Dear Brother Bishops, Priests and Seminarians,
I greet you all who form part of the community of the Pontifical Leonine College of Anagni. I thank the Rector for the words he addressed to me in the name of all. A special greeting to you, dear seminarians, who wished to come to Rome on foot! Courageous men! This pilgrimage is a very beautiful symbol of your formative journey, to be undertaken with enthusiasm and perseverance, in the love of Christ and in fraternal communion.
The “Leonine,” as regional Seminary, offers its service to some dioceses of Lazio. In the wake of the formative tradition, it is called, in the today of the Church, to propose to candidates to the priesthood an experience able to transform their vocational plans into a fruitful apostolic reality. Like every Seminary, yours also has the purpose of preparing future ordained ministers in a climate of prayer, of study and of fraternity. It is this evangelical atmosphere, this life full of the Holy Spirit and of humanity, which makes it possible for all those immersed in it to assimilate day by day the sentiments of Jesus Christ, his love for the Father and for the Church, his dedication without reservations to the People of God. Prayer, study, fraternity and also apostolic life: are the four pillars of formation which interact, a strong spiritual life, a serious intellectual life, communal life and, finally, apostolic life but not in the order of importance. All four are important, if one is lacking the formation is not good. And these four interact. Four pillars, four dimensions on which a Seminary must live.
You, dear seminarians, are not preparing to engage in a profession, to become employees of a company or of a bureaucratic organization. We have so many, so many half way priests. It is a sorrow, that they do not succeed in reaching the fullness: they have something about them of employees, a bureaucratic dimension and this does no good to the Church. I advise you, be careful that you do not fall into this! You are becoming pastors in the image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to be like Him and in His person in the midst of his flock, to feed his sheep.
In face of this vocation, we can answer as Mary did to the Angel: “How is this possible?” (cf. Luke 1:34).
To become “good pastors” in the image of Jesus is something too great, and we are so small ….It’s true! I’ve been thinking these days of the Chrism Mass of Holy Thursday and I felt this, that with this very great gift, which we receive, our smallness is strong: we are among the smallest of men. It’s true, it is too great, but it’s not our work! It is the work of the Holy Spirit, with our collaboration. It is about offering oneself humbly, as clay to be molded, so that the potter, who is God, can shape it with water and fire, with the Word and the Spirit. It is about entering into what Saint Paul says: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
Only thus can we be deacons and presbyters in the Church, only thus can we feed the People of God and guide them not on our ways but on the way of Jesus, rather, on the Way that is Jesus.
It is true that, at the beginning, there is not always a total rectitude of intentions.
However, I dare to say: it is difficult for it to exist. All of us have always had these small things which were not in rectitude of intention, but this is resolved in time, with conversion every day. But we think of the Apostles! Think of James and John, one who wished to be Prime Minister and the other Minister of the Economy, becauseit was more important. The Apostles still did not have this rectitude. They were thinking of something else and the Lord, with much patience, corrected their intention and in the end the rectitude of their intention was such that they gave their life in preaching and in martyrdom. Don’t be frightened! “But I’m not sure if I want to be a priest for promotion …” “But, do you love Jesus?” “Yes.” “Talk with your spiritual Father, talk with your formators. Pray, pray, pray and you’ll see that the rectitude of intention will go forward.”
And this path means to meditate every day on the Gospel, to transmit it with your life and your preaching; it means to experience the mercy of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And never leave this! Go to confession, always! And in this way you will become generous and merciful ministers because you will feel the mercy of God upon you. It means to nourish yourselves with faith and with love of the Eucharist, to nourish the Christian people with it; it means to be men of prayer, to become the voice of Christ that praises the Father and intercedes continually for brothers (cf. Hebrews 7:25).
The prayer of intercession, which was engaged in by great men – Moses, Abraham – who fought with God for the people, that courageous prayer before God. If you – but I say this from my heart, without offending! – if you, if one of you, is not willing to follow this way, with these attitudes and these experiences, it is better that you have the courage to look for another way. There are many ways in the Church of giving Christian witness and so many ways that lead to sanctity. In the ministerial following of Jesus there is no room for mediocrity, that mediocrity that leads always to use the holy People of God for one’s own advantage. But Heaven help evil pastors, because the Seminary, let’s say the truth, is not a refuge for the many limitations we might have, a refuge from psychological lacks or a refuge because I don’t have the courage to go forward in life and I seek there a place that defends me. No, it’s not this.
If your Seminary was this, it would become a mortgage for the Church! No, the Seminary is precisely to go forward, forward on this way. And when we hear the prophets say “woe!” may this “woe” make you reflect seriously on your future. Pius XI once said that it was better to lose a vocation than to have the risk of a candidate who is not sure. He was a mountain climber, he knew these things.
Beloved, I thank you for your visit. I thank you for having come on foot. I support you with my prayer and my blessing, and I entrust you to the Virgin, who is Mother. Never forget her! The Russian mystics said that in the moment of spiritual turbulence it is necessary to seek refuge under the mantle of the Holy Mother of God. Never leave there, covered with her mantle! And please, pray for me!