2013-05-24 16:09:38

Total love for Jesus is the measure of a man of God, Pope tells bishops

24 May, 2013 - The depth of a bishop or priest's love for Jesus and his willingness to give up everything for God are the litmus test for how well the pastor is fulfilling his ministry, Pope Francis said. "We are not the face of an organization or an organizational necessity," he told hundreds of Italian bishops during a solemn ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica on Thursday. "We are called to be a sign of the presence and action of the risen Lord, to build the community in brotherly love." The pope made his comments in a reflection during a prayer service in which more than 200 heads of Italian dioceses and archdioceses reconfirmed their faith as part of the Year of Faith celebrations. The bishops were in Rome for the 65th general assembly of the Italian bishops' conference. "The only question that is truly essential" for a pastor, the pope said, is the question Jesus asked Peter three times: "Do you love me?" Being a real friend of Jesus who follows him with his life is the "premise and condition for feeding his flock, his lambs, the Church," he said. The Pope cautioned the bishops against slipping into tepidity and falling prey to careerism and laziness.
"Every ministry is built on this intimacy with the Lord," the pope said. Drawing everything from Christ "is the measure of our ecclesial service, which is expressed in the willingness to obey, lower oneself, and total giving of oneself," he said. Loving the Lord means giving everything, absolutely everything, even one's life, for him, and this is "what must distinguish our pastoral ministry," he said. "It is the litmus test that tells us how deeply we have embraced the received gift answering Jesus' call and how much we are linked to the people and community we have been entrusted with." Keeping watch over oneself and one's flock, as St. Paul the Apostle admonished, is necessary to avoid becoming a "lukewarm" pastor, the pope said. A lack of vigilance makes a pastor "distracted, forgetful and even insufferable; it seduces him with the prospect of a career, the enticement of money and compromises with the spirit of the world." It makes the pastor "lazy, turning him into a pencil pusher, a state worker-cleric worried more about himself, about the organization, the system, than the true good of the people of God," Pope Francis said. Just like Peter, the bishop or priest runs the risk of denying Jesus even though the pastor "formally presents himself" as a man of God "and speaks in his name," he said. Jesus' continuous inquiry into whether we love him or not, he added, "can leave us distressed and more aware of the weakness of our freedom, threatened as it is by thousands of personal and outside influences that often cause confusion, frustration and even a loss of belief." Jesus does not mean to cause these difficulties by asking his disciples about the depth of their love; rather, it is the devil who is taking advantage of people's weaknesses in order to isolate them "in bitterness, complaints and discouragement," the pope said. He said Jesus the Good Shepherd is not trying to humiliate his disciples and never abandons them; he is making known "the tenderness of the father" who consoles and raises people up again, helping them go from being broken down by shame to the wholeness of faith, offering them courage and re-instilling his trust in them in their mission. "Being a pastor means believing every day in the grace and strength that comes to us from the Lord despite out weakness and to assume deep down the responsibility to walk in front of the flock" and speak in a way both the faithful and those who have not found God yet can recognize, he said. "We are called to make God's dream our own, whose home doesn't know the exclusion of persons or peoples," he added. The Italian bishops were deeply touched by the trouble the Pope took to come to each one of them at the end of the ceremony, shaking their hands and giving them a smile and a word of encouragement and solidarity.

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