Pope Francis counseled the Italian bishops to avoid becoming lukewarm by remaining vigilant in their love for God, as he reflected on Jesus asking Peter if he loved him.
“The question is addressed to me and to each one of you, to all of us,” the Pope told them on May 23, as they listened to his meditation on John 21 inside Saint Peter’s Basilica.
“If we avoid reacting too hastily and superficially, it encourages us to look within, to enter into ourselves,” he stated.
The pontiff warned that a “lack of vigilance … makes the pastor lukewarm” and he “runs the risk, like the Apostle Peter, of denying the Lord, even if he is present to us and speaks in his name.”
“He becomes distracted, forgetful and even impatient,” the Pope said.
A careless priest can become seduced by “the prospect of a career, the lure of money, and compromises with the spirit of the world,” he added.
The lack of attentiveness “makes him lazy, turning him into a functionary, a cleric worried more about himself, about organizations and structures, than about the true good of the People of God,” he told the bishops.
The Italian bishops were gathered in Rome to hold their 65th general assembly. Their meeting culminated in a Thursday evening prayer service that included a Liturgy of the Word, a reflection from Pope Francis, and a solemn profession of faith that he led.
The ceremony began with Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, delivering opening remarks and offering his thanks to the Pope.
After the Liturgy of the Word, Pope Francis offered a brief meditation on the Bible passages that were read, including John 21, where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him.
Turning to Jesus response to Peter – “feed my sheep” – Pope Francis said that being pastors means “walking in front of the flock, freed from the burdens that hinder a healthy apostolic swiftness, and without hesitation in leading, to make our voice recognizable both to those who have embraced the faith, but also to those who are not of this fold.”
And it also means to be “capable of listening to the silent story of the suffering and bearing up the steps of those who are afraid of not succeeding,” the Holy Father reflected.
He said that they should do this “to raise up, to reassure, and inspire hope” and encouraged them to share their faith with “the humble” and particularly with priests, whom he called “our sons and our brothers.”
“A special place is reserved for our priests,” advised the Pope. “Especially for them, our hearts, our hands, and our doors remain open at all times.”
“They are the first faithful we bishops have, our priests,” he added. “Let us love them, let us love them from the heart!”
The bishops and Pope Francis closed their encounter by making a solemn profession of faith in front of St. Peter’s tomb.
“The profession of faith that we now renew together is not a formal act, but is a renewal of our response to the ‘follow me’ with which the Gospel of John concludes,” the pontiff said.
“Allow your own life to unfold according to the project of God, committing your whole self to the Lord Jesus,” he remarked.
According to Pope Francis, the consequence of loving the Lord is “giving absolutely everything, even one’s very life.”
“This is what must distinguish our pastoral ministry, it is the litmus test that shows how profoundly we have embraced the gift received in response to the call of Jesus, and how we are joined to the people and the communities that have been entrusted to us,” he said.