Address to new bishops focuses on pastoral attention to families and seminarians
“People can ‘smell’ it — the people of God have God’s nose. People can ‘smell’ it and they move away when they see narcissists, manipulators, defenders of their own causes, and bandits of vain crusades,” he said, urging them instead to make their ministry an “icon of mercy, the only force capable of permanently seducing and attracting man’s heart.”
“One can ignore an indifferent and distant God, but one cannot so easily resist a God who is so close and has even been wounded for love,” the pope said. “Goodness, beauty, truth, and love: this is what we have to offer this beggar world, albeit in half-broken bowls.”
The audience came at the end of a formation course for new bishops organized by the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.
“Thrilled at having been loved by God”
Making mercy pastoral, having experienced “the thrill of being loved by God in advance”: for Pope Francis, this is the mission of bishops, especially those who are new pastors of the Church.
Bishops have been “fished, i.e. caught by the love of God’s surprising mercy,” he said, pointing to the example of biblical figures like Moses and Nathaniel who were loved and known by God even before they realized it.
The pope called this love “an admirable condescension.”
“How beautiful it is to let oneself be transfixed by the loving knowledge of God. It consoles us to know that He truly knows who we are and is not afraid of our littleness … despite our insufficiencies.”
The Pope said the true Holy Door of the Jubilee of Mercy is Christ, the only Door. Passing through that door, he said, should help them live “a personal experience of gratitude, reconciliation, total trust, and of complete self-giving of one’s life without limit to the Shepherd of Shepherds.”
“The most precious riches you can bring back with you from Rome at the beginning of your episcopal ministry is the awareness of the mercy with which you have been seen and chosen.”
Pope Francis then called the bishops to fulfill their duty to make mercy pastoral for their flocks.
“Mercy,” he said, “should form and inform the pastoral structures of our Churches. This does not mean lowering our standards or giving away our pearls. Indeed, the only condition that the pearl of great price places on those who find it is to not be able to claim less than everything; its only claim is to arouse in the hearts of those who find it the need to risk everything to have it.”
The pope gave the bishops three recommendations for how to make mercy pastoral, saying their ministry must be accessible, tangible, and capable of encounter.
Care for seminarians and priests
Pope Francis then emphasized the need “to take special care of the structures of initiation of your Churches, especially seminaries.”
“Do not let yourselves be tempted by numbers and by the quantity of vocations; rather look for the quality of discipleship. Neither numbers nor quantity: only quality,” he said, adding: “Do not deprive seminarians of your firm and tender fatherhood.” Help seminarians to grow “until they acquire the freedom to remain before God in peace and serenity,” not prey “to their own whims and slaves of their weakness,” but free to embrace all that God is asking of them.
He also told the newly-appointed bishops to accompany their priests “with patient care.”
“I ask you as well to act with great prudence and responsibility in receiving candidates or incardinating priests into your local churches. Please have prudence and responsibility in this. Remember that, from early times, there has been an inseparable relationship between the local Church and its priests, and a vagabond clergy, or one moving from one place to another, was never accepted. And this is the disease of our times.”
Care for families
Finally, Pope Francis called the newly-appointed prelates to be “bishops capable of accompanying” their flock, just as the Good Samaritan accompanied to a safe place the wounded man left on the side of the road.
“Reserve a special accompaniment for all families, rejoicing with their generous love and encouraging the immense good they bestow in this world,” he said. “Follow especially those who are most wounded. Do not ‘pass by’ their weakness. Stop to let your heart as shepherds be pierced by the vision of their wound; approach gently and without fear. Put before their eyes the joy of the authentic love and grace with which God raises them to a participation in his own love. So many people need to rediscover it; others have never known it; some are waiting for it to be redeemed; not a few will have to bear the weight of having irretrievably lost it. Please keep them company in discernment and with empathy,” he said.
He concluded: “Dear brothers, let us now pray together and I will bless you with all my heart as a pastor, father, and brother. A blessing is always the invocation of God’s face upon us. Christ is the Face of God that never fades. In blessing you I ask him to walk with you and that he give you the courage to walk with him. It is his Face that attracts us, expresses itself in us and accompanies us. Amen!”
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