Vatican City, 22 March 2015 (VIS) – After visiting the Poggioreale penitentiary yesterday, the Holy Father transferred to the Cathedral of the Assumption in Naples to venerate the relics of St. Januarius, the patron of the city, and to meet with the clergy, men and women religious and permanent deacons of the archdiocese. The episcopal vicars for the clergy and for consecrated life posed two questions to the Pope on behalf of those in attendance: the first on the mission of the priesthood in a city of great contrasts such as Naples, and the second regarding the difficulties and joys in the life of consecrated persons.
Francis preferred to answer directly, setting aside the official discourse he had prepared and, seated rather than on foot, he spoke with those present.
“One of the testimonies you asked of me is this: that of always being on the move”, he said. “The path of consecrated life is that which follows Jesus. … If at the centre of my life … there is the fact of being opposed to a bishop, or a parish priest, or another priest, my entire life is absorbed by this battle. But this means losing your life! Not having a family, not having children, not having conjugal love, which is so good and beautiful, just to end up arguing with the bishop, with brother priests, with the faithful, and to end up with a sour face: this is not bearing witness. … When Jesus is at the centre, these difficulties are there all the same, they are everywhere, but we face them in a different way. In a convent, perhaps I don't like the superior, but I tolerate her and I ensure that the other superiors understand the situation. But no-one can take away my joy: the joy of following Jesus”.
He then addressed the seminarians. “What I would like to say to you is this: if you do not have Jesus at your centre, defer your ordination. If you are not sure that Jesus is the centre of your life, wait a little, in order to be certain. The alternative is setting out on a path without knowing where it will finish”.
The Pope then went on to speak about a second witness, that of the spirit of poverty, which is necessary also for priests, “who do not make this vow, but must have this spirit …
When the Church enters into business, either for priests or for persons religious, it is not good. … Consecrated persons – be they priests, or men and women religious – must never be businesspeople. The spirit of poverty is not, however, the spirit of miserliness. A priest, who has never taken a vow of poverty, may keep his savings but in an honest and reasonable way. But when one becomes greedy and starts getting involved in business … How many scandals in the Church, and what a lack of freedom, due to money!”. Francis gave the example of benefactors whose lives are less than exemplary, but to whom priests are not free to speak frankly because of the money they contribute. He added, “When money is involved, we begin to discriminate between people. Therefore, I would ask all seminarians to examine their consciences in this respect”.
The third testimony for the Holy Father is mercy. “We have forgotten about works of mercy … and I offer you an example: in the great Christian cities, there are baptised children who do not know how to make the sign of the Cross. And where is the work of mercy of teaching in this case? … We need to resume works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual. If there is a sick person near my house and I would like to visit him, but the time I have available coincides with a television show, and I choose the television show rather than a work of mercy, then this will not do. .. These are the things that draw us closer to the spirit of the world, which is another thing I would like to speak about: the danger of worldliness. … Think about the priestly prayer, when Jesus beseeches His Father: 'I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one'. Worldliness is contrary to witness, while the spirit of prayer is a witness that we see … and this witness attracts vocations”.
Another question posed by the vicar for the clergy regarded priestly fraternity, and the bishop of Rome answered that promoting this fraternity was easy neither in the convent, in consecrated life, nor in the presbytery. “For me, the sign that there is no brotherliness is gossip. … The terrorism of gossip. … In a presbytery there may be various points of view and differences: this is normal and it is Christian, but these differences must be brought our by having the courage to speak directly to others. … And when this is not possible, because at times it cannot be done, tell another person who can act as an intermediary. But you cannot speak against another person, because gossip is the terrorism of diocesan fraternity, of priestly fraternity, of religious communities”.
Joy is also a form of witness. “The joy of a full life, the joy of having chosen well, the joy of seeing every day that the Lord is faithful to me. ... Boring, sad priests or consecrated persons, with bitterness in their hearts, have something wrong and should seek a good spiritual adviser”.
“I would like to finish with three things”, said the Holy Father, at the end of his meeting in the cathedral. “Firstly, worship: we have lost the meaning of the worship of God, and we need to resume this. Secondly, it is not possible to love Jesus without loving His spouse. Love for the Church. … Thirdly, and this is important: apostolic zeal, which is missionary in nature. The love of the Church will lead you to know this, to come out of yourselves, to go forth and preach Christ's Revelation, but it will also urge you to come out of yourselves to reach another transcendence, which is worship”.
Finally, the Pope venerated the reliquary that contains the blood of St. Januarius; its miraculous liquefaction is awaited every year by Neapolitan faithful on 19 September during a solemn religious ceremony lead by the archbishop. This time the blood was only half liquefied, and Francis affirmed: “We see that the Spirit loves us by half. We must all convert, so that He will love us more. Thank you, and do not forget to pray for me”.