"You are preparing to respond to that impulse from the Spirit, to be the 'future of the Church', in accordance with God's heart; not with individual preferences or passing fashions, but as the announcement of the Gospel requires", said the Pope this morning as he received in audience the Pontifical Community of the Lombard Seminary in Rome, in the Clementine Hall. "To prepare oneself well requires not only extensive work, but also an inner conversion, basing daily ministry on the first call of Jesus, and reviving it in the personal relationship with Him, as did the apostle Paul, whose conversion we remember today".
The pope went on to mention St. Charles Borromeo, whose life is presented as "a constant movement of conversion, reflecting the image of the Pastor. He identified with this image, and he nurtured it with his life, aware that discourse becomes reality at the price of blood: the sanguinis ministri were for him the true priests. He achieved this image by losing himself in it; he applied all his passion to reproducing it. In this way, the great work of the theologians of the time, the Council of Trent, was carried out by holy pastors like Borromeo".
Francis also emphasised that they were the heirs of and witnesses to a great history of sainthood, "rooted in your patrons, the bishops Ambrose and Charles; and in more recent times your alumni have included three Blesseds and three Servants of God. This is the goal to strive for. Often, though, a temptation appears on the way, to be rejected: that of 'normality', of a pastor for whom a 'normal' life is enough. This priest then begins to content himself with any attention he receives, judges his ministry on the basis of his successes and gradually goes in search of what he likes, becoming lukewarm and without true interest in others. The 'normality' for us is instead pastoral holiness, the giving of life. If a priest decides merely to become a normal person, he will be a mediocre priest, or worse".
"The words of life can be announced only those who make their own life into a constant dialogue with the Word of God, or better, with God who speaks. In these years you have been entrusted with the mission of training in this dialogue of life: the knowledge of the various disciplines you study is not an end in itself, but must instead be made concrete in the conversation of prayer and in the real encounter with people. It is not beneficial to form oneself in a compartmentalised fashion, as prayer, cultural and pastoral ministry are the cornerstones of the same edifice: they must remain steadfast and united to support each other, well cemented together, so that the priests of today and tomorrow will be spiritual men and merciful pastors, unified within by the love of the Lord and able to spread the joy of the Gospel in the simplicity of life".
The Pope also remarked that to be a good priest, it is essential to maintain contact and closeness with the bishop. "The characteristic of the diocesan priest is precisely his diocesan nature, and the cornerstone of this is frequent contact with the bishop, in dialogue and discernment with him. A priest who does not maintain a close relationship with his bishop is slowly isolated from the diocesan group and his fruitfulness diminishes, precisely because he does not participate in dialogue with the Father of the Diocese". He concluded by asking those present to "cultivate the beauty of friendship and the art of establishing relations, so as to create a priestly fraternity, made stronger by its particular diversities".