The Pope spent an hour with seminarists and young priests from the Pontifical colleges and residences in Rome.”Leadership is service, the people of God do not forgive vanity and love of money”
Iacopo Scaramuzzi of Vatican Insider
“Gossip is the plague of a community,” including the seminary. “Love of money” and “vanity” are the two sins “the people cannot forgive their pastor for.” Studying theology is important, Francis said to seminarists but warned them that they should not fall into academicism and ideological thinking. This was some of the advice Pope Francis gave to the rectors and students of Rome’s pontifical councils and residences in an hour-long question and answer session that took place in the Paul VI hall in the Vatican.
Sprinkling his speech with personal memories and jokes which had his entire audience laughing, Jorge Mario Bergogliotouched on issues such as the risk of careerism, the importance of community and human education beyond academic learning. “I know you have some questions you’ve prepared for me because I’ve seen them, but if you have any others, feel free to ask away,” Francis said. At the start of the meeting he apologized for arriving half an hour late at the audience, after meeting a group of Mexican bishops on their visit “ad limina apostolorum”: “When you’re with a group of Mexicans, you feel so good that time flies without your realizing it…” Bergoglio addressed seminarists and young priests who had come to Rome from different parts of the world, the Middle East and Ukraine, to study in the pontifical universities: “I want you to know I am thinking of you in this moment of suffering.”
In answer to a question about academic education, Francis highlighted the danger of “academicism”: “There are four pillars to a priest’s education:” “spiritual education, academic education, community education and apostolic education.” “I would not be able to understand a priest who comes to study for a degree here in Rome but doesn’t lead a community life – this will not do – or who does not look after their spiritual life, taking part in daily mass, daily prayer, the lectio divina and personal prayer with the Lord.” “Academic purism is not good” in this sense. If you only focus on the academic side, there is a danger of slipping into ideology and this is not healthy” because we become “macrocephalus” and “this is bad, it is a sickness.”
Going on to speak about community life, Pope Francis quoted an old Latin American bishop: “the worst seminary is better than the non-seminary”. “It is not good for someone to prepare for the priesthood alone, without a community,” the Pope Community life is very important “because it involves sharing among brothers who are on a common journey towards the priesthood but there are also problems, there are struggles: power struggles, conflicts of ideas and also hidden conflicts; then there are the capital sins of envy, jealousy… But there are also the good things: friendship and the exchange of ideas and this is important for community life. Community life is not paradise: at least purgatory,” the Pope said as everyone applauded.
In any case, “if a priest tells me he has never had a friend, then there’s something not quite right,” Francis added. A holy Jesuit “used to say that according to him, the greatest atonement was community life. Isn’t this true? But that’s why I believe we must go on as a community.”
The first rule is, never to gossip about others!”: “Gossip is the plague of a community.” Us clerics are tempted not to tell things to people’s faces, to be too diplomatic and use that clerical language, aren’t we? But it is not good for us!” the Pope said, setting off more rounds of applause. “They say gossiping is a women’s thing: but it’s also a men’s thing!” The Pope mentioned two personal experiences of his: Right after he was nominated bishop, he asked his secretary, a young priest, what he thought: “He looked me in the eye – this was a young man eh? – and said to me: ‘You did wrong: you did not take a fatherly decision.’” When he went away, I thought: ‘I’m keeping this man as secretary: he’s a true brother!’” Another personal memory he shared was of a spiritual father who was angry with someone: “He asked me this question,” Francis said: “‘Tell me, did you pray for him?’ to which I replied: ‘No’. Silence. ‘But we’ve finished,’ he said to me.”
The Pope went on to praise “vigilance”: “Being vigilant over oneself: what is going on in my heart?” If one’s heart is “troubled” “you can’t see what’s inside. It’s like the sea. You can’t see the fish when the sea’s like that.” The Pope quoted the Russia fathers regarding this: “Going beneath the cape of the Holy Mother of God.” “Some of you may say to me: ‘But Father, in these great modern times of ours there’s psychiatry, psychology… in these turbulent times I think it may be best to go and seek help from a psychiatrist…’. I am not saying you should not do that but go to the Mother first”: “We are children in terms of spiritual life” and “if a priest who forgets the Mother, especially during tough times, there is something missing.” “He is an orphan priest:” If you don’t want her as your mother,” Francis joked, “she’ll be your mother in law for sure and that’s not good.”
In response to a question put to him by Filipino student regarding the need for pastors who are able to lead, govern and communicate, as today’s world requires, Francis said: “There is only one path for leadership: service.” The Pope mentioned Manila’s archbishop, Cardinal Louis Antonio Tagle, as an example of a good communicator. He emphasized that “a pastor must always be there for his people. A pastor must help people to grow and walk.” St. Augustine emphasized the two risks a pastor faced: taking advantage of the sheep to clothe and feed himself with its meat and wool. “A pastor’s two sins are: money,” “they do things for money – businessmen-pastors – and vanity.” A pastor who is vain believes he is superior to his people, he is detached. “These are the pastor-princes,” Bergoglio said. Quoting the “monks of the desert”, he said vanity is “like an onion,” when you peel away the layers you are “left with nothing.” All you are left with is “the smell of onion.”
In this sense, “the people of God forgive you many things,” if you have a sentimental slip up, for example, or you overdo it a bit with the wine. “What they cannot forgive is a pastor who is too attached to money; if you are a vain pastor who doesn’t treat people well.” With God’s people in mind, the Pope gave two more pieces of advice: evangelization means “going out” “to be close to people, to be close to everyone, everyone!” As far as homilies are concerned, they are “boring” when they are like “conferences” as there is no closeness between the pastor and his flock. Brief homilies are the way to go, “so that people get the message.”