Pope at Chrism Mass: Dear priests, let sorrow sanctify you

During Chrism Mass in the Vatican on Holy Thursday, Pope Francis thanks priests for heroic witness, but urges them to transform shortcomings, errors, and hardened hearts into an opportunity to draw closer to Christ and start anew.

Mar 29, 2024

By Deborah Castellano Lubov
"Thank you, dear priests, for your open and docile hearts.  Thank you for all your hard work and your tears.  Thank you, because you bring the miracle of God’s mercy to our brothers and sisters in today’s world.  May the Lord console you, strengthen you and reward you."

Pope Francis gave this encouragement on Holy Thursday morning during the Chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

In his homily, the Pope reflected on how St. Peter, the first Pastor of our Church, lost sight of Christ and denied him three times. In remorse, the Pope recalled, Peter's eyes were flooded with tears that, "rising up from a wounded heart, liberated him from his false notions and his self-assurance."

"Those bitter tears," Pope Francis said, "changed his life."         

"Dear brother priests, the healing of the heart of Peter, the healing of the Apostle, the healing of the pastor," the Pope said, "came about when, grief-stricken and repentant, he allowed himself to be forgiven by Jesus."  He noted that his healing took place amid tears and bitter weeping, which led to renewed love. 

This Holy Thursday of the Year of Prayer, the Pope said he wished to share, with his fellow priests, thoughts on an aspect of the spiritual life that, he said, has been somewhat neglected, yet remains essential.  "Even the word I am going to use is somewhat old-fashioned, yet well worthy of reflecting on. That word is compunction."

Compunction, a 'piercing of the heart'
The term compunction, the Pope said, involves a painful "piercing of the heart,” that evokes tears of repentance, as it did for St. Peter.

It is not, he clarified, a sense of guilt that makes us discouraged or obsessed with our unworthiness, but a beneficial “piercing” that purifies and heals the heart. 

Once we recognize our sin, the Pope said, "our hearts can be opened to the working of the Holy Spirit, the source of living water that wells up within us and brings tears to our eyes."  Those who are willing to be “unmasked” and let God’s gaze pierce their heart, he said, receive the gift of those tears, the holiest waters after those of baptism.

Yet, he insisted, we need to understand clearly what it means to weep for ourselves. 

"It does not mean weeping in self-pity, as we are so often tempted to do."  Weeping for ourselves, he clarified, "means seriously repenting for saddening God by our sins; recognizing that we always remain in God’s debt, admitting that we have strayed from the path of holiness and fidelity to the love of the One who gave His life for us." 

Repenting of our ingratitude and inconstancy
Experiencing this, the Pope said, means "looking within and repenting of our ingratitude and inconstancy," and "acknowledging with sorrow our duplicity, dishonesty and hypocrisy."  

Turning our gaze once more to the Crucified Lord, and letting ourselves be touched by His love, which always forgives and raises up, he said, "never disappoints the trust of those who hope in Him." 

Pope Francis said that the tears that well up and flow down our cheeks," descend to purify our heart," as he stressed that even if compunction demands effort, it bestows peace. 

"It is not," he said, "a source of anxiety but of healing for the soul, since it acts as a balm upon the wounds of sin, preparing us to receive the caress of the heavenly physician, who transforms the “broken, contrite heart,” once it has been softened by tears."

Becoming like children
The masters of the spiritual life, the Holy Father recalled, insist on the importance of compunction, as he recalled that all interior renewal is born of the encounter between our human misery and God’s mercy, and develops through poverty of spirit, which allows the Holy Spirit to enrich us.  

"Brother priests," the Pope urged, "let us look to ourselves and ask ourselves what part compunction and tears play in our examination of conscience and our prayers," and especially whether, with the years that pass, our tears increase.  

He lamented that the older we become, the less we weep, saying that instead, "we are asked to become like children."

"If we fail to weep," the Holy Father warned, "we regress and grow old within," whereas "those whose prayer becomes simpler and deeper, grounded in adoration and wonder in the presence of God," he said, "grow and mature."

"They become less attached to themselves and more attached to Christ," he said.

Attachment to Christ
The Pope went on to discuss solidarity as another aspect of compunction.

"A heart that is docile, liberated by the spirit of the Beatitudes," he noted, "becomes naturally prone to practice compunction towards others.  Rather than feeling anger and scandal at the failings of our brothers and sisters, it weeps for their sins."

The Lord, the Holy Father reminded the faithful, "seeks, above all in those consecrated to Him, men and women who bewail the sins of the Church and the world, and become intercessors on behalf of all."

Heroic witnesses in the Church
"How many heroic witnesses in the Church," he marveled, "have shown us this way!"

"We think of the monks of the desert, in East and West; the constant intercession, in groaning and tears, of Saint Gregory of Narek; the Franciscan offering for unrequited Love; and those many priests who, like the Curé of Ars, lived lives of penance for the salvation of others," he remembered, saying, "This is not poetry, but priesthood!"

The Pope told the priests how the Lord desires "from us, His shepherds," not harshness but love, "and tears for those who have strayed." 

If their hearts feel compunction, he said, do not respond not with condemnation, but with perseverance and mercy. 

"How greatly,"the Pope observed, do "we need to be set free from harshness and recrimination, selfishness and ambition, rigidity and frustration, in order to entrust ourselves completely to God, and to find in Him the calm that shields us from the storms raging all around us! "

"Let us pray, intercede and shed tears for others," he urged, saying, "in this way, we will allow the Lord to work His miracles.  And let us not fear, for He will surely surprise us! "

A grace, to be sought in prayer
Compunction, he explained, is not so much our work, but a grace that, as such, must be sought in prayer. 

Turning to repentance, which he called a gift from God and the work of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Father offered two suggestions for cultivating a spirit of repentance.

"Let us stop looking at our life and our vocation in terms of efficiency and immediate results, and being caught up in present needs and expectations; instead let us view things against the greater horizon of the past and the future." 

He urged them to consider the past by "recalling God’s fidelity, being mindful of His forgiveness and firmly anchored in His love," and the future, "by looking to the eternal goal to which we are called, the ultimate purpose of our lives."  

Broadening our horizons, he said, helps to expand our hearts, spend time with the Lord and experience compunction. 

Second, the Pope called on priests to rediscover the need to cultivate prayer "that is not obligatory and functional, but freely chosen, tranquil and prolonged."

"Let us return to adoration and the prayer of the heart," he said.

'Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner'
The Pope went on to invite the priests to repeat, 'Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' 

"Let us sense God’s grandeur even as we contemplate our own sinfulness, and open our hearts to the healing power of his gaze," the Pope exhorted, saying this will enable clerics to "rediscover the wisdom of Holy Mother Church in having our prayer begin in the words of the poor man who cries: God, come to my assistance!"

Returning to Saint Peter and his tears, the Pope observed, "The altar we see above his tomb makes us think of all the times that we priests – who daily say: 'Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you' – have disappointed and grieved the One who loved us so greatly as to make our hands the instruments of His presence."

"We do well, then," Pope Francis said, "to repeat those prayers we say in silence: 'With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, Lord,' and 'Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.'” 

Thank you, dear Priests
If one's heart is broken, the Holy Father reassured his listeners, surely Jesus can bind and heal it. 

"Thank you, dear priests," the Pope said, " for your open and docile hearts ... all your hard work and your tears," and "because you bring the miracle of God’s mercy to our brothers and sisters in today’s world." 

Pope Francis concluded by praying that the Lord console, strengthen and reward His faithful priests.--Vatican News

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