By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — When a bishop leaves a diocese, he should give an honest assessment of what he has done and where he has fallen short, but mostly he should encourage people to follow the Lord, Pope Francis said.
Celebrating Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae May 15, the same day he was to meet with the bishops of Chile to discuss the clerical sexual abuse scandal, Pope Francis focused his homily on the first reading, Acts 20:17-27, in which the apostle Paul takes his leave of Ephesus.
“It’s a strong passage, a passage that goes straight to the heart,” the pope said. “It’s also a passage that lets us see the journey of every bishop at the time he must take his leave.”
In the passage, Paul summons the priests of Ephesus and tells them that “compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem,” but first he reviews how he had tried to serve the Lord when he was with them, and he urges them to “keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers.”
Paul’s last testament to the priests, the pope said, is not like a worldly will in which he distributes his things to people. Instead, he offers them the witness of his love for Christ and for Christ’s flock.
“Look after the flock,” he said. “Be bishops for the flock, to care for the flock, not to climb in an ecclesiastical career.”
Pope Francis said that when he reads the passage from Acts, “I think of myself, because I am a bishop and will have to take my leave.”
“I ask the Lord for the grace to take my leave” the same way Paul did, he said. “And in the examination of conscience, I won’t come out the victor that Paul was, but the Lord is good, he’s merciful. I am thinking of the bishops, all the bishops. May the Lord give us all the grace to take our leave this way, with this spirit, this strength, this love for Jesus Christ and this trust in the Holy Spirit.”
The pope asked the small congregation at the Mass, which included bishops from Taiwan making their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican, to “pray for all bishops so that they walk Paul’s path to be able, in the end, to give a witness like this.”