Like the Good Shepherd, good priests do not privatise their time and demand to be left alone, but rather are always willing to risk everything in search of the lost sheep, Pope Francis said at the closing Mass of the Jubilee for Priests and Seminarians.
“He stands apart from no one, but is always ready to dirty his hands. A good shepherd doesn’t know what gloves are,” the pope said on 3 June.
Celebrating the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with thousands of priests in St Peter’s Square, the pope said the feast serves as a call to contemplate two hearts: “the heart of the Good Shepherd and our own heart as priests.”
“The heart of the Good Shepherd reaches out to us, above all to those who are most distant. There the needle of his compass inevitably points, there we see a particular ‘weakness’ of his love, which desires to embrace all and lose none,” he said.
The feast also serves as a reminder to priests to ask themselves toward which direction their hearts gear and which treasure they seek.
“There are weaknesses in all of us, even sins, but let’s go deeper, to the roots. Where are the roots of our weaknesses, of our sins? Where is that treasure that distances us from the Lord?” he asked.
A good priest, he continued, does not have a “fluttering heart” that is easily taken by “momentary whims” and “petty satisfactions,” but is “firmly rooted in the Lord” despite his own sins.
Departing several times from his prepared homily, the pope gave them advice: seek and include those who are far away and live joyfully.
He also lamented those in the priestly ministry who set aside private time and space or demand to be left alone rather than give their lives in the service of others.
“Woe to the shepherds who privatise their ministry,” he said. “A shepherd after the heart of God does not protect his own comfort zone; he is not worried about protecting his good name; he will be slandered like Jesus. But rather, without fearing criticism, he is disposed to take risks in seeking to imitate his Lord. Blessed are you when they insult you, when they persecute you,” he said.
A good shepherd excludes none of his flock and does “not await greetings and compliments” but is the first one who reaches out to others, listening patiently to their problems and accompanying them with compassion.
“He does not scold those who wander off or lose their way, but is always ready to bring them back and to resolve difficulties and disagreements. He is a man who knows how to include,” the pope said.
A priest with the spirit of the Good Shepherd is “changed by the mercy that he freely gives” and is happy to be a channel of mercy that brings “men and women closer to the heart of God”, Pope Francis said.
“Sadness for him is not the norm, but only a step along the way; harshness is foreign to him, because he is a shepherd after the meek heart of God,” he said.