During a day trip to Sicily Saturday, Pope Francis told priests and religious to fight their vices and strive to live a consistent witness of morality.
“One cannot live a double morality: one for the people of God and another in their own home,” the pope told a group of priests, religious and seminarians in Palermo, Italy, Sept. 15.
“No, the witness is only one. The testimony of Jesus always belongs to him. And for his love [the priest] undertakes a daily battle against his vices and against all alienating worldliness.”
He referred to the room of Bl. Pino Puglisi, who was assassinated by the Mafia 25 years ago, saying it stands “in genuine simplicity. It is the eloquent sign of a life consecrated to the Lord, who does not seek consolations and glory from the world.”
People look for simplicity in priests and in consecrated men and women. He said: “People are shocked not when they see that the priest ‘slips,’ is a sinner, repents and goes on… People’s scandal is when they see worldly priests, with the spirit of the world.”
People are scandalized, he continued, when they see a priest who is like “an executive,” rather than a pastor. “And this puts it right in your head and in your heart: shepherds yes, executives no!”
In the meeting, the pope also discussed clericalism, stating that clericalism is to think the Church is “above the world,” when the Church is in fact “inside the world, to make it ferment, like leaven in the dough.”
“For this reason, dear brothers and sisters, every form of clericalism must be banned. It is one of the most difficult perversions to remove today, clericalism.”
He also warned against careerism, which he said is about power, and emphasized that priests and religious are meant to be people of service. To be a good witness, therefore, he said, “means fleeing every duplicity, that hypocrisy which is so closely linked to clericalism; to escape every duplicity of life, in the seminary, in religious life, in the priesthood.”
Francis was also critical of “pastoral projects,” which he said are often “pharaonic,” or extravagant, not simple. “We go to meet people,” he said, “with the simplicity of those who want to love them with Jesus in the heart… without riding the fashions of the moment.”
What have pastoral projects done? “Nothing!” he said. “Pastoral plans are necessary, but as a means, a means to help [those near us], preaching the Gospel, but in themselves they are not useful. The way of the encounter, of listening, of sharing is the way of the Church.”
He listed ways to grow the Church within the parish, such as helping young people at school, accompanying people as they discern vocations, meeting families and the sick, creating meeting places to pray and to learn. This is the “pastoral care” that brings fruit, he said.
Condemning gossip and division, saying they “are not sins that everyone does,” Francis added that “always the error must be distinguished from the one who commits it,” and people should be loved and treated as brothers and sisters. He pointed to the example of Don Pino, who welcomed everyone with an open heart, even criminals.
He also told priests that they are a man of God 24 hours a day, not only when wearing vestments, and that the liturgy is life for them, not just a ritual. “This is why it is fundamental to pray to the One we talk about, to nourish ourselves with the Word that we preach, to adore the Bread we consecrate, and do it every day,” he said.
“It demonstrates that the Church is a sacrament of salvation,” he said, “that is, a sign that indicates and an instrument that offers salvation to the world.”
Following his encounter with priests and religious at the cathedral, Pope Francis met with the young people of Palermo and the surrounding areas.
Asked a question about how to know God’s will for one’s life, he said it cannot be found by looking in a mirror or staying locked in one’s room, but “in relationship.”
God speaks “in the journey and in relationship with others. Do not close yourselves, confide in Him, entrust everything to Him, seek Him in prayer, seek Him in dialogue with others, seek Him always on the move, look for Him on the way,” he said.
“This is important: Jesus believes in you more than you believe in yourselves. Jesus loves you more than you love yourself. Seek him out of yourself, on the way: He awaits you.”
Doing this, you will hear the Lord’s invitation, he said. “Pray with your words: with what comes from your heart. It is the most beautiful prayer.”
At the end of the meeting, noting the probable presence of non-Catholics in the crowd, the pope forwent giving his usual apostolic blessing, instead saying an off-the-cuff prayer for blessing on all those present. “May the Lord God accompany all these young people on the journey and bless everyone,” he prayed.