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(Part 21)


December 24, 2013

Pope Francis addresses the Curia. There are lessons here for our top leaders and governing/pastoral bodies.

First, the pope gives the proper way by which seniors (superiors) in governing/pastoral bodies should work and relate. What we need to do is “to work together in the office, both to listen to and challenge one another, and to bring out the best in all your different personalities and gifts, in a spirit of mutual respect.”

Second, the pope talks of professionalism and service. In this, we are not to be a “bureaucratic customs house, constantly inspecting and questioning, hindering the working of the Holy Spirit and the growth of God’s people.” The purpose of a government’s custom house is precisely to inspect and to question, because there are those importers who would cheat the government of revenues. This ought not to be our basic posture. While we should look into proposals or projects and interpose questions as needed, it is not with a negative but rather a positive attitude. It is obvious that the pope does not mean we should not inspect or question. But this speaks of a particular posture or frame of mind. What is wrong is a case of constantly questioning, to the point of opposing, initiatives that may come from the Holy Spirit. Our proper posture is to be very open to what comes from above, to start with a posture of, "Yes, that is interesting, though very challenging. Let us see how it might work out." Questioning should be for the sake of sincerely understanding rather than just opposing. And questioning should not in effect be judgmental, already imputing negative motives or hidden agenda to whatever is presented. We should desire to enhance what is put forward in order to bring out what is best in it.

This is especially true when a challenging and out-of-the-box proposal is put forth. We do not look at this with our own biases, preferences, comfort zones, and yes, our own agenda. We do not immediately think, “How will that affect me negatively?,” but rather, “Is this indeed what the Spirit is putting forth?.” We do not hinder the work of the Holy Spirit simply because we are being challenged to come out of our comfort zones. In fact, our ways and thoughts are so far from God’s, and to immediately apply our own human preferences or biases is to be more prone to error.

The pope speaks of "when the attitude is no longer one of service." We need to be honest with ourselves. Is our questioning for the sake of serving God's people, or serving our own preferences and priorities? Is our bureaucratic directives for the sake of getting things to move more smoothly and effectively, or for control and power?

Third, the pope talks of holiness. “Holiness means a life immersed in the Spirit, a heart open to God, constant prayer, deep humility and fraternal charity in our relationships with our fellow workers.” Then he also says holiness “means conscientious objection to gossip!” How often indeed do God’s people engage in gossip, in household meetings, in fellowship with brethren, in governance meetings. While we may need to talk about people in certain circumstances in our meetings, what we need to avoid is being judgmental, maligning, unnecessarily critical.

The Spirit is bringing us today to new dimensions that are challenging. I truly believe we are on the verge of explosive grace-filled work, in the spirit of the New Evangelization. Let us open up our hearts with childlike faith, which is what will enable us to really see.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Vatican City, 21 December 2013 (VIS) – During the final days of Advent, the Holy Father traditionally meets with the cardinals, superiors and officials of the Roman Curia to exchange Christmas greetings. Today this took place for the first time during the pontificate of Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome, who warmly thanked all his collaborators and in particular Archbishop Pietro Parolin, who “recently began his service as Secretary of State, and who needs our prayers”.

The Holy Father thanked the Curia for “the work which you do each day: for the care, diligence and creativity which you display; and for your effort – I know it is not always easy – to work together in the office, both to listen to and challenge one another, and to bring out the best in all your different personalities and gifts, in a spirit of mutual respect”. He also expressed his particular gratitude those now concluding their service and approaching retirement.

“As priests and bishops, we know full well that we never really retire, but we do leave the office, and rightly so, not least to devote ourselves a little more to prayer and the care of souls, starting with our own!” he remarked. So a very special and heartfelt 'thank you' goes to those of you who have worked here for so many years with immense dedication, hidden from the eyes of the world. ... I have such high regard for these 'Monsignori' who are cut from the same mould as the curiales of olden times, exemplary persons … We need them today, too! People who work with competence, precision and self-sacrifice in the fulfillment of their daily duties. Here I would like to mention some of them by name, as a way of expressing my esteem and my gratitude, but we know that, in any list, the first names people notice are the ones that are missing! Besides, I would also risk overlooking someone and thus committing an injustice and a lack of charity. But I want to say to these brothers of ours that they offer a very important witness in the Church’s journey through history”.

Based on this model and this witness, Pope Francis went on to speak about the two crucial qualities that should characterise the curial official, and, in particular, curial superiors: professionalism and service.

Professionalism, a “basic requisite for working in the Curia”, means “competence, study, keeping abreast of things. … Naturally, professionalism is something which develops, and is in part acquired; but I think that, precisely for it to develop and to be acquired, there has to be a good foundation from the outset”.

The second hallmark is “service to the Pope and to the bishops, to the universal Church and to the particular Churches. In the Roman Curia, one learns – in a real way, 'one breathes in' – this twofold aspect of the Church, this interplay of the universal and the particular. I think that this is one of the finest experiences of those who live and work in Rome: 'to sense' the Church in this way. When professionalism is lacking, there is a slow drift downwards towards mediocrity. Dossiers become full of trite and lifeless information, and incapable of opening up lofty perspectives. Then too, when the attitude is no longer one of service to the particular Churches and their bishops, the structure of the Curia turns into a ponderous, bureaucratic customs house, constantly inspecting and questioning, hindering the working of the Holy Spirit and the growth of God’s people”.

To these two qualities, the Pope added a third: “holiness of life”, which is “in the hierarchy of values, … the most important” as it provides the basis for “the quality of our work, our service. And I would like to say that here, in the Curia, there have been and there are holy men. I have said this publicly on more than one occasion, to give thanks to God. Holiness means a life immersed in the Spirit, a heart open to God, constant prayer, deep humility and fraternal charity in our relationships with our fellow workers. It also means apostleship, discreet and faithful pastoral service, zealously carried out in direct contact with God’s people. For priests, this is indispensable”.

“Holiness , in the Curia, also means conscientious objection to gossip! We rightfully insist on the importance of conscientious objection, but perhaps we too need to exercise it as a means of defending ourselves from an unwritten law of our surroundings, which unfortunately is that of gossip. So let us all be conscientious objectors; and mind you, I am not simply preaching! Gossip is harmful to people, our work and our surroundings.

“Dear brothers and sisters”, concluded Pope Francis, “let us feel close to one another on this final stretch of the road to Bethlehem. We would do well to meditate on Saint Joseph, who was so silent yet so necessary at the side of Our Lady. Let us think about him and his loving concern for his Spouse and for the Baby Jesus. This can tell us a lot about our own service to the Church! So let us experience this Christmas in spiritual closeness to Saint Joseph. I thank you most heartily for your work and especially for your prayers. Truly I feel 'borne aloft' by your prayers and I ask you to continue to support me in this way. I too remember you before the Lord, and I impart my blessing as I offer my best wishes for a Christmas filled with light and peace for each of you and for all your dear ones”.

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