CELEBRATING an early-morning Mass with a congregation made up of priests and bishops, Pope Francis said they regularly need to ask themselves if they love Jesus as much as when they first encountered him, and whether ministry, not administration, is still their priority.
“This is the question I ask myself, my brother bishops and priests: ‘How is your love today?’ This is what Jesus asks” in the Gospel of John (21:15-19), the Pope said on June 6 at Mass in the chapel of his residence.
“Am I in love like I was the first day? Or have work and worries led me to concentrate on other things and forget love a bit?” the Pope asked, according to a summary in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus asks Peter the question three times, the Pope said, and although Peter was hurt that Jesus seemed to doubt his sincerity, Jesus used the repetition “to take him back to that first afternoon” when Peter and his brother first met Jesus and recognised him as Messiah.
Pope Francis said that since he began inviting Rome parishes to send small groups of people to his morning Mass, many of those chosen have been couples celebrating 50 or 60 years of marriage. Chatting with them after Mass, he said, he always asks how they did it. They all admit to having fights, but one couple – both the husband and wife – told the Pope, “We’re in love like we were the first day.”
Anyone who has made a lifelong commitment motivated by love should “never forget their first love. Never,” the Pope said.
A priest, he said, must have a daily conversation with Jesus and, before all other obligations, must be the pastor he was ordained to be.
After Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, and Peter responded that he did, Jesus told him, “Feed my sheep.” Therefore, before being “an intellectual of philosophy or theology or patristics”, he said, a priest must be a pastor.
A priest can nourish his flock by teaching philosophy or theology or the fathers of the early church, he said, as long as nourishing others was the point “because the Lord has called us for this. And the hands of the bishop were placed on our heads to be pastors.”
In addition to asking themselves regularly about their relationship with Jesus, priests and bishops also must examine their consciences about the focus of their ministry, he said. “Am I a pastor or an employee in this NGO called the Church?”
Pope Francis ended his homily with a prayer that priests and bishops always would remember that Jesus is their first love, that they were ordained for service and that their only concern should be to follow the Lord.