Pope Francis to the Curia: “Priests are like airplanes”!

Address of the Holy Father:
The Roman Curia and the Body of Christ

“You are above the cherubim, you who have changed the miserable condition of the world when you became like us” (St. Athanasius).
Dear brothers,
At the end of Advent we meet for the traditional greetings. In a few days we will have the joy of celebrating the birth of the Lord; the event of God who became man to save men; the manifestation of God’s love that does not just give us something or to send any message or certain messengers, but gives himself to us; the mystery of God who takes upon himself our human condition and our sins to reveal his divine Life, his immense grace and free forgiveness. It is the appointment with God who is born in the poverty of the cave of Bethlehem to teach us the power of humility. In fact, Christmas is also the festival of light that is not accepted by the “chosen” people but by the poor and simple people who waited for the salvation of the Lord.
First of all, I would like to wish all of you – employees, brothers and sisters, papal Representatives around the world – and all your loved ones a holy Christmas and a happy New Year. I want to thank you cordially for your daily commitment to the service of the Holy See, the Catholic Church, the particular Churches and the Successor of Peter.
Since we are people and not just numbers or names, I remember in a special way those who, during this year, have finished their service for reasons of age or for taking other roles, or because they have been called to the Father’s House. Also to all of them and their families go my thoughts and gratitude.
I want with you raise to the Lord a keen and sincere thanks for the year that is leaving us, for the events and experiences and for all the good that he wanted to fulfill generously through the service of the Holy See, humbly asking forgiveness for the failings ” in thoughts, words, deeds and omissions . ”
And based on this request for forgiveness, I wish that this meeting and the reflections that I will share with you become, for all of us, a support and a stimulus to a real examination of conscience to prepare our hearts for Christmas.
Thinking about our meeting there came to my mind the image of the Church as the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. It is an expression that, as Pope Pius XII explained, “flows and almost sprouts from what is frequently exposed in the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Fathers’ 1 . In this regard, St. Paul wrote, “For as the body is one and has many members, and all members, though many, are one body, so also is Christ” ( 1 Cor 12:12) 2 .
In this sense, the Second Vatican Council reminds us that “in the structure of the mystical body of Christ there exists a diversity of members and offices. One is the Spirit, who for the welfare of the Church distributes the various gifts with munificence proportionate to his riches and the needs of the ministries (cfr. 1 Cor 12.1 to 11) ” 3 . Therefore, “Christ and the Church make up the” whole Christ “- Christus Totus – . The Church is one with Christ ” 4 .
It’s beautiful to think of the Roman Curia as a small model of the Church, that is, as a “body” that seeks seriously and every day to be more alive, healthier, more harmonious and more united in itself and with Christ.
In reality, the Roman Curia is a complex body, made up of many departments, councils, offices, courts, commissions and numerous items that do not all have the same task, but are coordinated in order to function effectively, uplifting, disciplined and exemplary, despite the cultural, linguistic and national diversity of its members.5
However, the Curia being a dynamic body, it cannot live without nourishing itself and without taking care of itself. In fact, the Curia – like the Church – cannot live without having a vital personal, authentic and solid relationship, with Christ 6 . A member of the Curia who is not nourished everyday with that Food will become a bureaucrat (a formalist, a functionalist, a mere employee): a branch that withers and little by little dies and is thrown away. Daily prayer, regular participation in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and reconciliation, daily contact with the word of God and spirituality translated into lived charity are the food vital for each of us. What is clear to us is that without Him we can do nothing (cf. Jn 15: 8).
As a result, the living relationship with God nourishes and strengthens our communion with others, that is, the more we closely adhere to God the more we are united among ourselves because the Spirit of God unites and divides the evil spirit .
The Curia is called to improve itself, to always improve itself and to grow in communion, holiness and wisdom to fully realize its mission7. Yet it, like every body, like every human body is exposed to diseases, to malfunction, to infirmity . And here I would like to mention some of these probable diseases: curial diseases. There are diseases more frequently found in the life of the Curia. There are diseases and temptations that weaken our service to the Lord. I think a “catalogue” of diseases that we are talking about today will help us – on the way of the Desert Fathers, who made those catalogues: it will help prepare us for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which will be a big step for all of us to prepare us for Christmas.
1. The disease of considering oneself “immortal”, “immune” or even “indispensable”, neglecting the necessary and normal safeguards. A Curia which is not self-critical , that does not update itself, which does not seek to improve itself, is a sick body. An ordinary visit to cemeteries could help us to see the names of so many people, some of whom probably thought they were immortal, immune and indispensable! It is the disease of the rich fool of the Gospel who thought to live eternally (cf. Lk 12: 13-21); and also of those who become the masters and feel superior to everyone, and not at the service of all. It often stems from the pathology of power, from the “complex of the Chosen Ones “, from the narcissism that looks passionately at its own image and does not see the image of God stamped on the face of others, especially the weak and needy 8 . The antidote to this epidemic is the grace to know we are sinners and to say with all one’s heart: ‘We are unprofitable servants. We did what we should do “(Lk 17, 10).
2. Another: The disease of “Martha-ism” (which comes from the name Martha): excessive busyness : that is, those who are immersed in work, neglecting, inevitably, ” the best part “: to sit at the feet of Jesus (cf. Lk 10,38-42). This is why Jesus called his disciples to “take some rest ‘”(cf. Mk 6:31) because neglecting the necessary rest leads to stress and agitation. The time of rest, for those who have completed their mission, is necessary, proper and should be lived seriously: to spend some time with family and to respect the holidays as a time to recharge the spiritual and physical; we must learn what Ecclesiastes teaches that ” there is a time for all things ” (3.1 to 15).
3. There is also the disease of mental and spiritual ”petrification” (becoming like stone): that is, those who have a heart of stone and a “hard neck” ( Acts 7.51 to 60); of those who, along the way, lose their inner serenity, vivacity and boldness and hide under the pieces of paper, becoming ” machines for doing “and not “men of God “(cf. Heb 3:12). It’s dangerous to lose the human sensitivity necessary to make us weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice! It is the disease of those who lose “the mind of Jesus “(cf. Phil 2,5-11) because their hearts, with the passage of time, harden and become unable to love unconditionally the Father and the neighbour (cf. Mt 22 , 34-40). Being a Christian, in fact, means “to have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus ” ( Phil 2,5), a mind of humility and selflessness, of detachment and generosity 9.
4. The disease of excessive planning and functionalism . When the apostle plan everything minutely and believes that by making a perfect planning things actually make progress, so becoming a bookkeeper or accountant. You need to prepare everything well, but without falling into the temptation of wanting to lock up and to control the freedom of the Holy Spirit, who remains always greater, more generous than all human planning (cf. Jn 3,8). One falls into this disease because “it is always easier and convenient to rest in their own static and unchanged positions. In fact, the Church shows herself faithful to the Holy Spirit to the extent that it does not claim to regulate and tame the Spirit… – to domesticate the Holy Spirit! – … He is freshness, imagination, innovation ” 10 .
5. The disease of bad coordination. When members lose their communion with each other and the body loses its smooth functionality and its temperance, becoming an orchestra that produces cacophony, because its members do not cooperate and do not live the spirit of communion and a team. When the foot tells the arm: “I do not need you,” or the hand to his head: “I’m the one in charge”, causing discomfort and scandal.
6. There is also the disease of ‘”spiritual Alzheimer’s”: ie forgetting the “history of salvation”, one’s personal history with the Lord, forgetting the “first love” ( Rev 2.4). It is a progressive decline of the spiritual faculties that in a longer or shorter period of time causes severe handicap to the person, making him unable to carry out any independent activity, living in a state of absolute dependence on his own views which are often imaginary. We see it in those who have lost the memory of their encounter with the Lord; in those who do not make deuteronomic sense of life; in those who are completely dependent on their present, their passions, quirks and foibles; in those who build walls and habits around themselves, becoming, more and more, slaves of idols that have carved their own hands.
7. The disease of rivalry and vainglory. 11 . When the appearance, the colors of robes and insignia of honour become the primary goal of life, forgetting the words of St. Paul: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but each of you, with humility consider others better than yourselves. Each one should not look for his own interests, but rather that of others “( Phil 2,1-4). It is the disease that leads us to be false men and women and live a false “mysticism” and a false “quietism”. St. Paul himself calls them ” enemies of the Cross of Christ” because “they boast of what they should be ashamed and do not think except of the things of earth “( Philippians 3:19).
8. The disease of existential schizophrenia. And ‘the disease of those who live a double life, the fruit of hypocrisy typical of the mediocre and of the progressive spiritual vacuum that degrees or academic qualifications can not fill. A disease that often affects those who, abandoning pastoral service limit themselves to bureaucracy, thus losing touch with reality, with real people. They create their own parallel world, where they put aside everything that they teach strictly to others and they begin to live a life which is hidden and often dissolute. Conversion is quite urgent and indispensable for this very serious disease (cf. Lk 15.11 to 32).
9. The disease of chatter, the grumbling and gossip. Of this disease I have spoken many times, but never enough. It is a serious disease, which begins simply, maybe just for a chat, and it takes hold of the person making him “a sower of discord “(like Satan), and in many cases “a cold blooded murderer “of the reputation of their colleagues and brothers . It is the disease of cowardly people who do not have the courage to speak directly but talk behind their backs. St. Paul admonishes us: “Do everything without complaining and without hesitation, to be blameless and pure” (Philippians 2.14 to 18). Brethren, let us guard ourselves from the terrorism of chatter!
10. The disease of deifying leaders: it is the disease of those who court superiors, hoping to get their benevolence. They are victims of careerism and opportunism, they honour people and not God (cf. Mt 23.8 to 12). They are people who live their service thinking only what they deserve to get and not what they have to give. Petty people, unhappy and inspired only by their fatal selfishness (cf. Gal 5.16 to 25). This disease may also affect superiors when they court some of their colleagues to get their submission, loyalty and psychological dependence, but the end result is a true complicity.
11. The disease of indifference towards others. When everyone thinks only of himself and loses the sincerity and warmth of human relationships. When the most experienced does not put his knowledge to the service of less experienced colleagues. When you become aware of something and you keep to yourself instead of positively sharing it with others. When, out of jealousy or guile, one feels joy at seeing another fall rather than helping him up and encouraging him.
12. The disease of the funereal face. People who are gruff and grim; who consider that to be serious, they need to put on the face of melancholy, severity and to treat others – especially those deemed inferior – with rigidity, hardness and arrogance. In reality, theatrical severity and sterile pessimism 12 are often symptoms of fear and insecurity about oneself. An apostle must strive to be a courteous person, calm, enthusiastic and cheerful, who conveys joy wherever he is. A heart full of God is a happy heart that radiates and infects with joy all who are around: you can see it right away! Therefore we do not lose that joyful spirit, full of humour , and even self-deprecating, that makes us lovable people, even in difficult situations 13 . As well it brings a good dose of healthy humour! We will do very well often to recite the prayer of St. Thomas More 14 : I pray every day, it does me good.
13. The disease of accumulation: when the apostle seeks to fill an existential void in his heart by accumulating material goods, not out of necessity, but just to feel secure. In fact, we can take nothing material with us because ” the shroud has no pockets” and all our earthly treasures – even if they are gifts – will never fill that void, indeed will make it ever more demanding and more profound. To these people the Lord repeats: “You say: I’m rich, I’ve made rich, I need nothing. But do not you know you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked … Be zealous therefore, and be converted “( Ap 3,17-19). This accumulation only weighs us down and slows the journey inexorably! And I think of an anecdote: one time, Spanish Jesuits described the Society of Jesus as the ” light cavalry of the Church “. I remember a young Jesuit moving to a new location, while loading on a truck his many belongings: luggage, books, objects and gifts, with a wise smile an old Jesuit who was heard to observe: This would be the “light cavalry of the Church?”. Our removals are a sign of this disease.
14. The disease of closed circles, where membership in the group becomes stronger than that of belonging to the Body (of Christ) and, in some situations, to Christ himself. Although this disease always begins with good intentions, with the passage of time it enslaves members, becoming a cancer that threatens the harmony of the Body and causes so much harm – scandals – especially to our littlest brethren. The self-destruction or “friendly fire” of fellow soldiers is the most insidious danger15. It is the evil that strikes from within16; and, as Christ says, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to ruins” ( Lk 11:17).
15. And the last: the disease of worldly profit, of exhibitionism17, when the apostle transforms his service into power, and his power into a commodity for worldly profit or greater powers. It is the disease of people trying insatiably multiply powers and for this purpose are capable of slandering, defaming and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines. Of course it is to show oneself and to prove oneself more capable than others. This disease also is very painful to the Body because it leads people to justify the use of any means to achieve this end, often in the name of justice and transparency! Here I am reminded of a priest who called journalists to tell them – and to fabricate – private and confidential information about his confreres and parishioners. For him the only important thing was to see himself on the front pages, because in this way he felt “powerful and exciting”, causing much harm to others and to the Church. The unfortunate man!
Brothers, these diseases and temptations are of course a danger to every Christian and every curia, community, congregation, parish, church movement, and can affect both at individual level and at community level.
It should be clarified that only the Holy Spirit – the soul of the Mystical Body of Christ, as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed: “I believe … in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life “- to heal every infirmity. It is the Holy Spirit that sustains every sincere effort of purification and every good will for conversion. He is to make us understand that every member participates in the sanctification of the body and in its weakening. He is the promoter of harmony18 : “He himself is harmony”, says St. Basil. St. Augustine says: “As long as a part adheres to the body, his recovery is not hopeless; a part that was severed, can neither be cured nor healed» 19 .
Healing is also the result of awareness of the disease and of the personal and communal decision to heal, bearing patiently and persistently the healing20 .
Therefore, we are called – in this time of Christmas and all the time of our service and of our existence – to live ” the truth in love; let us seek to grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, well structured and connected together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, receives power to increase so as to build itself up in love” ( Eph 4,15-16).
Dear brothers!
I once read that the priests are like airplanes: they make news only when they crash; and yet there are so many still flying. Many criticize and few pray for them. It is a very expressive saying but also very true, because it outlines the importance and sensitivity of our priestly service and how much evil one priest who “falls” could cause to the whole body of the Church.
Therefore, so we do not fall in these days when we prepare for Confession, we ask the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, to heal the wounds of sin that each of us carries in his heart, and to support the Church and the Curia so that they are both healthy and healing; holy and sanctifying, to the glory of her Son and for our salvation and that of the whole world. We ask her to make us love the Church as Christ her son and our Lord has loved her, and to have the courage to recognize ourselves as sinners and in need of his mercy and not to be afraid to leave our hand between her maternal hands.
Best wishes for a holy Christmas to all of you, your families and your employees. And, please, do not forget to pray for me! Thank you from my heart!
1 Paul VI says that the Church, being the mystical Body of Christ, “also requires a multitude of members, who are so interconnected to help each other. And as in our mortal body, when one member suffers, the others suffer its pain and come to his aid, so in the Church the individual members do not live every man for himself, but they also hold out help to others, offering one another collaboration, both for mutual comfort and for the continued development of the whole body … a body constituted not by any jumble of limbs, but it must be supplied with organs, ie the members who do not have all the same task, but are properly coordinated; so the Church, especially for this can be called a body because it results from a correct arrangement and consistent union of members who differ from one another”(Enc. Mystical Body , Part One: AAS 35 [1943], 200).
2 See Rm 12,5: “Even so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.”
3 Dogmatic Constitution. Lumen Gentium , 7.
4 Remember that “comparison of the Church with the body illuminates the intimate bond between the Church and Christ. It is not only gathered around Him; it is unified in Him, in His body. Three aspects of the Church as the Body of Christ are underlined in particular: the unity of all the members to each other by virtue of their union with Christ; Christ the Head of the Body; the Church, the Bride of Christ.” See Catechism of the Catholic Church , # 789 and 795.
5 See. Evangelii gaudium , 130-131.
6 Jesus had repeatedly made known the union that the faithful must have with him: “As the branch can not bear fruit of itself unless it remains united to the vine, so neither can you unless you remain united in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches” (Jn 15: 4-5).
7 See. Pastor Bonus Art. 1 and Code of Canon Law (CIC) can. 360.
8 See. Evangelii gaudium , 197-201.
9 Benedict XVI General Audience, June 1, 2005.
10 Francis, Homily: Mass in Turkey, November 30, 2014.
11 See. Evangelii gaudium , 95-96.
12 Ibid, 84-86.
13 Ibid, 2.
14 Grant me, O Lord, good digestion,
and also something to digest.
Grant me a healthy body, and
the necessary good humour to maintain it.
Grant me a simple soul that knows to
treasure all that is good and that
doesn’t frighten easily at the sight of evil,
but rather finds the means to put things
back in their place.
Give me a soul that knows not boredom,
grumblings, sighs and laments,
nor excess of stress, because of that
obstructing thing we call “I.”
Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humour.
Allow me the grace to be able to take a joke
to discover in life a bit of joy,
and to be able to share it with others.
15 Evangelii gaudium , 88.
16 Blessed Paul VI, referring to the situation of the Church. Said he had the feeling that “from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered into the temple of God , “HOMILY OF PAUL VI, Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Thursday, June 29, 1972 . See. Evangelii gaudium , 98-101.
17 See. Evangelii gaudium : No to spiritual worldliness , No. 93-97.
18 “The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. He gives life , gives rise to the different charisms that enrich the People of God and, above all, creates unity among believers: from many is made one body, the Body of Christ … 1 unity the Holy Spirit makes the unity of the Church: unity in faith, unity in charity, unity in inner cohesion” (Francis, Homily at Mass in Turkey, November 30, 2014).
19 Augustine: Sermon CXXXVII, 1; Migne , PL, XXXVIII, 754.
20 See. Evangelii gaudium , Pastoral conversion, n. 25-33.

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  1. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Many thanks, Pádraig, for taking the trouble (both here and in the Irish Times) to give real context to what our Irish Times tabloid correspondents are content to see as mere diatribe or putting manners on those who didn’t vote for him. A Pope who can casually use twin expressions like “The shroud has no pockets” and “The graveyard is full of indispensables” is living in the real world and would certainly have got my late mother’s vote. He’d also have got the vote of one of my most memorable teachers, Fr William Hederman CM, a man for whom the Mystical Body was the only possible context for life, the universe and everything – including, I’d guess, Pope Pius XII’s Holy Office. Fr Hederman (brother of Miriam and Anthony) died nearly 56 years ago, at less than half of Pope Francis’s age. It’s men like these that should be canonised saints!

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