Thursday, April 10, 2014

God Gives Us the Bad Example

A great priest from Buenos Aires comes to mind, he is younger than I, he is around the age of 72.... Once he came to see me. He is a great confessor: there are always people waiting in line for him there. The majority of priests confess to him... He is a great confessor.

And once he came to see me: “But Father....”; “Tell me”; “I have a small scruple, because I know that I forgive too much!”… And we spoke about mercy. At a certain point he said to me: “You know, when I feel this scruple keenly, I go to the chapel, before the Tabernacle, and I say to Him: Excuse me, but it’s Your fault, because it is you who has given me the bad example! And I go away at peace....”. It is a beautiful prayer of mercy! If one experiences this in his own regard in Confession, in his own heart, he is able to give it to others.

The priest is called to learn this, to have a heart that is moved. Priests who are — allow me to say the word — “aseptic”, those “from the laboratory”, all clean and tidy, do not help the Church.

Today we can think of the Church as a “field hospital”. Excuse me but I repeat it, because this is how I see it, how I feel it is: a “field hospital”. Wounds need to be treated, so many wounds! So many wounds! There are so many people who are wounded by material problems, by scandals, also in the Church.... People wounded by the world’s illusions.... We priests must be there, close to these people. Mercy first means treating the wounds. 

When someone is wounded, he needs this immediately, not tests such as the level of cholesterol and one’s glycemic index.... But there’s a wound, treat the wound, and then we can look at the results of the tests. Then specialized treatments can be done, but first we need to treat the open wounds. I think this is what is most important at this time. And there are also hidden wounds, because there are people who distance themselves in order to avoid showing their wounds closer....

The custom comes to mind, in the Mosaic Law, of the lepers in Jesus’ time, who were always kept at a distance in order not to to spread the contagion.... There are people who distance themselves through shame, through shame, so as not to let their wounds be seen.... And perhaps they distance themselves with some bitterness against the Church, but deep down inside there is a wound.... They want a caress! And you, dear brothers — I ask you — do you know the wounds of your parishioners? Do you perceive them? Are you close to them? It’s the only question....
Pope Francis, Address to the priests of the Diocese of Rome, March 6, 2014

Reflection – Well this part of his address is so beautiful that a) I couldn’t bear to cut any of it out and b) I really don’t know what I have to add to it! Except that I believe Pope Francis is really revealing his own heart here, the real core of his faith, his fundamental orientation in life.

Everything else—economic policy and liturgical style, curial reform and magisterial focus—all of this is not nothing, not utterly unimportant, but very much secondary to this profound sense of the wounds of humanity and the need for a merciful Church, a field hospital Church, a Church that is first concerned to stanch the bleeding and assuage the pain of people.

It is not—it never is and it never can be—a question of abandoning this teaching or changing that doctrine. It is a matter of deeply discerning the need of the person in front of you and what they can or cannot hear at this precise point. Truth is truth and truth must be taught, but always with love, always with a profound sensitivity to the level of pain and brokenness of the person.

In other words, the person and his or her immediate need comes first, always. This is how it is with God, and this is how it must be with us, priests for sure, but not just priests, eh? Mercy – the heart of the matter always, but never more than in our poor broken-down world today.


  1. Thanks for sharing this. I have read a little of Catherine's works and I find that the pope shares with her the same tone of immanent simplicity of love. What is the pope saying but that we must refine our sense of duty so that we may meet the duty of each moment. Wounds first, cholesterol later. Peace

    1. Well put - and a nice connection to Catherine, there. Yes, she has much the same style and approach - she would have loved Pope Francis!

  2. The Church is like a field hospital where the practitioners have little skill and no knowledge at all of aseptic technique. Most people are lost to poor treatment rather than the injury that caused them to seek help.


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