Young people, prisoners, politicians, and bishops have all enjoyed an opportunity to get a boost from Pope Francis so far during his visit to Panama, and on Saturday morning, it was the time for priests and religious women and men to receive one. While Francis told them it is understandable that they might feel weary at times due to the “sins” of the Church, he encouraged them to keep their hearts open to God.
“We know that not just any word can help us regain energy and prophecy in our mission,” Francis said in his homily during the Mass he celebrated in Santa Maria La Antigua cathedral. “Not just any novelty, however alluring it may seem, can quench our thirst. We know that neither knowledge of religion nor upholding past or present traditions, always makes us fruitful and passionate ‘worshipers in spirit and truth’.”
The pope’s homily was rooted in a passage from the Book of John where Jesus, tired from his journey, rests near a well and asks a Samarian woman to draw water and “Give me a drink.”
The apostles, Francis said, saw the Son of God tired and thirsty, needing to recover his strength to continue his mission. They also got to experience his commitment to bring the Good News to the poor, to speak about freedom to those in prison, and to comfort those who mourn.
“These are all situations that consume life and energy; yet they show us many important moments in the life of the Master, moments in which our humanity, too, can find a word of Life,” Francis told the priests and religious of Panama, during his visit to this Central American country to participate in the Vatican-sponsored World Youth Day.
For members of the clergy, consecrated men and women and members of lay movements, the pontiff said, there are “many reasons for weariness,” including long hours of work that leave no time for eating, resting and being with the family, to “‘toxic’ working conditions and relationships that lead to exhaustion and disappointment.”
Also present in the cathedral, which Francis re-inaugurated after a lengthy restoration process, was an Orthodox delegation.
Francis said that “for some time now,” the consecrated have found themselves weary - a “temptation that we might call the weariness of hope.”
It’s a paralyzing weariness, he said, and it “comes from looking ahead and not knowing how to react to the intense and confusing changes that we as a society are experiencing.”
The weariness of hope, Francis said, comes from seeing the Church has been “wounded by sin, which so often failed to hear all those cries that echoed the cry of the Master: ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’”
Though he didn’t go into details, the pontiff has used similar phrases before to address the fact that the crimes of some, particularly those of the sexual abuse of minors, have left a cloud of doubt overhanging priests and religious.
The rapid changes in society today, he said on Saturday, seem to call into question not only the way the Church’s hierarchy deals with reality, but it also puts under a microscope the viability of religious life.
“And the very speed of these changes can paralyze our options and opinions, while what was meaningful and important in the past can now no longer seem valid,” he said.
Faced with this weariness, Francis said, priests and religious do well in imitating Jesus and saying “Give me a drink,” referring not to “any water” but to the “spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
“A wearied hope will be healed and will enjoy that ‘particular tiredness of heart’ when it is unafraid to return to the place of its first love and to find, in the peripheries and challenges before us today, the same song, the same gaze that inspired the song and the gaze of those who have gone before us,” Francis said. “In this way, we will avoid the danger of starting with ourselves; we will abandon a wearisome self-pity in order to meet Christ’s gaze as he continues today to seek us, to call us and to invite us to the mission.”
Later on Saturday, Francis is scheduled to have lunch with young pilgrims from around the world, and late in the afternoon, he’ll preside over the final vigil before World Youth Day’s culminating Mass on Sunday. On the same day, he will visit a center for people with disabilities and HIV/AIDS and then head back to Rome on a 13-hour long flight during which he’s expected to answer questions from the reporters traveling with him.