a heart contrite and humbled, O
God, you will not reject.
Let’s continue our “examination of conscience” as we look at Pope Francis’s call out to the papal Curia in his bombshell of a Christmas message. The reform of the Church needs to be in root and branches—that means not only those men in long red dresses lunching at da Roberto in the Borgo Pio or at Scarpone up there on the Janiculum—but here on the local level as well. And not just Monsignor Quinn at the chancery or Father Jasek in the parish but you and me and the rest of the people in the pews. There is no shoe-size that only fits a Cardinal.
The disease of excessive planning and of functionalism. When the apostle plans everything down to the last detail and believes that with perfect planning things will fall into place, he becomes an accountant or an office manager. Things need to be prepared well, but without ever falling into the temptation of trying to contain and direct the freedom of the Holy Spirit, which is always greater and more flexible than any human planning (cf. Jn 3:8). We contract this disease because “it is always more easy and comfortable to settle in our own sedentary and unchanging ways. In truth, the Church shows her fidelity to the Holy Spirit to the extent that she does not try to control or tame him… to tame the Holy Spirit! … He is freshness, imagination, and newness”.
Planning is a good thing. Jesus tells us in the gospel that a man building a tower will sit down and plan his finances to see if he can complete it; a king preparing for battle will come up with a plan to defeat a larger army or flee the field. But there are those for whom the Church is a business and not a mission. They have a business plan. It is their plan. The Christian knows that we need to stand back and prayerfully discern God’s plan and our place in it. What is even more off-putting are those whose plan is not to advance the mission of the Church but for their own advancement in the Church. This has been a huge problem for decades now. In the heady years after Vatican II there were many priests who would have made good bishops but they didn’t want to give up the “work in the trenches” of parishes and schools and so they declined the appointment. We too often were left with the second-stringers, the ones who wanted to get a red dress of their own, the careerists. The situation deteriorated even more when under John Paul II and Benedict, loyalty to the institution rather than dedication to mission became the bottom line in choosing bishops. We were flooded with men like Fabian Bruskewitz (now retired of Lincoln) or Paul Loverde of Arlingtion or Joseph Martino (now emeritus of Scranton), or Edward Egan (retired of New York) who couldn’t think for themselves but swallowed the “party line” hook, line, and sinker. Even worse we got the opportunists who were bright enough to think critically but sufficiently cynical to suck up in hopes of advancing their own careers, people like Robert Finn of Kansas City or Robert Morlino of Madison or Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco. (Actually Teddy McCarrick, formerly of Newark and Washington, was one of the worst of these until he got his red hat and once having arrived as far as he was going to go, showed a little backbone.) It got so that intelligence and integrity were almost a barrier to a miter. We need bishops who have a vision of the Kingdom of God and can see a path to lead us there, bishops who buy into God’s plan with a prophet’s eye and wise man’s heart. The task is not to preserve what we have—our own “sedentary and unchanging ways” but to allow the Holy Spirit full freedom to spread his wings wide and soar into the future God has planned for us.
Sometimes we see this problem just as strong on the local level where priests and more interested in keeping things smooth with the chancery than providing their people with the spiritual nourishment they are looking for. One of my favorite movies, back in the day, was Mass Appeal starring Jack Lemmon as a priest who sold his soul in order to be loved by his wealthy parishioners, but I have met far too many “don’t rock the boat” priests over the years who either for popularity or for advancement have gladly surrendered their integrity. Sycophantism does not become the holiness of the priesthood.
The disease of poor coordination. Once its members lose communion among themselves, the body loses its harmonious functioning and its equilibrium; it then becomes an orchestra which produces noise: its members do not work together and lose the spirit of fellowship and teamwork. When the foot says to the arm: “I don't need you ”, or the hand says to the head, “I’m in charge”, they create discomfort and scandal.
This is another subject for which we Americans have long been condemned by people in Rome who are even more guilty of it than we are. Americans are individualists. It has long been so. Tocqueville mentioned it in his 1835 Democracy in America. But the Curia Romana has long deteriorated into one of the most pitiless aggregates of individuals in the history of bureaucracy. The jealousies and rivalries as the various prelates try to slither up the caterpillar pillar, each constantly trying to edge the others off to reach the purpled destiny they lust after rather than working for the common good of the faithful has long scandalized any outsider who has had to work with them in any capacity. But we often see this same malady in the local chancery offices or among priests vying for “better” and “better” parishes. And as women take their place in chanceries and parish administration they are often no less ruthless in eliminating any opposition to achieving their particular vision of Church rather than being responsive to the needs of the rank and file. And how often do we “go to the mats” to defend our own ecclesial turf? “I am always the lector at 10 am Mass.” “Father Joe comes to all my parties.” “I do the purificators and corporals around here.” “I pick the music!”
The sixth malady the Pope mentioned in his message is:
There is also a “spiritual Alzheimer’s disease”. It consists in losing the memory of our personal “salvation history”, our past history with the Lord and our “first love” (Rev 2:4). It involves a progressive decline in the spiritual faculties which in the long or short run greatly handicaps a person by making him incapable of doing anything on his own, living in a state of absolute dependence on his often imaginary perceptions. We see it in those who have lost the memory of their encounter with the Lord; in those who no longer see life’s meaning in “deuteronomic” terms; in those who are completely caught up in the present moment, in their passions, whims and obsessions; in those who build walls and routines around themselves, and thus become more and more the slaves of idols carved by their own hands.
This is perhaps the saddest. Here are men who have so completely fallen in love with the power and perks of their office that they have forgotten the Love that first called them to the priesthood or the Religious Life. Their heart is given to “the Church”—but not the Church as the spotless bride of the Lamb but the Institution with all its what the old baptismal rite used to refer to as “pomps” as in “Do you renounce Satan and all his pomps.” They salivate over cappae magnae and mitrae pretiosae and long ceremonies with numerous acolytes to carry a bugia or a thurible. Love for the Crucified has been reduced to a ceremonial kiss of an ivory crucifix while kneeling on a damask draped prie-dieu at the Church door. Zeal for souls expresses itself in keeping people from Holy Communion. “Prayer” is the self-indulgent piety of a daily Holy Hour in one’s private chapel where one prays with the good gentleman of Luke 18:11-12. Religion, granted “the true religion” has replaced God in this forgetful heart. Where is the boy who dreamed of going to Africa to minister to lepers? Where is the young man who dreamed of monastic solitude? Where is the young priest who made midnight calls to the hospital? What makes us forget why we raised our head and cocked our ear to a soundless call for sheer love? It is so easy to slip into vocational dementia. And that is true for all of us. Why is it so easy to turn over on Sunday morning and sleep when once we never would have missed Mass? Why is it so easy to relegate one hour a week to God when we used to find our social life in the parish and its outreach? Why have we forgotten that beneath that panhandling drunk or that old woman in the nursing home lurks Jesus himself. Why has love grown cold when it was once so ardent?