ROME — Pope Francis asked Filipino priests doing graduate studies in Rome not to think of their time in the city and their residence at the Pontifical Filipino College as a pause disconnected from their “real” lives.
Do not “yearn for the parishes you once served or dream about the ‘prestigious’ positions your bishop will give you on your return,” the pope told the student priests March 22 during an audience marking the 500th anniversary of Christianity’s arrival in the Philippines and the 60th anniversary of their college in Rome.
Pope Francis used the anniversaries as an occasion to speak to the priests about time.
“Do not live in constant ‘apnea,’ simply tolerating the present and waiting for it to pass,” the pope told them.
Rather, they should dedicate themselves to their studies, build a true community with other members of the college, “serve the brothers God has placed alongside you — and never speak ill of them — and welcome the opportunities for pastoral service that you are given.”
The need to be concrete in the present and to respond to God’s call in the here and now, he said, should never mean ignoring the past, especially the history of how God has worked in one’s own life and the life of his or her people.
“Going back in time, even centuries, as we are doing for the birth of the church in the Philippines, is like returning in memory, retracing the footsteps of those who came before us, to the very origins of your faith, with a sense of gratitude and wonder for all that you have received,” the pope said.
“Every anniversary is an opportunity to flick through our ‘family album,’ to remember where we come from and the experiences of faith and the testimonies to the Gospel that have made us who we are today,” he said. “A Christianity without memory is an encyclopedia, but it is not a life.”
In the life of faith, he said, it is important to look back, “remembering the many beautiful or terrible, good or bad steps” that one has taken, but always recognizing that God was present, encouraging or correcting and leading one forward.
It also is important, the pope said, to remember “those who first helped us fall in love with Jesus — a parish priest, a nun, our grandparents, or parents — to whom we are indebted for this greatest of gifts.”
“Whenever you feel weary and disheartened, downcast as the result of some setback or failure — and it happens to all of us — look back on your history, not to find refuge in an idealized past, but to regain the momentum and passion of your ‘first love'” for Jesus and for the priesthood, the pope told them.
As for the future, Pope Francis said it is important to have “a prophetic gaze, the gaze of a disciple who, in fidelity to the Master and the task set before him, can look ahead, seeing possibilities and working in accordance with his own vocation to make them happen, acting as a docile instrument in God’s hands.”
That is very different, the pope said, from being an “eternal procrastinator,” who puts everything off for some idealized future that will never come.