In Buenos Aires — I am speaking of another priest — there was a well known confessor: he was a Sacramentine. Almost all of the priests confessed to him. On one of the two occasions he came, John Paul II had requested a confessor at the Nunciature, and he went. He was old, very old.... He had served as Provincial in his Order, as a professor ... but always as a confessor, always. And a long line was always awaiting him in the Church of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
At the time, I was Vicar General and was living in the Curia, and every morning, early, I would go down to the fax to see if anything was there. And on Easter morning I read a fax from the community superior: “Yesterday, a half hour before the Easter Vigil, Fr Aristi died at the age of 94 — or 96? The funeral will be on such and such a day...”.
And on Easter morning I was to go to lunch with the priests at the retirement home — I usually did on Easter — and then —, I said to myself — after lunch I will go to the Church. It was a large church, very large, with a beautiful crypt. I went down into the crypt and the coffin was there; only two old ladies were praying there, but not a single flower. I thought: but this man, who forgave the sins of all the clergy of Buenos Aires, including mine, not even a flower ...
I went up and went to a florist — because in Buenos Aires there are flower shops at the crossroads, on the streets, where there are people — and I bought flowers, roses ... And I returned and began to decorate the coffin with flowers.... And I looked at the Rosary in his hands.... And immediately it came to mind — the thief that we all have inside of us, don’t we? — And while I was arranging the flowers I took the cross off the Rosary, and with a little effort I detached it.
At that moment I looked at him and said: “Give me half of your mercy”. I felt something powerful that gave me the courage to do this and to say this prayer! And then I put the cross here, in my pocket. But the Pope’s shirts don’t have pockets, but I always carry it here in a little cloth bag, and that cross has been with me from that moment until today. And when an uncharitable thought against someone comes to mind, my hand always touches it here, always. And I feel the grace! I feel its benefit. What good the example of a merciful priest does, of a priest who draws close to wounds...
Mercy. Think of the many priests who are in heaven and ask of them this grace! May they grant you the mercy they had with their faithful. This does good.
Pope Francis, Address to the priests of the Diocese of Rome, March 6, 2014
Reflection – Well, this is the end of that fine talk by Pope Francis on the priesthood and mercy. This last part has been quoted around the internet, etc., about this good priest in Buenos Aires and his effect on the Pope. It is good to hear about such people.
We all know, don’t we, about the harm that can be done by bad priests? It is the easiest thing in the world to go on at length about how much damage is done by Fr. X. and his harshness, Fr. Y and his softness, Fr. Z. and his drinking problem, Fr. Q. and his worldliness, and so on and so forth. So easy to do, and perhaps not always out of order, either.
But a good priest can do so much good for so many people. And there are good priests out there, and not just a few of them, either. And it’s good to (once in a while, anyhow) remember that.
But mercy is the theme of all of this, more so than the priesthood particularly. And mercy is the theme of Holy Week and its movement – the mercy of God poured out in Jesus Christ, the capacious heart of Christ big enough to take the whole world into its abysses, the action of Christ shedding his blood, a true flood that would cleanse the world of sin and raise up a new creation pleasing to God and radiant in his light.
And this mercy is the call of all Christians and all men and women ultimately. Priests do have a particular work of mercy to do, above all in the ministry of the confessional, but the task of mercy, the call to show forth the mercy of God poured out in Christ Jesus, is for all the baptized, and indeed is the sole happiness and fullness of life possible for the human person.