Thursday, January 1, 2015

Francis Merry Christmas: Christians 15, Lions 0 cont.

 Let’s look some more at that bombshell that Pope Francis dropped on the Curia in his Christmas message—not only because it gives us some insight as to why the Papal Curia is as dysfunctional as it is, and not even because it gives us hints where the Pope sees that Reform is necessary, but maybe mostly to see if the silver buckled shoe on the feet of one Cardinal or another might also fit your foot or mine.  The New Year is a good time to examine our consciences as well as taking guesses about the state of another’s soul, or as Jesus put it, to take the beam out of our own eye before we try to remove the speck from someone else’s.
Pope Francis characterized the second spiritual disease infecting the Curia and, by extension, the Church as:
Another disease is the “Martha complex”, excessive busy-ness. It is found in those who immerse themselves in work and inevitably neglect “the better part”: sitting at the feet of Jesus (cf. Lk 10:38-42). Jesus called his disciples to “rest a while” (cf. Mk 6:31) for a reason, because neglecting needed rest leads to stress and agitation. A time of rest, for those who have completed their work, is necessary, obligatory and should be taken seriously: by spending time with one’s family and respecting holidays as moments of spiritual and physical recharging. We need to learn from Qohelet that “for everything there is a season” (3:1-15).
You know, when Leo XIII condemned “Americanism” in the 1899 Encyclical Testem Benevolentiae, one of the criticisms proffered by the Holy Father was that Americans tend to underappreciate the contemplative essence of the Christian life and here Pope Francis is slamming the prelates of the Roman Curia for the very same fault.  Notice that he hits them on two levels: they are not spending enough quality time with Christ, sitting at his feet (contemplative prayer) and they are not spending enough quality time with others, especially their families.  The Pope sees the Curia bureaucrats as men (and nowadays some women) who let their work consume them, forgetting that God did not created us for the purpose of work—even his work—but for love.  We were created to love God with our entire hearts, souls, strengths, and being and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  We need to redefine our lives putting the primacy of our life on relationships not on accomplishments.  But, of course, we are evaluated (judged) on our work and it is our work that wins us advancement.  But what does it profit us to gain the whole world and lose our very selves in the process?  How many of these bureaucrats have lost themselves in their desire to gain higher and higher position in the caterpillar tree that administers the institutional dimensions of the Catholic Church?  And at the same time, how many of us too trade time with God and time with those whom we are called to love in hopes of advancing our careers?  Oh, we do it for our families.  We do this to be better providers.  We do this so they can have tae kwon do.  We do this so they can afford piano lessons or to be in the school band.  yada yada yada   But at the end of the day we aren’t there for them because of all the things we “do for them.”  The fact of the matter is we opt for a higher standard of living that we could afford if we have our priorities in the right place.  At the end of the day all that matters is that we have been there and given them love.   
Then too there is the disease of mental and spiritual “petrification”. It is found in those who have a heart of stone, the “stiff-necked” (Acts 7:51-60), in those who in the course of time lose their interior serenity, alertness and daring, and hide under a pile of papers, turning into paper pushers and not men of God (cf. Heb 3:12). It is dangerous to lose the human sensitivity that enables us to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice! This is the disease of those who lose “the sentiments of Jesus” (cf. Phil 2:5-11), because as time goes on their hearts grow hard and become incapable of loving unconditionally the Father and our neighbour (cf. Mt 22:34-35). Being a Christian means “having the same sentiments that were in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5), sentiments of humility and unselfishness, of detachment and generosity.
And hasn’t this just been the problem?  We have cardinals and bishops and monsignors and priests who, far from having the shepherd’s heart that is a proffered grace of the Sacrament of Orders, have chosen to have hearts of stone.  The Law is what is important.  You know the routine—it is rooted in our Christian tradition from the first days: the High Priest declared: “We have a Law and by that Law this man must die.”  And so too we have our laws: who can go to Holy Communion; who can have a Church wedding or funeral; who can have their children baptized etc.  Gay people can’t be Eucharistic ministers or lectors.  Catholic School teachers must not be remarried after a divorce.  If you are in a same-sex marriage you can’t be the Director of Music.  And don’t forget the famous “Canon 915”—you know the one; it’s the canon that says “I’m holier than thou, you miserable piece of moral turpitude and I will decide that Jesus doesn’t want you coming to the Table of His Body and Blood.”  That’s a loose translation, admittedly, but you get the idea—or at least how some people read it.  Stone, stone, stone—hearts of stone that are quick to judge without knowing the story, without knowing the pain, without knowing the struggles.
This certainly has been the sin of some prelates in the Curia—or, at least formerly in the Curia and now, thanks to Francis the Compassionate, relegated to more ceremonial functions where they can do less harm.  But we find this same legalism in some of our parishes and even among the laity who, given their life experience, should know better.  But it is so much fun to be better than everyone else and to make sure that they, and everyone, knows it.  Why doesn’t the sins of others make us weep in compassion for the struggles they have faced in making their decisions?  Why do we let the failings of others give us an unholy glee to celebrate our moral righteousness?  I think Francis is right on—not just in the sins of the boys in the purple dresses but in raising the questions that should give us all pause. 
We can only be hopeful that the call of Pope Francis to his Curia will bring them to an ever deeper awareness of the Compassion Christ has for each of us and a renewed desire to use their office bring the mercy and forgiveness of God into the lives of all people to heal us of our own spiritual maladies and bring us reconciliation for the forgiveness of our sins.  We need a new face on the public image of the Church.  Francis has brought that at his level, but it needs to spread down and out through the entire administration, not just in Rome but also to our dioceses and our parishes.  For too long everyone has known what the Catholic Church is against.  That is no way to spread the Gospel.  Now we are being given the chance to proclaim loudly what we are for: the spread of the Good News of Jesus Christ that in his infinite mercy God has so loved the world that he sent his only son that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life; God did not send his Son to condemn the world but rather so that the world might be saved through him.  

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