Never forget your first love, Pope encourages priests

Pope Francis greets pilgrims in St. Peter's Square during his Wednesday General Audience May 21, 2014. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Pope Francis directed his daily homily today to his brother bishops and priests, telling them to always put love of God and their flock first, before pursuing a scholastic career.

“This is the question I ask myself, my brother bishops and priests: how is your love today, the love of Jesus? Is it like first love? Am I as in love today as on the first day?” the Pope asked in his June 6 homily.

Centering his reflections on the day’s Gospel passage from John in which Jesus asks Peter three times “Do you love me?” the Roman Pontiff asked those in attendance “How is your first love?” explaining that this question is not only for married couples, but also those consecrated in the Church.

Addressing his fellow priests and bishops, the Bishop of Rome asked whether they still love Jesus as much as they did when they first began their ministry, “Or do work and worries lead me to look at other things, and forget love a little?”

Observing how “There are arguments in marriage. That's normal,” the Pope explained that “when there is no love, there are no arguments: it breaks.”

“Do I argue, with the Lord? This is a sign of love. This question that Jesus asks of Peter brings him to first love. Never forget your first love. Never.”

In addition to constantly renewing one’s initial love for the Lord, Pope Francis noted that a priest must always remember in his dialogue with Jesus to be a shepherd before wanting to be “a scholar of philosophy or theology.”

A priest must always be a “shepherd” in same way the Jesus showed to Peter in saying “feed my sheep,” he said, and the rest will come later.

“Feed. With theology, philosophy, with petrology, with what you study, but feed. Be the shepherd. For the Lord has called us to this. And the bishop's hands on our head is to be shepherds,” the pontiff continued.

“This is a second question, is not it? The first is: ‘How is your first love?’ This, the second: ‘Am I a shepherd, or an employee of this NGO that is called the Church?’ There is a difference. Am I a shepherd?”

Going on, the Pope explained that this is “A question that I have to ask myself; that bishops need to ask, even priests: all of us. Feed. Lead. Go forward.”

He then went on to explain that there is not majesty or glory in being a priest, saying “No, brother. You will end up in the most common, even humiliating circumstances: in bed, having to be fed, dressed...useless, sick.”

“To end up like Him,” like Jesus, is the destiny of a priest, the Roman Pontiff observed, adding that this is a love which dies “as the seed of wheat that will bear fruit. But I will not see it.”

Drawing attention to what he described as the “strongest word” Jesus spoke in the Gospel, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of listening to his command “Follow me!”

Even “if we have lost the way or do not know how to respond to love, we do not know how to respond to being pastors, we do not know how to respond or we do not have the certainty that the Lord will not abandon us even in the worst moments of life, in sickness,” he continued.

“He says, ‘Follow me.’ This is our certainty. In the footsteps of Jesus. On that path. ‘Follow me.’”

Concluding his homily, the pontiff asked that the Lord give all priests and bishops “the grace to always find or remember our first love, to be pastors, not to be ashamed of ending up humiliated on a bed or even losing our faculties.”

“And that He always give us the grace to follow Jesus, in the footsteps of Jesus: the grace to follow Him.”


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In our time

Archbishop José H. Gomez

As I write, I’ve just read the sad news that 90 Christians have been kidnapped from two villages in Syria. Of course we were all shocked earlier this month by the news that 21 Coptic Christians were executed in Syria — killed, as Pope Francis said, “for the mere fact of being Christians.” 

The Holy Father visits the Holy Land

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