbers and the quantity of vocations, but rather look for the quality of the discipleship — neither number nor quantity only quality. Do not deprive seminarians of your firm and tender paternity. Make them grow to the point of acquiring the freedom to be in God like a child quieted at its mother’s breast (cf Psalm 131:2); not prey to their own whims and slaves to their frailties but free to embrace all that God asks of them, even at times when it does not seem sweet as the maternal womb was in the beginning. And pay attention when some seminarian takes refuge in rigidity: under this there is always something nasty.

Be Bishops that are capable of accompanying others
Allow me to give you one last recommendation to make Mercy pastoral. And here I am obliged to take you back to the road to Jericho to contemplate the heart of the Samaritan that tears like the womb of a mother, touched by mercy in the face of that nameless man fallen into the hands of brigands. First of all was letting himself be lacerated by the vision of the wounded, half dead man and then comes the impressive series of verbs we all know. Verbs, not adjectives, as we often prefer. Verbs in which mercy is conjugated.

This is precisely what it means to make Mercy pastoral: to conjugate it in verbs, to make it palpable and operative. People are in need of Mercy; although unaware of it, they are in search of it. They know only too well that they are wounded, they feel it, they know that they are half dead (cf Lk 10:30), although being afraid of admitting it. When they see Mercy approaching unexpectedly, then exposing themselves, they stretch out their hand to beg for it. They are fascinated by the capacity to stop, when so many pass by, to bend down, when a certain rheumatism of spirit impedes bending; to touch wounded flesh, when the preference prevails for all that is aseptic.

I would like to pause and focus on one of the verbs conjugated by the Samaritan. He accompanies the man, found by chance, to the inn; he takes charge of his fate. He is interested in this healing and his tomorrow. What he had already done was not enough for him. Mercy, which had broken his heart, needs to be poured out and to gush forth. It cannot be plugged in. It cannot be stopped. Although he was only a Samaritan, the Mercy that struck him participates in the fullness of God, therefore, no dam can hold it back.

Be Bishops with a heart wounded by this mercy and therefore tireless in the humble task of accompanying the man that perchance God has put on your way. Wherever you go, remember that the road to Jericho is not far. Your Churches are full of such roads. Very close to you it will not be difficult to find one who waits not for a Levite who turns his face, but a brother who comes close.

First of all accompany your clergy with solicitous patience; be close to your clergy. I beg you to take to your priests the Pope’s embrace and appreciation for their active generosity. Try to revive in them the awareness that Christ is their destiny, their part and source of inheritance, the part that is for them to drink in the chalice (cf Psalm 16:5). Who else can fill the heart of a servant of God and of His Church other than Christ? I also beg you to act with great prudence and responsibility in receiving candidates or incardinating priests in your local Churches. Please, exercise prudence and responsibility in this. Remember that what was desired from the beginning was the inseparable relationship between a local Church and its priests and a wandering or in transit clergy was never accepted from one post to another. And this is a sickness of our times.

Keep a special place in your hearts for the accompaniment of all families, rejoicing with their generous love and encouraging the immense good that they lavish on this world. Above all, follow the most wounded among them. Do not pass by when you are faced with their frailties. Stop to let your Pastor's heart be pierced by the vision of their wound; approach them with delicacy and without fear. Put before their eyes the joy of genuine love and the grace with which God raises it to participation in His own Love. So many are in need of rediscovering it, others have never known it, some hope to rescue it, not a few will have to bear the weight of having lost it irremediably. I beg you to accompany them with discernment and with empathy.

Dear Brothers,

Now we will pray together and I will bless you with all my heart of a Pastor, of a Father, of a Brother. The blessing is always the invocation of God’s face on us. Christ is the face of God, which is never darkened. In blessing you, I will ask Him to walk with you and give you the courage to walk with Him. It is His face that attracts us, is imprinted in us and accompanies us. Amen.
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