In an address that is hard not to read as a rebuke of the Roman Curia, Pope Francis delivered a searching reflection on pastoral ministry to a gathering of Italian bishops at St. Peter’s Basilica this evening. According to the Vatican press office, after meditating on John 21:15-19 (“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”), he said:
Even the greatest love, in fact, when it is not continuously fed, fades and goes out. Not without reason the Apostle Paul warns: “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the Church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son”(Acts 20:28).
The lack of vigilance—we know—makes the pastor lukewarm; he becomes distracted, forgetful and even impatient; it seduces him with the prospect of a career, the lure of money, and the compromises with the spirit of the world; it makes him lazy, turning him into a functionary, a cleric worried more about himself, about organisations and structures, than about the true good of the People of God. He runs the risk, then, like the Apostle Peter, of denying the Lord, even if he is present to us and speaks in His name; the holiness of the hierarchy of Mother Church is obscured, making it less fertile.
Who are we, Brothers, before God? What are our challenges? We all have so many, each one of us knows his own. What is God saying to us through them? What are we relying on to overcome them?
He continued with a word of encouragement:
As it was for Peter, the insistent and heartfelt question of Jesus can leave us saddened and may leave us more aware of the weakness of our freedom, beset as it is by a thousand internal and external constraints, which often cause confusion, frustration, even disbelief.
These are certainly not the feelings and attitudes that the Lord intends to arouse; rather, the Enemy, the Devil, takes advantage of them to isolate us in bitterness, in complaints, and in discouragement.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, does not humiliate us or abandon us to remorse: in Him, the tenderness of the Father speaks, He who comforts and raises up; He who makes us pass from the disintegration of shame—because shame surely causes us to disintegrate—to the fabric of trust; who restores courage, recommits responsibility, and consigns us to the mission.
The entire address is available here.