This isn’t the sort of thing that should pull much of our attention or energy. However, I have been asked about it in email by a surprising number of people, including priests.
It seems that the site Messa in latino picked up on an anecdote recounted by a French site Benoit etmoi. Here’s my translation from the French, which seems to be the original of the anecdote. I’m cutting out the first part, just to get at the core of the anecdote itself. Mind you, we are dealing with something that happened recently, after this spring or early summers traditional round of diocesan ordinations to the priesthood. However, we are also dealing with something that it second hand at best.
A group of young priests from the same diocese, who were just ordained, made a pilgrimage together to Rome. They were not traditionalists, but young priests of today, white shirt with discreet collar, [in some European countries you will see during the summer priests in a white clerical shirt with “tab” collar] classic, pious, normal, very happy with the gift of Christ they had just received. Naturally, they asked and obtained (the chance) to have dinner at Santa Marta and to be presented to the Pope, and also to concelebrate with him at Mass the next day.
They arrived at Santa Marta at the designated time, and went to the place indicated. A secretary pointed them out to the Pope who was approaching. The Pope: “Where are you from?” They, proudly: “Of the Diocese of X”. And he, with a sour expression [avec la mine des mauvais jours]: “Ah, X, there are still many priests there. That means that there is a problem, a problem of discernment.” And he continues his journey.
The young priests, dismayed, looked at each other, conferred, and left without eating. And the next day, they spared themselves the concelebration at Santa Marta.
Okay… what to do with this. And, mind you, I’m doing this here because I’ve had a lot of requests.
It could be that these young men mistook the Pope’s expression. Some people’s default face isn’t always cheerful looking.
It could be that these young men mistook the Pope’s words. There could be a language difference.
However, since there were a few of them, they probably were not all mistaken in their interpretation and it drove them to leave and not come back.
Popes kid around with seminarians and priests. John Paul II sure did. Here is one of my own anecdotes with John Paul. I’ve never told this one here before.
Since my seminary in Rome was named after JPII, we seminarians were often called to serve his Masses. Hence, I had quite a few opportunities as a seminarian and as a deacon. I was a deacon often enough that the Holy Father got to know me. One day, as deacon, I brought the thurible into the small sacristy tucked away near the altar of the Pietà (they laid our our dalmatics, etc., on the altar beneath the Pietà – that wasn’t cool or anything…) for the Pope, as celebrant, to “charge”. As I approached he said in Italian, “You again!” As I held it up he said, “Which seminary are you from?” Of course he knew. He asked every time. “The John Paul the Second International Seminary, Your Holiness.” With clearly mock dismay, he almost bellowed, “Terribile! Terribile!” Everyone was amused, including myself. Then he became very grave. Leaning in almost nose to nose, he repeatedly pounded me hard on the chest with his finger and said, punctuating every word, “Tu… deve essere serio. You… have to be serious.” “Serio” means “serious”, but also “focused, earnest”.
That experience was a little frightening, to be frank. First, that was the POPE. Also, that was Pope Wojtyla. It is a bit cliché to speak of what it felt like when he came into a room, but I guarantee you he was like no one else I’ve seen. Seeing him come in or meeting him briefly is one thing. Having him pound you repeatedly on the chest nose to nose is another.
Clearly the saint was trying in an extremely personal moment to inspire a man to something more than mediocrity. After all, my seminary had his name. Ergo, we reflected him, in a way. We had to live up to that.
Let’s just say that I have not forgotten that moment.
It could be that Pope Francis was trying to do something similar with these young priests, but missed the mark.
“Ah, X, there are still many priests there. That means that there is a problem, a problem of discernment.”
It could be a kind of joking, “Is this the best they can do in X?”
Hah! Hah! Hah!… or not.
One of the things that I have learned over the years is that priests – men in general, but priests and military especially – often show affection through hard ribbing. And it can get a little sharp.
Another thing that this anecdote can teach us is that pebbles, when dropped from a great height, even when small can, do damage. Fathers… bishops… be careful out there.
Yet another thing that this anecdote can teach us is that we mustn’t allow ourselves to melt like snowflakes when something rough comes along.
We priests especially have to have a thick hide. I’m concerned that the young men who have grown up in the relative peace of the JPII and BXVI years of aspiration to priesthood and then then beginning seminary, are not – how to say this – acquainted with battle yet. They don’t have the slightest idea what seminary was like a couple decades ago, or what the majority of lib pastors did to new priests – and can do – who are of faithful Catholic disposition. Those days are returning, I’m afraid. We have to buckle it on and get ready.
In any event, I am not entirely sure what happened between the Pope and those young priests. It seems to have left them with a less than optimal impression.
If any of them every read this, my reaction to a second hand anecdote, I would just say:
- Don’t let this get you down.
- You have a lot of time ahead as priests.
- Stick together.
- Be serious.
The moderation queue is ON.