Pope: A Church witness of humility on the way to the synod
“Participation, mission and communion are the characteristics of a humble Church, one attentive to the voice of the Spirit and not self-centred,” said the Pope. “This is the lesson of Christmas: humility is the great condition for faith, for the spiritual life and for holiness.”
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis met with members of the Roman Curia today for the traditional exchange of Christmas greetings, using the occasion to reflect upon the inner life of the Church and her prospects.
In his address, the pontiff focused on humility, without which one cannot meet God or even one’s fellow brothers and sisters who live next to us, a “style” that informs the synodal journey already underway, designed to shape “a humble Church, one attentive to voice of the Spirit and not self-centred,” characterised more and more by participation, mission and communion.
Francis' long speech started with the consideration that “if we had to express the entire mystery of Christmas in a word, I believe that humility is the one most helpful. The Gospels portray a scene of poverty and austerity, unsuited to sheltering a woman about to give birth”. Yet “the Son of God [. . .] did not shrink from the humility of ‘descending’ into history, becoming man, becoming a child, frail, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger (cf. Lk 2:16).
Jesus, he explained, “reminds us of the uncomfortable and unsettling truth: ‘What will it profit you to gain the whole world and forfeit your life?’ (cf. Mk 8:36).” Indeed, “This is the dangerous temptation – as I have said on other occasions – of a spiritual worldliness that, unlike all other temptations, is hard to unmask, for it is concealed by everything that usually reassures us: our role, the liturgy, doctrine, religious devotion.”
“How often we dream up vast apostolic projects, meticulously planned, just like defeated generals! But this is to deny our history as a Church, which is glorious precisely because it is a history of sacrifice, of hopes and daily struggles, of lives spent in service and fidelity to work, tiring as it may be, for all work is the ‘sweat of our brow’. Instead, we waste time talking about ‘what needs to be done’ – in Spanish, we call this the sin of habriaqueísmo – like spiritual masters and pastoral experts who give instructions from on high. We indulge in endless fantasies and we lose contact with the real lives and difficulties of our people” (No. 96).
“Humility is the ability to know how to ‘inhabit’ our humanity, this humanity beloved and blessed by the Lord, and to do so without despair but with realism, joy and hope. Humility means recognizing that we should not be ashamed of our frailty. Jesus teaches us to look upon our poverty with the same love and tenderness with which we look upon a little child, vulnerable and in need of everything.
“Lacking humility, 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.”
For the synodal journey underway, “humility alone can enable us to encounter and listen, to dialogue and discern” to make room for the conviction that we are all children of one God, the “Father of all”.
“That word – ‘all’ – leaves no room for misunderstanding! The clericalism that, as a temptation, a perverse 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. The Synod wants to be an experience of feeling ourselves all members of a larger people, the holy and faithful People of God”.
From this perspective, the Curia “is not merely a logistical and bureaucratic instrument for meeting the needs of the universal Church, but 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.”
“If the Church follows the path of synodality, we must be the first to be converted to a different style of work, of cooperation and communion. All this is possible only by following the path of humility.” In this regard, Francis cited three key words: participation, communion and mission, already mentioned in the opening of the synodal path.
“First, participation. This ought to be expressed through a style of co-responsibility. Certainly, 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 programme devised by someone else.”
“The second word is communion. This does not have to do with majorities or minorities; essentially, it is based on our relationship with Christ. We will never have an evangelical style in our respective settings unless we put Christ back in the centre, not this or that party opinion: Christ at the centre. Many of us work together, but what builds communion is also the ability to pray together, to listen together to God’s word and to construct relationships that go beyond work and strengthen beneficial relations between us 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. 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. In cooperation, people work 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.”
“The third word is mission. This is what saves us from falling back on ourselves.” This implies a “Church constantly go[ing] out from herself,” centred on Jesus Christ.
“Only a heart open to mission can ensure that everything we do, ad intra and ad extra, is marked by the regenerating power of the Lord’s call. Mission always involves passion for the poor, for those who are “in need”, not only of things material, but also spiritual, emotional and moral. Those who hunger for bread and those who hunger for meaning are equally poor.
“The Church is summoned to reach out to every form of poverty. The Church is called to preach the Gospel to everyone, since all of us are poor; all of us are, in one way or another, needy. But the Church also reaches out to the poor because we need them: we need their voice, their presence, their questions and criticisms.
“A person with a missionary heart feels the absence of his brother or sister, and, like a beggar, accosts him or her. Mission makes us vulnerable. This is beautiful, that mission makes us vulnerable. It helps remind us that we are disciples and it makes us rediscover ever anew the joy of the Gospel.
“Participation, mission and communion are the characteristics of a humble Church, one attentive to voice of the Spirit and not self-centred. As Henri de Lubac wrote:
‘Like her master, the Church cuts in the eyes of the world the figure of a slave; on this earth she exists ‘in the form of a slave’… She is no cenacle of sublime spiritual geniuses or gathering of supermen, any more than she is an academy of the learned; in fact, she is the very opposite.
“‘The warped, the sham, and the wretched of very kind crowd into her, together with the whole host of the mediocre… It is hard, not to say entirely impossible, for the ‘natural man’ to find in such a phenomenon the consummation of the saving kenosis and the awe-inspiring traces of the ‘humility of God’ – that is, until his innermost thoughts have been radically changed” (The Splendour of the Church, 301).
“In conclusion, my desire for you, and for myself, is that we may allow ourselves to be evangelized by the humility of Christmas and the humility of the manger, by the poverty and simplicity with which the Son of God entered into the world.”
“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. We are like the shepherds; we are like the Magi; we are like Jesus.
“This is the lesson of Christmas: 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. And to ask the Lord for the grace to wish to desire it, to become men and women of great desires. What we lack, we can at least begin to desire. And that desire is already the Spirit at work within each of us.”
“A happy Christmas to all!”