In an address to bishops in Madagascar, Pope Francis warns his audience not to let the fear of not enough priests justify them being undiscerning in priestly formation and accept men into the priesthood who aren’t striving for holiness. He says, “I appreciate your efforts to ensure the formation of authentic and holy workers for the abundant harvest that awaits us in the field of the Lord.”
Then the pope goes on to warn against a particular attitude that he sees as a problem for priests:
“Furthermore, I would like to emphasize an attitude that I do not like, because it does not come from God: rigidity. Today it is fashionable, I do not know about here, but in other parts of the world it is fashionable, to find rigid people. Young, rigid priests, who want to save with rigidity, perhaps, I don’t know, but they take this attitude of rigidity and sometimes – excuse me – from the museum. They are afraid of everything, they are rigid. Be careful, and know that under any rigidity there are serious problems.”
This made me ask: “What does he mean by ‘rigid’?”
So I looked in Pope Francis’ document on holiness to see if he speaks about rigidity there, and he does.
The pope understands rigidity as an attitude that’s opposed to the movement of the Holy Spirit.
In this document, when talking about discernment of spirits, he says:
“[Discernment] is all the more important when some novelty presents itself in our lives. Then we have to decide whether it is new wine brought by God or an illusion created by the spirit of this world or the spirit of the devil. At other times, the opposite can happen, when the forces of evil induce us not to change, to leave things as they are, to opt for a rigid resistance to change. Yet that would be to block the working of the Spirit.”
“The discernment of spirits liberates us from rigidity, which has no place before the perennial “today” of the risen Lord. The Spirit alone can penetrate what is obscure and hidden in every situation, and grasp its every nuance, so that the newness of the Gospel can emerge in another light.”
In other words, the pope doesn’t want bishops, motivated by fear of a lack of priests, to ordain men who are not striving for holiness and willing to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
And I couldn’t agree more.
[Image Credit: https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/events/event.dir.html/content/vaticanevents/en/2019/9/7/vescovi-madagascar.html ]
Paul Fahey is a husband, father of four, parish director of religious education, and co-founder of Where Peter Is. He can be found at his website, Rejoice and be Glad: Catholicism in the Pope Francis Generation.