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On Holy Thursday, Pope Francis warns priests against the idolatry that leads to devil worship

It’s not uncommon for the pope to candidly address clergy during Holy Thursday’s Chrism Mass, when priests renew their vows of ordination.

Pope Francis blesses chrism oil contained in a jar during a Chrism Mass inside St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, April 14, 2022. During the Mass, the pontiff blesses a token amount of oil that will be used to administer the sacraments for the year. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Pope Francis issued stern warnings for Catholic clergy during the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, when priests annually renew the vows of their ordination. Francis urged the clergy gathered in St. Peter’s Basilica to cast away the self-serving idols that separate them from God and lead to worshipping the devil.

“Allowing the Lord to see those hidden idols strengthens us against them and takes away their power. The Lord’s gaze makes us see that, through them, we are really glorifying ourselves. For there, in those spaces we mark out as exclusively ours, the devil insinuates himself with his poison,” the pope said during his homily Thursday (April 14).

Holy Thursday in Holy Week commemorates Jesus’ last supper and the washing of his disciples’ feet. Sacramental oils are also blessed during the Chrism Mass.

Drawing as usual from his Jesuit background, rooted in the teachings of its founder St. Ignatius of Loyola, Pope Francis told priests to spend time contemplating Jesus, as well as showing him their temptations, or the idols “hidden under the folds of our cloak.”

Often, the pope said, those idols replace faith in God. “This happens,” he said. “Even though we might tell ourselves that we know perfectly well the difference between God and an idol, in practice we take space away from the Trinity in order to give it to the devil, in a kind of oblique worship.”

It’s not uncommon for the pope to candidly address the clergy during the Chrism Mass. Last year, he emphasized the need for priests to embrace the cross and warned about the growing scandals in the church. This year, the pope identified three “hidden idolatries” that can take hold of priests.

“One space of hidden idolatry opens up wherever there is spiritual worldliness,” Francis said, referring to a culture that focuses on appearances. “Our eyes must be fixed on Christ,” he continued, who modeled for priests how to embrace poverty and suffering.

Pragmatism is another type of idolatry, the pope said, one that focuses on “statistics, numbers that can depersonalize every discussion and appeal to the majority as the definitive criterion for discernment.” People cannot be numbered, Francis said, adding that focusing on numbers doesn’t allow people to recognize the value of each individual.

Pope Francis presides over a Chrism Mass inside St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, Thursday, April 14, 2022. During the Mass the Pontiff blesses a token amount of oil that will be used to administer the sacraments for the year. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Pope Francis presides over a Chrism Mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican, April 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Finally, the pope pointed to the idol of functionalism, which focuses on efficiency. “The priest with a functionalist mindset has his own nourishment, which is his ego,” he said. “In functionalism, we set aside the worship of the Father in the small and great matters of our life and take pleasure in the efficiency of our own programs.”

Pragmatism and functionalism lead priests to replace hope with empirical results, the pope said, making clergy members focus on vainglory and power instead of their faith and flock.

“Jesus Christ, I repeat, forces these idols to show themselves, so that we can see their presence, their roots and the ways they operate, and allow the Lord to destroy them,” Pope Francis said. “We should keep these things in mind and be attentive, lest the weeds of these idols that we were able to hide in the folds of our hearts may spring up anew.”

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Francis has often called for a conversion of the priesthood to focus on the poor and outcast. He has launched a three-year-long consultation within the Catholic Church aimed at listening to the voice of the faithful all over the world, which will conclude with a summit of bishops at the Vatican for the 2023 Synod on Synodality. He has also continued to reform the offices and departments that make up the Roman Curia and their financial operations.

In the afternoon, Francis also made his usual Holy Thursday visit to prisoners. The pope washed the feet of 12 inmates of the prison in Civitavecchia, near Rom,e in imitation of Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples. The head of the prison chaplains in Italy thanked Francis in a press release for the pope’s “message of closeness and hope.”

“Despite the physical exhaustion and the hidden sufferings, Pope Francis never tires of treading dusty, muddy and dangerous roads to find that which was lost and isn’t ashamed to dirty his hands to wash the feet of many Judas’ condemned by human justice, but saved by God’s mercy,” the statement read.

On Holy Thursday last year, the pope had a private meeting with Cardinal Angelo Becciu, once the third-highest-ranking prelate in the church and currently charged by Vatican prosecutors with embezzlement, money laundering, fraud, extortion and abuse of office. Becciu has vehemently denied all charges against him

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