By Elise Harris
Pope Francis tossed his prepared remarks aside for a meeting with Kenyan priests, religious and seminarians, telling them that if anything disgusts God, it’s the attitude of indifference.
He also gave some practical advice, such as keeping the Lord at the center of their lives through prayer and the sacraments, and stressed that the Church is not a business, but rather a mystery intended to serve others.
“Remember Jesus Christ crucified. When a priest or religious forgets Christ crucified, poor person. He has fallen in an ugly sin, a sin which God detests, which makes the Lord vomit,” the Pope said Nov. 26.
“He has fallen into the sin of indifference, of luke-warmness. Dear priests and religious men and women, be careful not to fall into the sin of indifference.”
Francis met with Kenyan priests, religious men and women, and seminarians from every diocese in Kenya on the sports field of St. Mary’s School in Nairobi Nov. 26, his first full day in the country.
His Nov. 25-27 visit to Kenya is part of a larger African tour that will also take him to Uganda and the Central African Republic.
Before giving his speech, Pope Francis heard from Bishop Anthony Ireri Mukobo, I.M.C., Apostolic Vicar of Isiolo and Chairman for the Commission for Clergy and Religious of the Kenyan bishops conference, as well as Sr. Michael Marie Rottinghaus from the Association of Sisterhoods of Kenya (AOSK).
Both Bishop Mukobo and Sr. Rottinghaus thanked Pope Francis for the Year for Consecrated Life, which opened Nov. 30, 2014, and closes Feb. 2, 2016.
After setting his prepared remarks aside, Francis spoke freely in Spanish, with his official translator Msgr. Mark Miles giving simultaneous translation into English.
The Pope began his reflections by noting how “the Lord has chosen all of you, he has chosen all of us,” and that he began his work “the day he saw us in baptism.”
He noted how in the Gospel there were some who wanted to follow Jesus, but Jesus said no. Following the Lord on the path of priesthood or consecrated life means “you have to go through the door, and the door is Christ,” he said, adding that Jesus is the one who calls and does the work.
When people try to go “through the window” like those in the Gospel, this “isn’t useful,” Francis continued, and asked that if anyone sees someone who’s trying to live a consecrated vocation but doesn’t have one, “embrace him and explain that it’s better for them to go.”
“It’s better for them to go because that work that didn’t begin with the Lord Jesus through the doorway will not end well.” Doing this, he said, helps us to understand what it means to be called and chosen by God.
Pope Francis then noted that there are some who don’t know why God calls them, but feel it in their heart. These people, he said, “should be at peace because the Lord will make them understand why.”
He cautioned against those who have a true call, but are influenced by the desire for power. He pointed to the mother of James and John as an example, when she asked for them to have positions at his right and left hand.
“There is the temptation to follow the Lord out of ambition, ambition of money, ambition for power,” he said, noting that each person can probably say this thought has crossed their minds.
For others, however, “it took seed in the heart as a weed,” he said, adding that in following Jesus, “there is no place for ambition or richness or to be a really important person in the world.”
“I tell you this seriously, because in the Church we know it’s not a business, it’s not an NGO. The Church is a mystery, the mystery of Christ’s gaze upon each one of us, who says follow,” he said.
The Pope then noted that Jesus calls, “he doesn’t canonize us,” but asks us to serve as the sinners we are.
Pointing to the apostles, Francis observed how the Gospel only tells us of one that cried: Peter, who realized he was a sinner who had betrayed the Lord.
“But then Jesus made him a pope. Who understands Jesus?! He’s a mystery. Never stop weeping,” he said, adding that when the tears of a priest or religious run dry “then something is wrong.”
Francis then turned to the importance of prayer in the life of a priest or religious, explaining that when a consecrated person stops praying, their “soul becomes shriveled and dry like those dried figs. They’re ugly. They’re not attractive.”
“The soul of a priest or religious who doesn’t pray is an ugly soul. I ask forgiveness but that’s how it is.”
He also stressed the importance of having an attitude of service, particularly toward the poor, children and the elderly, as well as “those who are not even aware of their own pride in themselves.”
Pope Francis said he’s impressed whenever he meets a priest or consecrated person who has spent their life working in a hospital or mission. These people, he said, “serve others and don’t allow themselves to be served by others.”
He closed by thanking those present “for following Jesus, for every time you feel sinners, for every caress of tenderness you show others who need it.”
“Thanks for all the times you helped a person to die in peace. Thank you for giving hope in life. Thanks for letting yourselves be forgiven, to be helped and corrected,” he said, and asked for their prayers.