In the past months, while I have been enjoying my pastoral work as one of the chaplains at Mater Dei Hospital, I was also blessed by the company of the autobiography of Saint John XXIII, Journal of a Soul. The more I leafed through it, the more I found some priceless insights that really healed me as a priest.
Today I want to share with you what this great and humble Pope wrote during his retreat at Castel Gandolfo. The entry date is Sunday 13 August 1961. In this entry, Pope Roncalli reflected on the practice of prudence by the Pope and the Bishops. Although he writes about the Pope and the Bishops, what he says applies very well to us priests. He wrote thus:
“It is very important to insist that that all the Bishops (priests) should act in the same way: May the Pope’s example be a lesson and an encouragement to them all. The Bishops (priests) are exposed to the temptation of meddling immoderately in matters that are not their concern, and it is for this reason that the Pope (Bishop) must admonish them not to take part in any political or controversial question and not to declare for one section or faction rather than another. They are to preach to all alike, and in general terms, justice, charity, humility, meekness, gentleness and the other evangelical virtues, courteously defending the rights of the Church when these are violated or compromised.
“But at all times and especially just now, the Bishop (priest) must apply the balm of sweetness to the wounds of mankind. He must beware of making any rash judgment or uttering any abusive words about anyone, or letting himself be betrayed into flattery by threats, or in any way connive with evil in the hope that by so doing he may be useful to someone. His manner must be grave, reserved and firm, while in his relations with others he must always be gentle and loving, yet at the same time always ready to point out what is good and what is evil, with the help of sacred doctrine but without vehemence.
He must, with more assiduous and fervent prayer, earnestly seek to promote divine worship among the faithful with religious practices, and frequent use of the sacraments, well taught and well administered. And, above all, he must encourage religious instructions because this also will help to solve problems of the merely temporal order, and do so much better than ordinary human measures can.”
In these enlightening paragraphs, Saint John XXIII shares with us priests his pastoral thoughts and the care a minister of God should cultivate towards Christ’s flock. Pondering on these powerful reflections, it is fitting that we priests ask ourselves the following questions:
First, as a priest, am I meddling too much in political matters or controversial questions, thus siding with one section and setting myself against another? In my sermons, do I concentrate on the evangelical virtues of justice, charity, humility, meekness, gentleness and so forth? Am I speaking up for the Church’s right to express her vision for the world and society? Am I applying the balm of sweetness to the wounds of people I come across? Am I alert enough not to make rush judgment or say abusive words, or not letting anyone derail my pastoral journey by his or her threats? Am I firm in living the principles concerning God’s love and being loving and gentle with the people I meet? Am I ready to explain, with the help of God’s Word, the Church’s teaching with persuasive gentleness? Do I pray fervently as a priest? Do I promote the liturgy among God’s people? Do I prepare the faithful to receive the Church’s sacraments by a sound catechesis? How much am I convinced of my duty to teach the faithful? Do I realize that the Christian faith helps my fellow Christians to live their humanity to the full?
No wonder Saint John XXIII concluded this entry by commenting: “This will draw down divine blessing on the people, preserving them from many evils and recalling minds that have strayed from the right path.” Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap