Pope Francis met with Peruvian priests and religious Saturday, telling them that a sense of humor is a good remedy for the temptation to clerical self-importance.
“John [the Baptist] embodies the awareness of a disciple conscious that he is not, and never will be, the Messiah, but only one called to point out the Lord’s presence in the life of his people,” the Pope said Jan. 20.
Pointing to the passage in John's Gospel in which John the Baptist tells his disciples to “behold the Lamb of God” as he sees Jesus passing by, Francis noted that while John was a good and faithful disciple, he “was waiting for someone greater than himself.”
Those who are consecrated are not called to replace the Lord by their missions and activities, but rather, “to work with the Lord, side by side, never forgetting that we do not replace him.” Knowing they are not the Messiah, he said, frees clerics and religious “from thinking that we are overly important or too busy.”
While this temptation is real and is often present in in communities, Francis offered a remedy: laughter.
“Learning to laugh at ourselves gives us the spiritual ability to stand before the Lord with our limitations, our mistakes and our sins, but also our successes, and the joy of knowing that he is at our side,” he said.
“Laughter saves us from the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others,” he said, and urged those present to conduct a “spiritual test” to see whether or not they are able to laugh at themselves.
He told them to laugh in their community, but never “at the community or at others,” and to be “on guard against people so important that they have forgotten to smile in their lives.”
Pope Francis spoke to some 1,000 priests, seminarians and religious during a Jan. 20 trip to the Peruvian beach town of Huanchaco, where he traveled as part of his Jan. 18-21 visit to Peru, following a three-day visit to Chile.
He was greeted by Archbishop Jose Antonio Eguren Anselmi S.C.V., who oversees the dioceses of Piura and Tumbes. Anselmi is a member of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, which earlier this month received a “Commissioner” from the Pope tasked with governing the community as they carry out reform following revelations of serial abuse by their founder, Luis Fernando Figari, in 2015.
The encounter with priests, religious and seminarians from all over Peru took place at the seminary college of Trujillo. According to statistics provided by the Holy See Press Office, there are currently some 3,361 priests in Peru, including diocesan and religious; 65 permanent deacons; 422 professed male religious and 5,568 professed women religious.
In his speech, Pope Francis told attendees that their vocation is one of “remembrance,” because it points to the fact that neither life, nor faith, nor the Church began with any one of them.
Rather, he said “remembrance looks to the past in order to discover the sap that nourished the hearts of disciples for centuries, and thus comes to recognize God’s presence in the life of his people.”
One of the virtues of this remembrance, he said, is a “joyful self-awareness” which recognizes, like John the Baptist, that Jesus is the Messiah and we are simply his servants, called to both follow Jesus' example and continue his work of service to others, which is “the source of our joy.”
Another aspect of this remembrance is what Francis referred to as “the time of the call,” meaning the first moment in which God's call to their vocation was felt.
In his Gospel, John remembers the exact hour in which his life changed by meeting Jesus, saying “it was about the tenth hour,” the Pope said, adding that a single encounter with Jesus “changes our lives, it establishes a 'before' and an 'after'.
He urged attendees to remember the day when they first realized that “the Lord expected something more of us.”
If this moment is forgotten, “we forget our origins, our roots,” he said, “and by losing these basic coordinates, we lose sight of the most precious part of our lives as consecrated persons: the Lord’s gaze.”
“We do well to remember that our vocations are a loving call to love in return, and to serve,” he said, and quoting the Book of Deuteronomy, said that “if the Lord fell in love with you and chose you, it was not because you were more numerous than the others, for you are the least of peoples, but out of pure love!”
Pope Francis also pointed to the influence of popular piety on the vocational call, noting that in Peru, where colorful processions and large Masses marking special feast days are common, expressions of this piety “have taken on the most exquisite forms and have deep roots in God’s simple and faithful people.”
Because of this, he told those present “not to forget, much less look down on, the solid and simple faith of your people. Welcome, accompany and stimulate their encounter with the Lord.”
“Do not become 'professionals of the sacred' by forgetting your people, from whose midst the Lord took you. Do not lose your remembrance and respect for those who taught you how to pray,” he said, explaining that to remember the moment of one's call is to celebrate Christ's entry into their lives.
Remembrance, joy and gratitude, are the three “weapons” that best defend against “all vocational pretense,” he said, because “grateful awareness enlarges the heart and inspires us to service.”
Francis then reflected on the “contagious joy” of one's vocation, which he said is another virtue of the “remembrance” he spoke of.
Pointing to the day's Gospel, he noted that Andrew, who was one of the disciples of John the Baptist that followed Jesus on that first day, returned home after spending time with Jesus and told his brother Simon Peter what he experienced, saying “we have found the Messiah.”
“Faith in Jesus is contagious; it cannot be restrained or kept within,” he said, explaining that Andrew begins his mission with those closest to him by “radiating joy,” prompting those around him to also follow Jesus.
Joy, he said, “is the surest sign that we have discovered the Messiah” and is constantly present in the hearts of the apostles.
This joy is meant to be shared and so opens us to others, he said, adding that in the “the fragmented world in which we live, a world that can make us withdrawn, we are challenged to become builders and prophets of community.”
No one is saved alone, he said, stressing that isolation and fragmentation are not things that happen only “out there” in the world, but “divisions, wars and isolation are found within our communities, and what harm they bring us!”
Jesus sends his disciples to build communion and unity, however, often times the opposite happens, and “we go about this by displaying our disunity and, worse yet, trying to trip each other up,” Francis said, explaining that to build unity “does not mean thinking everyone is the same, or doing things always the same way.”
“It means discerning what everyone has to offer, respecting their differences, and acknowledging the gift of charisms within the Church, knowing that while each of us contributes what he or she has, we also need one another,” he said.
The Pope then cautioned against the temptation of the “only child,” who wants everything for themselves since there is no one to share with.
“Only the Lord has the fullness of the gifts; only he is the Messiah,” he said, and urged those in positions of authority to “please not...become self-referential.”
“Try to care for your brothers and sisters; try to keep them happy, because happiness is contagious,” he said. “Do not fall into the trap of an authority that turns into authoritarianism by forgetting that its mission is primarily one of service.”
Francis closed his speech thanking attendees for their presence, and prayed that “this 'deuteronomic' remembrance make us more joyful and grateful to be servants of unity in the midst of our people.”
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