Friday, March 15, 2013

Strong Words in the Holy Father's First Sermon

Pope Francis Checks out of the Casa del Clero on the Via della Scrofa

We have all met people in the Church, some of them seminarians, who go through the external necessities of their state in life but who do not pray. They may say the Office but they shun the Chapel at times of Eucharistic Adoration, they never go to the Tabernacle during the day to open their hearts to the Lord. They find it hard to stand in His presence. Sometimes I extol them to think again about what they are doing, sometimes I challenge them, sometimes I suggest to seminarians that they should reconsider the path they have chosen. Some people think I am harsh or too demanding. I don't agree. If anything, reading the Holy Father's first sermon, I think perhaps I should be stronger. 

Citing a phrase of Leon Bloy Pope Francis said, "He who does not pray to the Lord worships the devil" because, he explained, "when you do not express your faith in Jesus Christ, you profess your faith in the worldliness of the devil, the worldliness of the demon".
In the context of seminary formation, priesthood and religious life, I interpret this to mean that if you do not pray you will not be doing God's work but the devil's. Strong words indeed!

Later in the same sermon the Holy Father drives the point home once again. He is speaking of Peter's profession of faith as they come down from the mountain of the Transfiguration. Peter proclaims Christ as the Son of the living God, as the Messiah but he opposes the consequences of the incarnation: the impending crucifixion and death of the Lord. He earns for himself Christ's rebuke: "Get behind me, Satan!" Pope Francis says that Peter proposes following Christ on his own terms: "I will follow you... without the Cross", and he goes on to say, "When we walk without the Cross, when we construct things without the Cross, and when we profess a Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly people - we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but we are not disciples of the Lord".

Let's hope that seminarians and those responsible for their formation, as well as bishops, priests, cardinals and popes, take seriously these words of the Holy Father. The task is not to pass exams, get ordained, or run parishes or dioceses. "Si quis vult venire post me...": the task is to pick up the Cross daily and follow the Lord. And since without Christ we cannot bear its weight, the measure of the extent to which we shoulder that Cross is the time we spend before the Tabernacle.