The seminary is not a refuge for those who have “psychological problems” or lack the courage “to get on in life”. The seminary is a place where one develops their vocation, gaining an in depth understanding of the Gospel, Confession, the Eucharist and prayer. This was the advice Pope Francis gave members of the Pontifical Leonine College of Anagni – particularly seminarians – in an audience held today in the Clementine Hall in the Vatican Apostolic Palace. It was an opportunity for the Pope to give some frank advice to those preparing for the priesthood at the institute founded by Leo XIII in 1897. The Pontifical Leonine College of Anagni trains future priests of the Italian region of Lazio: “If you are not willing to follow this path with these attitudes and these experiences, – and I say this from the heart, without meaning to offend anyone – it is better to have the courage to seek another.”
“Dear seminarians, what you are preparing for is not a profession, you are not training to work in a business or a bureaucratic organization,” Francis said. “We have so many priests who have gone half way … it’s sad that they did not manage to go the whole way; they have something of the employee in them, something of the bureaucrat in them and this is not good for the Church. Please be careful you don’t fall into this! You are becoming pastors in the image of Jesus, the good pastor. Your aim is to resemble him and act on behalf of him amidst his flock, letting his sheep graze.” Francis presented the four “pillars” of seminary learning: “spiritual, intellectual, community and apostolic”. He reiterated what he had said to religious superiors general during a discussion published by Italian Jesuit periodical Civiltà Cattolica last January: “The four pillars must interact from your very first day as novices; they must never follow a structured sequence.”
“We respond to this vocation in the same way as the Virgin Mary does to the angel: “How is this possible?” Becoming “good shepherds” in the image of Jesus “is something very great and we are so small.” “Yes, it is true, it is too great; but it is not our work! It is the work of the Holy Spirit, with our collaboration,” Francis said in his address to the College, adding spontaneous comments here and there to his prepared speech. “It is about humbly giving oneself, like clay that is to be moulded, letting God the potter work the clay with fire and water, with the Word and the Holy Spirit.” It is true that “at the beginning intentions are not completely righteous, and it is hard for them to be so”: All of us have had moments when our intentions were not completely righteous but in time this changes with everyday conversion. Think of the apostles! Think of James and John. One of them wanted to be prime minister and the other a minister of the economy because it was a more important role. The apostles’ mind was elsewhere but the Lord patiently corrected their intention and in the end the intention of their preaching and martyrdom was incredibly righteous.”
Being good shepherds means “meditating on the Gospel every day to pass its message on through one’s life and preaching.” It also means experiencing God’s mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” “It is vital to always go to confession so you can become generous and merciful ministers because you will feel God’s mercy upon you, encouraging you to become generous and merciful ministers.” It means feeding on faith and love of the Eucharist in order to provide nourishment to the Christian people.” “It means being men of prayer so as to become the voice of Christ that praises the Father and constantly intercedes for their brothers.” If you are not willing to follow this path, with these attitudes and these experiences, – and I say this from the heart, without meaning to offend anyone – it is better to have the courage to seek another. There are many ways, in the Church, to bear Christian witness and there are many paths that lead to the sainthood. Following in Christ’s ministry allows no place for mediocrity, who always leads to using the holy people of God to one’s own advantage. Woe to bad shepherds who feed themselves and not their flock! – the prophets said,” Francis added, quoting Ezekiel. “Augustine quotes this prophetic phrase in the De pastoribus, which I advise you to read and meditate on. Woe to bad shepherds because the seminary is not a refuge for the many shortcomings we may have; it is not a refuge for psychological problems or a refuge for those who do not have the courage to go on in life and see the seminary as a place that will defend them. No, that is not what it is. If that is what your seminary was it would become a mortgage for the Church! No, the seminary is there for people to move forward, along this path and when we hear the prophets exclaim the word “Woe” it should lead you to reflect seriously on your future. Pius XI once said it was better to lose a vocation than to risk accepting a candidate who is not sure. He was a mountain climber, he knew about this things.”
The Pope ended his address by entrusting seminarians to the Virgin Mary. “Russian mystics used to say that in moments of spiritual upheaval we must take refuge under the cape of the Holy Mother of God,” Francis said. So we must go out “wearing Mary’s cape.” The seminarians came to Rome on foot from the town of Anagni. The Pope described their pilgrimage as a beautiful symbol of the journey they are called to undertake in Christ’s love.