VATICAN CITY — Many of the problems in the church today come from accepting men who are unsuitable for the priesthood, Pope Francis told the Congregation for Clergy.
The vocations crisis and lack of priests have meant that “we bishops are tempted to take in, without discernment, the young men who present themselves. This is bad for the church,” he told those taking part in the congregation’s plenary assembly meeting at the Vatican.
“We have to think of the good of the people of God,” which means taking the time to screen and “study” those seeking a vocation, he said Oct. 3.
“Examine closely whether he belongs to the Lord, if that man is healthy, is balanced, if that man is capable of giving life, of evangelizing, if he is capable of forming a family and turning that down in order to follow Jesus,” he said in off-the-cuff remarks.
“Today we have many problems, and in many dioceses, because of this error made by some bishops to take those who come – sometimes thrown out of other seminaries or religious institutes – because they need priests.”
The church does need priests and there is a lack of vocations, he said, but the solution cannot come at the expense of the faithful.
Proper formation of candidates and priests is like polishing “a diamond in the rough” so that “they shine in the midst of the people of God,” he said in his prepared written remarks.
As such, proper formation is an ongoing task that takes time, care, patience and respect for the conscience of the person, he said.
But most of all, formation is a relationship that demands consistency and discipleship; it is not just about passing on “theological or spiritual notions.”
“Jesus didn’t say to those whom he called, ‘Come, I’ll explain it to you,’ or ‘Follow me, I’ll instruct you.'”
Jesus formed his disciples through his invitation of, “‘Come, follow me. Do as I do.’ And this is the method that the church wants to adopt for her ministers today as well,” he said.
Priests are called to grow in their awareness that they are “shepherds invited to be in the midst of their flock, to make the Lord present through the Eucharist and to impart his mercy,” the pope said.
“It’s about ‘being’ priests, not limiting themselves to ‘doing'” what a priest does, while also being free from any “spiritual worldliness,” he said.
The pope said it is wonderful to see priests who are full of joy and radiate an inner peace even during moments of hard work or struggle and pain. But none of that comes “without prayer from the heart and in dialogue with the Lord, who is, if you will, the heart of priestly life,” he said.