ROME — During the recent Jubilee for Priests in Rome, Bishop Robert Barron sat down for an interview with CNA, where he discussed Pope Francis’ view on the meaning of the priesthood.
“In the vision of Pope Francis, (priests) are the key players in communicating the Divine Mercy to the world. He sees that as our primary mission,” Bishop Barron said June 3.
“I think (the Pope) sees the mercy emphasis as the best way to renew the priesthood for our time.”
Bishop Barron, founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, was invited to give a catechesis to the English-language participants during the June 1-3 Jubilee of Priests.
Before being appointed auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles in July of last year, Bishop Barron served as the rector of Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in the Archdiocese of Chicago, starting 2012.
The Chicago native launched Word on Fire in 2000.
The rest of CNA’s interview with Bishop Barron below:
You gave a catechesis to the English-speaking priests taking part in the jubilee, with some 800 priests gathered at the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle. What were some of the main points you discussed?
I talked about the Woman at the Well, which is a favorite of Pope Francis. I drew four points from it about God’s mercy. (First), that God’s mercy is relentless, crossing boundaries and borders, as Jesus does, reaching out to this triple outsider. Secondly, the Divine Mercy is divinizing. It’s not just padding us on the head and healing our wounds; it lifts us up to share in the very divine life. He wants to give the Woman at the Well water bubbling up to eternal life. And then, thirdly, I talked about Divine Mercy as challenging. I’m against the view that the more you say “mercy,” the less you say “moral challenge.” No: It’s both/and. It’s mercy all the way, and that implies transformation — metanoia. Finally, mercy sends us on mission.
There have been numerous jubilees during this holy Year of Mercy. What makes the Jubilee for Priests so special?
I think priests, in the vision of Pope Francis, are the key players in communicating the Divine Mercy to the world. He sees that as our primary mission. So, we’re other Christs. What was Christ doing, but bearing the Father’s mercy to the world? That’s our job, as other Christs.
I think he sees the mercy emphasis as the best way to renew the priesthood for our time. As I listen to him talking to priests, I hear that over and over again.
Pope Francis is the spiritual father of all priests in the Church, and during this jubilee, he led a spiritual retreat specifically for priests. From your perspective, having been charged with the formation of priests at Mundelein Seminary, what does it mean for the Pope himself to take charge of a retreat for these priests?
It’s super important. You say it just right: that he’s the spiritual father. The Pope is more than the leader. He’s more than a guy with smart ideas. He’s the father. He’s the father of the whole Catholic Church, but in a very particular way of priests.
I found when I was seminary rector that was my primary role: to be the spiritual father of that community. That’s how the Church is structured. Without spiritual fatherhood, we drift. And so priests, looking to him, hearing him, but — more importantly — watching him in action, learn what they’re supposed to be, the same way a child learns from his father.
I think it’s super important that he personally is here to shepherd us and to father us.
When the faithful prays for priests, what should we be praying for? What are the biggest challenges they are facing, especially today?
I would say pray for our spiritual integrity: that priests remain grounded in Christ, grounded in the sacraments, especially in the sacrament of reconciliation and the Eucharist, that we retain the spiritual center. I would pray — because the priesthood, as you know, is under attack in many ways in our culture, in our society — that priests remain grounded in Christ, they know who they are. I’d also pray for their protection. ... Ask the Blessed Mother to protect priests.
And, I would also say: Pray for vocations. One thing I found very edifying when I was rector of Mundelein Seminary (was that) the vocations kept coming, even though a lot of us felt, oh gosh, with the scandals the numbers would go down. They really didn’t. Vocations kept coming. So, pray for that, that the numbers continue to grow.
Do have any other impressions of the different events in which you’ve taken part over the course of the Jubilee for Priests?
The night I gave a talk at Andrea delle Valle, it was at the end of Mass — I celebrated Mass after the talk — and, seeing this army of white-robed priests coming forward to receive the Eucharist. So, the Eucharist was on the altar, and the priests were coming forward to receive it. I just thought of the Book of Revelation and the white-robed members of the Church. It just moved me very deeply. And then afterward, talking to so many priests — (from) Canada, America, Great Britain, Ireland, Ghana, the Cameroons, different parts of Eastern Europe, all over the world: That image has stayed with me very powerfully.