On October 24, Pope Francis met with a large group of seminarians and priests who study in Rome. During this private audience, he answered 10 of their questions — out of 200 they had asked — and addressed various topics, from the dangers of pornography to the importance of being close to the faithful.
The dangers of pornography
In answering a question about how to use social media to share “the joy of being Christian,” Pope Francis recognized the need to use digital tools to communicate, but also highlighted the dangers associated with this sphere.
And on this there is also another thing, which you know well: digital pornography. I’m going to spell it out. … Each of you think about whether you have had that experience or have had the temptation of pornography in the digital sphere. It is a vice that so many people have, so many lay men, so many lay women, and even priests and nuns. The devil enters from there. And I’m not just talking about criminal pornography like child abuse, where you see live cases of abuse: That’s already degeneracy. But of the somewhat ‘normal’ pornography.
Dear brothers, be careful of this. The pure heart, the heart that receives Jesus every day, cannot receive this pornographic information, which today is the order of the day.
The Pope urged the seminarians to delete what they could “so you won’t have temptation in your hand,” and regarding what can’t be deleted to “defend yourself well not to get into this.”
I tell you, it weakens the soul. It weakens the soul. The devil enters from there: It weakens the priestly heart.”
The necessity of spiritual accompaniment
The Pontiff also underlined how crucial it is for priests and seminarians to be accompanied spiritually by a person other than their confessor.
“… if you don’t have someone to help you walk, you will fall, and you will make noise. Sometimes it is important to be accompanied by someone who knows my life, and who need not be the confessor; sometimes it is fine, but the important thing is that there are two distinct roles. You go to the confessor so that he may forgive your sins and you prepare yourself [to know your] sins. You go to the spiritual director to tell him the things that are going on in your heart, the spiritual emotions, the joys, the anger and what is going on inside you.”
He warned that a person that is not accompanied “generates ‘fungi’ in their soul, fungi that then torment” them. He also explained that “spiritual direction is not a clerical charism, it is a baptismal charism,” meaning that a nun or a layperson can be an apt spiritual director.
The importance of being close to the people of God
Pope Francis also highlighted four significant elements that should be taken into account during a young man’s formation in a seminary:
“[A] serious spiritual direction; serious intellectual formation, not just by the textbook; community formation among seminarians; and apostolic formation.”
The Pontiff especially emphasized the last point in more than one of his answers. He explained that “it is not a good thing for one’s spiritual health to not have contact with God’s Holy People,” as they “are the sheep,” and “if you push them away, you will be a theorist, a good theologian, a good philosopher, a very good curial official who does all the things, but you will have lost the ability to smell the sheep. In fact, your soul will lose the ability to let the smell of sheep wake you up.”
He encouraged priests and seminarians to have at least one pastoral experience a week, while outlining the “four proximities” that they need to keep in mind:
“Proximity to God: Do you pray? Proximity with the bishop: How close are you with the bishop? Are you one of those who gossip about the bishop or “the farther away the better”? Or are you close to the bishop and discuss things with the bishop? Third, proximity among you [priests and seminarians]. It’s interesting, it’s one of the things you find in both seminaries and presbyters: the lack of true fraternal closeness among priests. Yes, everyone with a big smile, but then they leave and in small groups they skin each other. This is not closeness, this is lack of fraternity. And the fourth: Proximity to God’s people. If there is no closeness to God’s people, you are not a good priest. And that closeness is maintained and exercised through ministry — in this case, weekly.”
The comfortable priest and the climbing priest
Pope Francis also warned against two types of priests. The first is the comfortable priest who “seeks his own tranquility,” never wants to be disturbed and “lives the priesthood as if it were an employment: It is comfortable, it has its own schedule.”
The second type is “the climbing priest, who pursues a career.” “The climber is ultimately a traitor, he is not a servant. He seeks his own advantage and then does nothing for others,” Pope Francis explained.
“Do not seek your own comfort; the priesthood is a sacred service to God, the service of which the Eucharist is the highest degree, is a service to the community,” the Pontiff stressed.