Monday, December 21, 2015

Pope Francis' 2015 Pre-Christmas Address to the Curia

Despite his not feeling well (he acknowledged that he has been suffering from a cold), Pope Francis addressed the staff of his Curia on Monday, December 21, 2015.

Giving his reflections while seated (he apologized for not standing), Pope Francis recalled his address last year when he  listed some illnesses or temptations that Curia staff must face. On that occasion he developed an examination of conscience, urging his audience to be careful not to give in to such things as being too busy, becoming hard-hearted, failing to coordinate with other members, spreading gossip, failing to smile.

This year he offered what he termed “curial antibiotics” which could help treat some of the diseases he listed last year, diseases which became evident during the past year and which, he said, caused “no small pain to the entire body, harming many souls, even by scandal.”

Reiterating the dictum  “Ecclesia semeper reformanda” (the Church is always in need of reform), Pope Francis assured his staff that “the reform will move forward with determination, clarity, and firm resolve.”

Despite these diseases and even scandals, the Holy Father quickly added his heartfelt gratitude and needed encouragement “to all those good and honest men and women in the Curia who work with dedication, devotion, fidelity and professionalism.”

He then listed for them a number of virtues which he urged them to embrace and put into practice.

He presented this year’s list following an acrostic for the Latin term misericordia (mercy) which does not easily transfer into English. But using each letter of misericordia, Pope Francis recalled virtues, attitudes, and actions which he urged his staff to put into practice.

He began with “M” –and related that letter to “missionary” spirit, reminding the gathering that all who are baptized are called to be missionaries endowed with  pastoral sensitivity.

His address further urged the staff to be wise and creative, fulfilling their jobs with intelligence, insight, and appropriateness. Pope Francis recalled the need for a spirituality which keeps a person human and not robotic. He asked them to set a good example, to avoid emotional excesses, to have a spirit of determination but capable of restraint from impulsive, hasty actions.

He encouraged them to practice charity, to be truthful , humble, diligent, alert, and accountable.

Pope Francis put all these virtues in the context of the Year of Mercy, noting that mercy is the virtue of those who choose to put on the heart of Christ.

“And so,” he concluded, “may mercy guide our steps, inspire our reforms and enlighten our decisions. May it be the basis of all our efforts. May it teach us when to move forward and when to step back. May it also enable us to understand the littleness of all that we do in God’s greater plan of salvation, in his majestic and mysterious works.”

Pope Francis is a man of many talents, a multi-faceted leader who knows when to push and when to ease the pressure. He is resolute but patient. He sees reality but does not give in to discouragement. We have a man of deep, practical faith in the role of St Peter, and we who listen to him, admire him, support him must not neglect to respond to his constant request, “Pray for me.”

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Kairos Moment for Reformation and Celebration

We cannot know how long we will have Pope Francis with us (I fear for his life) but we can be sure that this moment in Church history is a kairos, a time of grace.

He has embraced the mandate given him by the cardinals who elected him, namely to reform the Church, especially its bureaucracy.

The so-called Vatileak documents verify the serious problems present in the offices, departments, and dicasteries which form the management structures of the Vatican. The turf wars, the manipulation of funds, the misappropriation of revenues, the incompetent (some say “corrupt”) book-keeping practices, the failure to follow accounting regulations, the secrecy, the resistance to reform measures –all characterize the institution Francis is working to reform.

He put it bluntly to cardinals in the Curia on July 3, 2013: “We have to better clarify the finances of the Holy See and make them more transparent…It is no exaggeration to say that most of our costs are out of control…Our books are not in order; we have to clean them up.”

Earlier, a report from two auditors alerted the pope: “There is a complete absence of transparency in the book-keeping of the Holy See and the Governorate. This lack of transparency makes it impossible to provide a clear estimate of the actual financial status of the Vatican as a whole and of the single entities of which it consists.”

Both of the above quotes come from top secret documents which were shared with Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, confidential information now disclosed in Nuzzi’s book Merchants In The Temple (Henry Holt and Company, 2015). Msgr Lucio Vallejo Balda, a member of the now-disbanded Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See, was arrested and charged with leaking the documents.

Francis’ reform efforts, however, are not confined to finances or bureaucracy. He reminded a meeting of the national conference of the Italian Church, some 2200 people from 220 dioceses, in November of 2015 that the Church is always in need of reform (“semper reformanda”). And he clarified that reform of the Church does not end in plans to change structures but necessarily includes “grafting yourself to and rooting yourself in Christ, letting yourself be guided by the Spirit.”

He warned the prelates and laity against putting undue trust in structures, organizations and plans, thereby stifling the movement of the Spirit. He pointed to the danger of relying on reason and clear thinking at the expense of losing the tenderness of the flesh of your brother.

He urged the assembly to embrace the church teaching on the preferential option for the poor, to build not walls or borders but meeting squares and field hospitals. :I would like, he said, “an Italian church that is unsettled, always closer to the abandoned, the forgotten, the imperfect. I desire a happy church with the face of a mother, who understands, accompanies, caresses.”

In his press conference during the flight back from Africa, Francis acknowledged that some, perhaps many, Catholics believe they have the absolute truth and as a consequence dirty others with calumny, disinformation and evil acts.”Religious fundamentalism,” he said, “is not religion –it’s idolatry."

When on December 8, 2015, Pope Francis opened the holy door marking the beginning of the Year of Mercy, he asked us to think of it as opening ourselves to express the mercy of the Good Samaritan. “Wherever there are people, ”he said, “the Church is called to reach out to them and to bring the joy of the Gospel, and the mercy and forgiveness of God.”

The Holy Year of Mercy is clearly a time of grace. The ministry of Pope Francis is also a kairos moment in Church history.  The Francis effect and the Year of Mercy are reasons to celebrate and give thanks. May both give life, excitement, conversion and joy to the Church and the world!