ROME – To close a year in which he put limits on the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, Pope Francis warned against the temptations of pride, spiritual worldliness, and attachment to superficial reassurances, including liturgical preferences.
In his Dec. 23 speech to members of the Roman Curia, the pope centered on the biblical figure of Naaman the Syrian, who while being a powerful general in the Syrian army known for his courage and bravery, also had leprosy, which he hid beneath his armor.
In his search for a cure, Naaman, taking the advice of a slave girl, set out to find the Prophet Elisha for help.
Although he initially believed Elisha’s command to shed his armor and bathe in the Jordan River seven times to be too simple, he eventually obeyed and was healed, but only after humbling himself and letting go of his notions of power.
“The story of Naaman reminds us that Christmas is the time when each of us needs to find the courage to take off our armor, discard the trappings of our roles, our social recognition and the glitter of this world,” and adopt an attitude of humility, the pope said.
He cautioned, as he has in the past, against the dangers of “a spiritual worldliness” which he said is, like many other temptations, “hard to unmask, for it is concealed by everything that usually reassures us: our role, the liturgy, doctrine, religious devotion.”
The remark comes at the close of a year in which Pope Francis imposed restrictions on use of the 1962 Traditional Latin Mass, which reversed liberalizations put into place by Pope Benedict XVI, causing mass uproar among the Church’s traditionalist camps.
The Vatican furthered clamped down on the Latin Mass over the weekend in a document clarifying questions that arose after he initially reimposed restrictions in July, forbidding the celebration of certain sacraments according to the old rite.
Speaking to members of the Curia, Francis spoke of the need for humility, insisting that when this virtue is lacking, “we will look for things that can reassure us, and perhaps find them, but we will surely not find what saves us, what can heal us.”
“Seeking those kinds of reassurance is the most perverse fruit of spiritual worldliness, for it reveals a lack of faith, hope and love; it leads to an inability to discern the truth of things,” he said.
Cautioning against the dangers of pride, the pope said the proud often end up “enclosed in their little world” with no sense of their past or future, and live “with the bitter taste of a melancholy that weighs on their hearts as the most precious of the devil’s potions.”
Those who are humble “give life, attract others and push onwards towards the unknown that lies ahead,” he said, while the proud “simply repeat, grow rigid and enclose themselves in that repetition, feeling certain about what they know and fearful of anything new because they cannot control it.”
Pope Francis then turned to the work and functionality of the curia, saying synodality, humility, and sobriety are cures to the temptation of clericalism that often arises within the department.
To this end, he pointed to the 3-stage Synod of Bishops on Synodality that was inaugurated in October, the first phase of which is a global consultation with laity at the parish level.
“In this too, humility alone can enable us to encounter and listen, to dialogue and discern,” he said, warning that “If we remain enclosed in our convictions and experiences, the hard shell of our own thoughts and feelings, it will be difficult to be open to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the conviction that we are all children of one God and Father of all.”
The word “all,” he said, “leaves no room for misunderstanding!”
“The clericalism that, as a temptation, daily spreads in our midst, makes us keep thinking of a God who speaks only to some, while the others must only listen and obey,” he said, insisting that to think of the synod as a distant and abstract event is mistaken.
Synodality, he said, “is a style to which we must be converted, especially those of us here present and all those who serve the universal Church by their work for the Roman Curia.”
The Curia, Francis said, “is not merely a logistical and bureaucratic instrument for meeting the needs of the universal Church,” but is rather “the first body called to bear witness.”
“Precisely for this reason, it grows in prestige and effectiveness when it embraces in first person the challenges of that synodal conversion to which it too is called,” the pope said, adding, “The organization that we must adopt is not that of a business, but evangelical in nature.”
Pointing to the emphasis placed on the value of poverty in the Gospels, he said members of the Roman Curia “must be the first to commit ourselves to being converted to a style of sobriety.”
“If the Gospel proclaims justice, we must be the first to try to live transparently, without favoritism or cliques,” he said, insisting that if the Church follows a path of synodality, “we must be the first to be converted to a different style of work, of cooperation and communion.”
Pope Francis then targeted the notion that the Curia often functions as an impersonal machine where departments notoriously fail to coordinate, and employees often feel unacknowledged and unappreciated.
He pointed to participation, communion, and mission as characteristics of the humility he said ought to guide the actions of the curia, and friendship and cooperation as an antidote to careerism and competition in the department.
“In the diversity of our roles and ministries, responsibilities will differ, yet it is important that everyone feel involved, co-responsible for the work, without having the depersonalizing experience of implementing a program devised by someone else,” he said.
He applauded examples of creativity in which everyone is allowed to give their input and urged curia members to work for an internal dynamic in which “all can sense that they have an active role to play in the mission they have to carry out.”
Speaking of the importance of communion, the pope noted that this is built by praying and reading the Gospels together, not just working together. Doing this, he said, will help “to construct relationships that go beyond work and strengthen beneficial relations by helping one another.”
“Otherwise, we risk being nothing more than strangers working in the same place, competitors looking to advance or, worse yet, forging relationships based on personal interests, forgetting the common cause that holds us together,” he said.
“This creates divisions, factions and enemies, whereas cooperation demands the magnanimity to accept our own partiality and to be open to working in a group, even with those who do not think as we do.”
Cooperation, however, implies that people are working together, “not for some extraneous purpose, but because they have at heart the good of others and, consequently, of the entire People of God whom we are called to serve,” he said, adding, “Let us not forget the real faces of people.”
To have a clear sense of mission is also essential and is what “saves us from falling back on ourselves,” the pope said, saying this temptation is fought by keeping the focus on Christ.
“My desire for you, and for myself, is that we may allow ourselves to be evangelized by the humility of Christmas and the manger, by the poverty and simplicity with which the Son of God entered into the world,” he said.
Pope Francis closed urging members of the curia to recognize their own weaknesses and worldly temptations, and to allow themselves “to be evangelized by the humility of the Child Jesus.”
“Only by serving, and by seeing our work as service, can we be truly helpful to everyone. We are here – I myself before anyone else – to learn how to kneel and adore the Lord in his humility, not other lords in their empty trappings,” he said.
The big lesson of Christmas, he said, is that humility is “the great condition for faith, for the spiritual life and for holiness.”
“May the Lord grant it to us as a gift, starting with the primordial sign of the Spirit’s presence within us: desire,” he said, adding, “What we lack, we can at least begin to desire. And that desire is already the Spirit at work within each of us.”
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