“The priest is the poorest of men unless Jesus enriches him by his poverty, the most useless of servants unless Jesus calls him his friend."
In his homily given during the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, Pope Francis spoke on the joy of the priestly vocation, saying a cleric “is useless” unless his happiness is found in the grace of God.
“Anointed with the oil of gladness so as to anoint others with the oil of gladness,” the pontiff said April 17, noting that priestly joy “is a priceless treasure, not only for the priest himself but for the entire faithful people of God.”
Pope Francis made his remarks on the priesthood during the morning’s 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.
Highlighting how priestly joy has its source in the Father’s love, Pope Francis said that “I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that (the) priest is very little indeed: the incomparable grandeur of the gift granted us for the ministry sets us among the least of men.”
“The priest is the poorest of men unless Jesus enriches him by his poverty, the most useless of servants unless Jesus calls him his friend, the most ignorant of men unless Jesus patiently teaches him as he did Peter, the frailest of Christians unless the Good Shepherd strengthens him in the midst of the flock,” the Pope continued, adding that “No one is more ‘little’ than a priest left to his own devices.”
Encouraging priests to seek the protection of Mary and to echo her words in the Gospel, saying “I am a priest because he has regarded my littleness,” he explained that “in that littleness we find our joy.”
Drawing attention to three important characteristics of this joy, the pontiff observed that it is a gladness that anoints, is imperishable and is also missionary.
On the anointing, the Pope reflected that this joy “has penetrated deep within our hearts, it has shaped them and strengthened them sacramentally.”
Through all the signs and actions performed during the rite of ordination, he added, “Grace fills us to the brim and overflows, fully, abundantly and entirely in each priest.”
“We are anointed down to our very bones…and our joy, which wells up from deep within, is the echo of this anointing.”
Turning to the imperishable quality of this gladness, the Pope explained that the fullness of this gift is something “which no one can take away or increase,” and “is an unfailing source of joy.”
“It can lie dormant, or be clogged by sin or by life’s troubles, yet deep down it remains intact, like the embers of a burnt log beneath the ashes, and it can always be renewed,” he continued.
Highlighting the missionary quality of priestly joy, Pope Francis emphasized that it “is deeply bound up with God’s holy and faithful people, for it is an eminently missionary joy,” adding that “Our anointing is meant for anointing God’s holy and faithful people,” to baptize, bless, comfort and evangelize them.
The Bishop of Rome pointed out that since this joy “only springs up when the shepherd is in the midst of his flock,” it is a “guarded joy” which is “watched over by the flock itself.”
“Even in those gloomy moments when everything looks dark and a feeling of isolation takes hold of us, in those moments of listlessness and boredom which at times overcome us in our priestly life (and which I too have experienced), even in those moments God’s people are able to ‘guard’ that joy,” he stated.
Pope Francis then alluded to three “sisters” of this guarded joy who “surround it, tend it and defend it,” revealing that they are “sister poverty, sister fidelity and sister obedience.”
“Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to poverty,” he observed, noting that “the priest is poor in terms of purely human joy. He has given up so much! And because he is poor, he, who gives so much to others, has to seek his joy from the Lord and from God’s faithful people.”
On how the priest does not need to create this joy for himself, the pontiff expressed that it is found in his belonging to God and to his holy people.