(Photo: Reuters/Tony Gentile)
Pope Francis reflected on the priesthood Saturday, stressing that a true priest, who has been anointed by God for His people, will surely have a close, living relationship with Jesus Christ, without which the priest will have nothing to offer.
The pope encouraged priests to ask themselves some basic questions. "What is the place of Jesus Christ in my priestly life? Is it a living relationship, from the disciple to the Master, from brother to brother, from the poor man to God, or is it a somewhat artificial relationship... that does not come from the heart?" the Vatican Radio quoted Francis as saying in his homily at Casa Santa Marta on Saturday.
"We are anointed by the Spirit, and when a priest is far from Jesus Christ he can lose this unction. In his life, no: essentially he has it... but he loses it. And instead of being anointed he ends up being smarmy," the pope added.
"And how damaging to the Church are smarmy priests!" the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics went on to say. "Those who put their strength in artificial things, in vanity, in an attitude... in a cutesy language... But how often do we hear it said with sorrow: 'This is a butterfly-priest,' because they are always vain... [This kind of priest] does not have a relationship with Jesus Christ! He has lost the unction: he is smarmy."
The pontiff admitted that priests have many limits. "We are sinners, all," he said. "But if we go to Jesus Christ, if we seek the Lord in prayer – prayer of intercession, prayer of adoration – we are good priests, even though we are sinners."
By being far from Jesus, "we necessarily compensate for this with other, worldly attitudes," he added. "And so all these figures... priest-wheeler dealers, priest-tycoons... But the priest who adores Jesus Christ, the priest who talks with Jesus Christ, the priest who seeks Jesus Christ and who is allowed to seek Jesus Christ: this is the center of our life. If that is not there, we lose everything. And what will we give to the people?"
People cannot be fooled, the pope suggested. When they look at a true priest they say: "Yes, he's difficult, he's this or that... But he is a priest! And people know!" On the other hand, when they see "priest idolaters, so to speak, priests who instead of having Jesus have little idols... worshipers of the god Narcissus... When people see [priests like this] they say 'poor guy!'"
The relationship with Jesus "saves us from worldliness and idolatry that makes us smarmy, preserves us in the anointing [we have received]," the pope said. "And today, this is my hope for you… Even if you lose everything in life, don't lose this relationship with Jesus Christ! This is your victory. Go forward with this!"
Francis recently urged religious orders of the Catholic Church to strive to mold both the hearts and the minds of those studying in seminaries to become priests, warning that they can otherwise become "little monsters."
"We must form their [seminary students'] hearts. Otherwise we create little monsters. And then these little monsters mold the people of God. This really gives me goose bumps," Italian Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica quoted the pope as telling the superiors general of religious orders in a recent conversation.
The pope stressed that sinners, not corrupt people, were admitted in the seminary. "I am not speaking about people who recognize that they are sinners: we are all sinners, but we are not all corrupt. Sinners are accepted but not people who are corrupt," Francis said in the three-hour conversation that took place in late November last year.