Everything surrounding the pope is large and complicated. The secret service struggles to keep people fenced in and at a safe distance. Opportunities to be a football field away from him are so sought-after that they have to be distributed by lottery. But while Pope Francis was in Washington, D.C., his focus tended to be small and personal.
When he spoke to his brother bishops about pastoral care, he didn’t keep the conversation abstract. When he asked bishops to support the priests that they supervise, to be sure that they do not “yield to the temptation to become notaries and bureaucrats, but instead reflect the motherhood of the Church, which gives birth to and raises her sons and daughters,” he made it clear exactly how mundane these temptations could be. He told the bishops, “Be vigilant lest they tire of getting up to answer those who knock on their door by night, just when they feel entitled to rest.”
This warning paralleled the advice he gave to priests in his book “Open Mind, Faithful Heart” about the demands they would experience from their flock:
“The people are demanding in matters that relate to religion. Just as they are generally faithful in fulfilling their promises, so they expect those who are responsible for providing pastoral care to be faithful in fulfilling their duties. The priest does not belong to himself. He may sometimes try to escape to other things, but all those ‘other things’ count for little in comparison with the mother who makes him walk many blocks to bless her house.”
His visit may inspire Catholics to be more demanding, in just the way he desires. Just as people shamelessly run up to the Pope to ask for his blessing and his prayers, they may also run up to their parish priest to ask for his prayers, his blessings, and his presence. In all of these small, humble things, a priest pours himself out for his people.
Pope Francis encouraged the bishops to find ways to support their priests, so that they have the strength to welcome all the needs of their people. After he leaves, it will be up to us to have the courage to offer our needs to our priests, in ordinary times, as easily as we do during the festival of the pope’s visit.
Leah Libresco is a news writer at FiveThirtyEight, a blogger at Patheos, and a contributor to NET TV’s papal coverage.