18 April 2019, The Tablet

Pope to priests: clericalism takes root when you seek comfort instead of the people

During Chrism Mass, Francis tells clergy they must learn how to "anoint"

Pope to priests: clericalism takes root when you seek comfort instead of the people

Pope Francis breathes over chrism oil as he celebrates Mass on Holy Thursday in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 18, 2019
CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters

The roots of clericalism are planted with a desire to place personal comfort ahead of service, Pope Francis told priests in St Peter’s Basilica on Holy Thursday. 

During the annual Chrism Mass, where clergy re-dedicate themselves to priestly ministry, the 82-year-old Latin American Pope pointed out how the disciples suggested to Jesus he turn the crowds away so they can get something to eat. 

“Here, I believe, was the beginning of clericalism: in this desire to be assured of a meal and personal comfort without any concern for the people,” the Pope told a packed basilica with hundreds of priests, bishops and cardinals. “The Lord cut short that temptation: ‘You, give them something to eat!’ was Jesus’ response. ‘Take care of the people!’ ”

Throughout his pontificate, Francis has repeatedly denounced clericalism where being a priest becomes about power and status which then leads to clergy living double-lives and abusing their position.

He says it pains him to see clergy driving around in flashy cars; warned that young clerics can turn into “little monsters” if they are not trained and that priests too focussed on what they wear are “rigid and worldly”.

The Pope, who has shunned the trappings of the papal office, told Rome’s clergy they must identify with ordinary people, be ready to serve, and in doing so will find their priesthood comes alive. 

During the 18 April, Francis blessed oils contained in large silver urns which will be used to administer the sacraments of baptisms, confirmation and the anointing of the sick in the coming year. 

“The one who learns how to anoint and to bless is thus healed of meanness, abuse and cruelty,” the Pope said. Clericalism and abuse of power are both at the heart of the clerical sexual abuse crisis, according to Francis.  

Priests, the Pope stressed, are not “distributors of bottled oil” but anoint though “dirtying our hands in touching the wounds, the sins and the worries of the people,” and by giving of themselves generously to the people. 

“They are the ones who complete and make real the anointing of the Spirit in ourselves; they are the ones whom we have been anointed to anoint,” the Pope explained. “We have been taken from their midst, and we can fearlessly identify with these ordinary people. They are an image of our soul and an image of the Church.”

He went on: “We priests are the poor man and we would like to have the heart of the poor widow whenever we give alms, touching the hand of the beggar and looking him or her in the eye. We priests are Bartimaeus, and each morning we get up and pray: ‘Lord, that I may see’. We priests are, in some point of our sinfulness, the man beaten by the robbers. And we want first to be in the compassionate hands of the good Samaritan, in order then to be able to show compassion to others with our own hands.”

At the end of the Mass the Pope gave priests a copy of a book of his homilies given at the Chrism Mass during his 6-year pontificate, and will start the Holy Week Triduum by travelling to a to a prison in Velletri, south of Rome, where he will wash the feet of twelve inmates during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

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