Pope Francis penned a Letter to Priests to thank and encourage them. It was dated August 4 last, the liturgical memorial of the Curé d’Ars. Finding ourselves among the addressees, we believe that this letter, addressed to a particular group – all the priests of the world – deserves a response more than a comment, to share the echoes of these words in our hearts.
First of all, reading this letter arouses in us priests gratitude to the pope for his concern. With this letter Francis came to look for us where we are, battered and on the side of the road. He has seen how much we are aggrieved and afflicted, and he approached us with the “powerful weapon” of gratitude, urging us to renew our priestly courage and place ourselves, without delay, in the heart of the Church – in Mary – with that spirit of “praise capable of lifting our gaze to the future and restoring hope to the present.”
His threefold gaze
Francis’ addressees are not priests in the abstract. Rather, each one of us is a priest in the concrete, noticed and called by him in a very personal way.
When the pope thanks us “in the name of the holy and faithful people of God,” it is clear he looks at priests as he looks at the People of God, the people who receive through them the Lord’s grace. This gaze is already consoling in itself. Through it, in fact, the people of God, who love and appreciate their priests, help them to calibrate the mystery hidden in each one of them: to continue to be themselves, with all their virtues and faults, while in every priestly action they act in persona Christi and distribute the sacraments, transmitting grace in a concrete and effective way.
The courage that the pope desires for every priest is that which is born and renewed from the gaze of Christ, who says to them: “I do not call you servants any longer … I have called you friends” (John 15:15). The gaze that the pope turns to the priests is that of Jesus. Francis exhorts us to focus on “memory of the Lord’s presence in our lives and his merciful gaze, which inspired us to put our lives on the line for him and for his people.” And he adds: “We know that it is not easy to stand before the Lord [in prayer] and let his gaze examine our lives, heal our wounded hearts and cleanse our feet of the worldliness accumulated along the way, which now keeps us from moving forward.” The source of joy and apostolic courage is to be found only in this gaze.
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