During Holy Thursday’s Chrism Mass Pope Francis focused on the topic of mercy, telling priests that one of their primary tasks is to make mercy visible in the same way as Jesus, who always gave it in excess.
“As priests, we are witnesses to and ministers of the ever-increasing abundance of the Father’s mercy; we have the rewarding and consoling task of incarnating mercy, as Jesus did,” the Pope said March 24.
He told priests that they have a special role in enculturating mercy, “so that each person can embrace it and experience it personally.”
This, he said, “will help all people truly understand and practice mercy with creativity, in ways that respect their local cultures and families.”
Pope Francis spoke to those present in St. Peter’s Basilica for the Chrism Mass, which takes place in the Catholic Church each year on Holy Thursday and involves the blessing of oils used for the sacraments of Confirmation, Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick.
As part of the Mass all priests, bishops and cardinals present renewed the promises they made on the day of their ordination.
Francis began his homily by noting how during his life, Jesus was a sign of contradiction, just as the elderly prophet Simeon had predicted.
“By his words and actions, Jesus lays bare the secrets of the heart of every man and woman,” he said, noting that in the Gospel, the privileged place where Jesus preaches the Father’s unconditional mercy is to the poor, the outcast and the oppressed.
“(This) is the very place we are called to take a stand and fight the good fight,” Francis said, explaining that Jesus also fought, but never to build power.
“If he breaks down walls and challenges our sense of security, he does this to open the flood gates of that mercy which, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, he wants to pour out upon our world.”
He then pointed to two areas where he said God shows “an excess” of mercy. These areas, he said, are encounter and forgiveness.
On the theme of encounter, the Pope explained that Jesus gives of himself “completely and in such a way that every encounter leads to rejoicing.”
Francis pointed to the parable of the prodigal son, calling it the parable of the “Merciful Father,” in which the father waits for his son, runs out to meet him, kisses him, gives him a ring and throws a party.
When thinking about the “superabundance of the Father’s joy that is freely and boundlessly expressed when his son returns, we should not be fearful of exaggerating our gratitude,” he said.
Our attitude when we encounter the mercy of the Father, he said, should mirror that of the leper who, after being healed, leaves the nine others who do what Jesus ordered and returns to Jesus, kneeling at his feet and glorifying God aloud.
“Mercy restores everything; it restores dignity to each person,” the Pope said, adding that this is the reason why “effusive gratitude is the proper response.”
Pope Francis then pointed to the second area of forgiveness, saying that “God does not only forgive incalculable debts,” but he also enables us to “move directly from the most shameful disgrace to the highest dignity without any intermediary stages.”
However, he noted that we frequently tend to separate the attitudes of shame and dignity. When we are ashamed of our sins, he said, “we hide ourselves and walk around with our heads down, like Adam and Eve.”
On the other hand, when we elevated to some sort of rank of dignity, “we try to cover up our sins and take pleasure in being seen, almost showing off.”
The only response to God’s abundant forgiveness, Francis said, “should be always to preserve that healthy tension between a dignified shame and a shamed dignity.”
This is the attitude of someone “who seeks a humble and lowly place, but who can also allow the Lord to raise him up for the good of the mission, without complacency,” he observed.
Francis then pointed to the prophet Isaiah's words “You will be called priests of the Lord, ministers of our God.”
The people the Lord chooses to transform into a priestly people, he noted, are precisely the poor, hungry, prisoners of war, those with no future and those are “cast to one side and rejected.”
A priest must identify with people who are excluded, the Pope said, and encouraged the clergy present to remind themselves that there are “countless masses of people who are poor, uneducated, prisoners, who find themselves in such situations because others oppress them.”
However, he cautioned that a priest must also keep in mind the extent to which he himself is “blind, lacking the radiant light of faith, not because we do not have the Gospel close at hand, but because of an excess of complicated theology.”
Often times a priest can feel trapped, though not with the stone walls that enclose others, he said. Instead, a priest can feel imprisoned by “a digital, virtual worldliness that is opened and closed by a simple click.”
“We are oppressed, not by threats and pressures, like so many poor people, but by the allure of a thousand commercial advertisements which we cannot shrug off to walk ahead, freely, along paths that lead us to love of our brothers and sisters,” the Pope observed.
However, despite the many trials and temptations a priest can face, “Jesus comes to redeem us, to send us out, to transform us from being poor and blind, imprisoned and oppressed, to become ministers of mercy and consolation.”
Pope Francis concluded his homily by praying that during the Jubilee of Mercy, all would be able to receive “with a dignity that is able to humble itself, the mercy revealed in the wounded flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ.”