VATICAN CITY — 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,” he 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, “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, “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.”
Characteristics of Priestly Joy
Drawing attention to three important characteristics of this joy, the Holy Father 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, “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 Holy Father expressed that it is found in his belonging to God and to his holy people.
“The priest who tries to find his priestly identity by soul-searching and introspection may well encounter nothing more than ‘exit’ signs,” the Pope continued, “signs that say: Exit from yourself; exit to seek God in adoration; go out, and give your people what was entrusted to you.”
“Unless you ‘exit’ from yourself, the oil grows rancid, and the anointing cannot be fruitful,” he explained, stating that “going out from ourselves presupposes self-denial; it means poverty.”
Moving on to the theme of fidelity, the Pope highlighted that priestly joy is also a “sister to fidelity,” but “not primarily in the sense that we are all ‘immaculate,’ for we are sinners, but in the sense of an ever-renewed fidelity to the one Bride, to the Church.”
Whenever the priest “does all that he has to do and lets go of everything that he has to let go of, as long as he stands firm amid the flock which the Lord has entrusted to him,” his mission will bring him joy.
Calling attention to obedience as a sister to this priestly joy, Pope Francis stated that it is “an obedience to the Church in the hierarchy which gives us, as it were, not simply the external framework for our obedience … but also union with God the Father, the source of all fatherhood.”
“It is likewise an obedience to the Church in service: in availability and readiness to serve everyone, always and as best I can,” he went on to say, noting that, through obedience, “wherever God’s people have desires or needs, there is the priest, who knows how to listen and feels a loving mandate from Christ, who sends him to relieve that need with mercy.”
“All who are called should know that genuine and complete joy does exist in this world,” he added, highlighting that “it is the joy of being taken from the people we love and then being sent back to them as dispensers of the gifts and counsels of Jesus” that is true.
Prayers for Priests
Pope Francis then prayed that, “on this priestly Thursday,” Jesus would enable “many young people to discover that burning zeal which joy kindles in our hearts as soon as we have the stroke of boldness needed to respond willingly to his call.”
He also prayed that the Lord would preserve the joy “sparkling in the eyes of the recently ordained who go forth to devour the world” and to confirm the joy “of those who have already ministered for some years,” especially those who “bear the burden of the ministry” and who, “having experienced the labors of the apostolate, gather their strength and rearm themselves.”
Concluding his homily, the Holy Father also prayed that Jesus “make better known the joy of elderly priests, whether healthy or infirm,” adding that “it is the joy of the cross, which springs from the knowledge that we possess an imperishable treasure in perishable earthen vessels.”
“May these priests find happiness wherever they are; may they experience already, in the passage of the years, a taste of eternity,” he asked.
And “may they know the joy of handing on the torch, the joy of seeing new generations of their spiritual children and of hailing the promises from afar, smiling and at peace, in that hope which does not disappoint.”