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Pope: To be a pastor one first needs to be a deacon

Pope Francis General Audience October 18 2023

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

Isabella H. de Carvalho - published on 02/27/24

"Pastoral life is not a manual, but rather a daily offering; it is not a desk job, but rather a 'Eucharistic adventure,'" Pope Francis wrote to Rome's deacons.

The diaconate is the “foundation” of one’s priesthood, Pope Francis wrote in a speech addressed to the deacons of the Diocese of Rome and shared by the Holy See Press Office on February 24, 2024. Although the Pontiff was unable to meet the future priests of his diocese as planned, his speech was still shared by the Vatican. In the text, the Pope encouraged the deacons to treasure this period before their ordination and to remember the importance of serving others. 

“Pastoral life is not a manual, but rather a daily offering; it is not a desk job, but rather a ‘Eucharistic adventure,’” Francis wrote. “It is about repeating with one’s life, first hand, ‘This is my body, given for you.’”

The Pope was scheduled to meet the deacons of the Diocese of Rome on Saturday, February 24, 2024, at the Vatican. However, “due to a slight flu-like condition” he canceled his audiences for that day as a precaution, as stated by the Holy See Press Office. He then led the midday Angelus on Sunday as usual but canceled his Monday audiences because of persisting symptoms. 

The importance of the diaconate and serving others

In his prepared speech, Pope Francis offered some advice to the future priests by focusing on one of the commitments that they promise to adhere to when they are ordained: “Do you resolve, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to discharge without fail the office of priesthood in the presbyteral rank, as worthy fellow workers with the Order of Bishops in caring for the Lord’s flock?” 

Starting from this question, the Pope underlined the importance of the diaconate to learn to serve others. “I like to meet you now, while you are deacons, because one does not become a pastor without first being a deacon,” he said. “The diaconate does not disappear with priesthood: on the contrary, it is the foundation on which it is based. You will be priests in order to serve.” 

“There is an inner foundation of priesthood to be preserved, which we could call ‘diaconal conscience‘: just as conscience underlies decisions, so the spirit of service underlies being a priest,” the Pontiff explained, encouraging the deacons to pray God every morning to help them serve, and ask for forgiveness every evening if they have been unable to. 

“To serve means to be available, to renounce living according to one’s own agenda, to be ready for God’s surprises that manifest themselves through people, the unexpected, changes of plan, situations that do not fit into our schemes and the ‘rightness’ of what one has studied,” he emphasized. 

Being an integral part of the Church and its people

In serving the people of God priests will be able to “overcome the danger of harboring” within themselves “bitterness and dissatisfaction” that comes when things do not go as planned or expected, the Pope wrote. He in fact highlighted that “the Holy Mother Church first of all does not ask [the priests] to be leaders, but co-workers, that is, according to the meaning of the words, those who ‘work with.’”

He wrote that the Church is “first and foremost a mystery of communion,” meaning of “fraternity, fidelity and docility.” Priests need to be a witness to that, thus “brothers in the presbyterate and priests for all, not for their own group.” As he often has in the last months, Francis also reiterated the importance for priests to continue their formation so as to not “give in to the temptation to manage life alone” or that they are “autonomous and self-sufficient.”

Guided by the Holy Spirit

Lastly, the Pope emphasized the importance of “giving primacy to the Spirit, who will descend on [the future priests].” He wrote that the “anointing of ordination” needs to become a “daily anointing” in order for the priests to truly become “men of God.” Conversely, “when one counts on one’s own strength, one risks finding oneself empty-handed,” Francis said. 

“Staying with Him, remaining with Him (cf. Jn 15), then also allows us to intercede before Him for the Holy People of God, for humanity, for the people we meet every day,” he wrote. “In this way, a heart that draws its own joy from the Lord and makes relationships fruitful with prayer, does not lose sight of the timeless beauty of priestly life.”

Tags:
Pope FrancisPriesthoodPriestsSpiritual Life
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