Pope Francis meets with & Exhorts Priests and Religious in Congo: Feb. 2, 2023

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  1. “First of all, we need to overcome spiritual mediocrity. How? The Presentation of the Lord, which in the Christian East is called the “feast of the encounter”, reminds us that the priority in our life must be our encounter with the Lord, especially in personal prayer, because our relationship with him is the basis of everything we do. Never forget that the secret of everything is prayer, since the ministry and the apostolate are not primarily our own work and do not depend solely on human means. You are going to tell me: yes, true enough, but commitments, pastoral priorities, apostolic labours, fatigue and so on risk leaving us with little time and energy for prayer. That is why I would like to share a few pieces of advice. First of all, let us remain faithful to certain liturgical rhythms of prayer that mark the day, from the Mass to the breviary. The daily celebration of the Eucharist is the beating heart of priestly and religious life. The Liturgy of the Hours allows us to pray with the Church and with regularity: may we never neglect it! Then too, let us not neglect Confession. We always need to be forgiven, so as then to bestow mercy upon others.

    Now, a second piece of advice. As we all know, we cannot limit ourselves to the rote recitation of prayers, but must set aside a time of intense prayer each day, to remain “heart-to-heart” with the Lord. It may be a prolonged time of adoration, in meditation on the word, or with the Holy Rosary, but a time of closeness to the One whom we love above all else. In addition, even in the midst of activity, we can always resort to the prayer of the heart, to short “aspirations” – which are a real treasure – words of praise, thanksgiving and invocation, to be repeated to the Lord wherever we find ourselves. Prayer takes the focus off ourselves, it opens us up to God, and it puts us back on our feet because it puts us in his hands. It creates in us the space to be able to experience God’s closeness, so that his word becomes familiar to us and, through us, to all those whom we meet. Without prayer, we will not get very far. Finally, to overcome spiritual mediocrity, let us never tire of invoking Our Lady, our Mother, learning from her to contemplate and to follow Jesus.

    The second challenge is to overcome the temptation of worldly comfort, of the easy life, in which we more or less arrange everything and stand back, seeking our own comfort, dragged along without enthusiasm. In this way, we lose the very heart of our mission, which is to put our ego behind us and to set out towards our brothers and sisters, practising, in the name of God, “the art of closeness”. Often, in situations of poverty and suffering, there is a great risk of worldliness: the desire to take advantage of our position in order to satisfy our own needs and comforts. It is very sad when we turn in on ourselves and become cold bureaucrats of the spirit. Instead of serving the Gospel, we then become concerned with managing finances and pursuing some profitable business for ourselves. Brothers and sisters, it is scandalous when this happens in the life of a priest or religious, for they should instead be models of sobriety and inner freedom. How beautiful it is, on the other hand, to be transparent in our intentions and free from compromise with money, joyfully embracing evangelical poverty and working side by side with the poor! And how beautiful it is to be radiant in living celibacy as a sign of complete availability to the kingdom of God! May it not be the case that the very vices we want to uproot in others, and in society as a whole, end up taking root in us. Please, let us beware of worldly comfort.

    Finally, the third challenge is to overcome the temptation to superficiality. The People of God are waiting to hear and find consolation in the word of the Lord. Consequently, they need priests and religious who are educated, well trained and passionate about the Gospel. A gift has been placed in our hands, and it would be presumptuous for us to think we can carry out the mission to which God has called us without working on ourselves every day and without an adequate spiritual and theological formation. People do not need “sacred functionaries”, possessed of academic degrees but detached from ordinary men and women. Certainly, we are obliged to enter into the heart of the Christian mystery, to deepen our understanding of the Church’s teaching, and to study and meditate on God’s word. At the same time, though, we have to remain open to the problems of our time and the increasingly complex questions of our age, in order to understand people’s lives and needs, and to realize how best to take them by the hand and accompany them. It follows that the formation of clergy is not an optional extra. I say this to seminarians, but it applies to everyone. Formation has to be ongoing; it has to continue throughout our lives. It is called ongoing formation: a continuous formation, for life.

    These challenges have to be faced if we want to serve people as witnesses of God’s love, since service is effective only if it comes through witness. Never forget this word: witness. After proclaiming words of consolation, the Lord says through Isaiah: “Who among them declared this, and foretold to us the former things? You are my witnesses” (43:9, 10). Witnesses. To be good priests, deacons and consecrated persons, words and intentions are not enough: your very lives must speak louder than your words. Dear brothers and sisters, as I look at you, I give thanks to God, because you are signs of the presence of Jesus, who walks in the streets of this country, who touches people’s lives and binds their wounds. Yet there is a need for more young people who can say “yes” to the Lord, for more priests and religious who can radiate his beauty by their lives.” Pope Francis, Kinshasa, 2.2.2023

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