The doctor was in the Papal Basilica of Saint John Lateran on the evening of Monday, May 14, 2018. But he wasn’t treating the flu or broken bones; he was helping to heal the spirit.
The doctor, in this case, was Pope Francis. He recommended ways the diocese can address the “spiritual sickness” the parishes in Rome have reflected on over the past year, along with the city’s Catholic agencies and schools.
“The work on the spiritual sicknesses has had two fruits,” the Pope explained:
“First, growth in the truth of our condition of needy ones, sick ones, emerged in all the parishes and the realities that were called to confront themselves on the spiritual sicknesses.
“Second, the experience that from this adherence to our truth not only discouragement and frustration came but, above all, the awareness that the Lord has not ceased to use mercy on us.”
The Holy Father suggested that his recommended treatment will take time: “perhaps a year… The analysis of the sicknesses has made evident a general and healthy tiredness of the parishes, be it of going around in circles, be it of having lost the way to follow. Both are bad attitudes that hurt. To go around in circles is somewhat like being in a labyrinth, and to lose the way is to take mistaken paths.”
The medicine he prescribed includes a “revolution of tenderness” in which the focus is on the people rather than the institution’s limitations. This means building relationships and stressing his other prescription: “pastoral care”.
“However, it’s necessary to look at these people and not at ourselves; to let ourselves be questioned and be uncomfortable,” Francis concluded. “This will certainly produce something new, unheard of and willed by the Lord. “
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The Holy Father’s Address
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The work on the spiritual sicknesses has had two fruits. First, growth in the truth of our condition of needy ones, sick ones, emerged in all the parishes and the realities that were called to confront themselves on the spiritual sicknesses indicated by Monsignor De Donatis. Second, the experience that from this adherence to our truth not only discouragement and frustration came but, above all, the awareness that the Lord has not ceased to use mercy on us: He illuminated us on this path, He sustained us, He initiated a process of some unusual ways of communion among us, and all this so that we can take up again our walking behind Him. We have become more aware of being, in certain aspects and in certain dynamics that emerged from our verifications, a “non-people.” This word “non-people” is a biblical word, used a lot by prophets. A non-people called to redo once again the covenant with the Lord. The key of reading, as these already bring to us, if only intuitively, is what the people of the old covenant lived, who at first let themselves be guided by God to become His people. We can also let ourselves be illumined again by the paradigm of Exodus, which recounts in fact how the Lord chose for Himself and educated a people with whom to unite Himself, to make them the instrument of His presence in the world.
In as much as a paradigm for us, Israel’s experience needs a conjugation to become language, that is, to be comprehensible and to transmit and to make us live something also today. The Word of God, the work of the Lord, seeks someone with whom to conjugate Himself, to unite Himself: our life. With this people that we are today, He will act with the same power with which He acted liberating His people and giving them a new land.
The Exodus story talks of slavery, of an exit, of a passage, of a covenant, of a temptation/murmur and of an entrance. However, it’s a path of healing.
Beginning this new stage of an ecclesial path, which certainly doesn’t begin now in Rome, but rather has lasted for two thousand years, it was important to ask ourselves – as we have done in these months – what are the slaveries – the sicknesses, the slaveries that take away our freedom – which have ended by making us sterile, just as Pharaoh wanted Israel without children who would in turn generate. This “without children” makes me think of the capacity of fecundity of the ecclesial community. It’s a question that I leave with you. We must also, perhaps, identify who is the Pharaoh today: that power that pretends it’s divine and absolute, and that wants to impede the people from adoring the Lord, from belonging to Him, rendering them instead of slaves of other powers and other preoccupations.
It will be necessary to dedicate time (perhaps a year?) because, having recognized our weaknesses humbly and having shared them with others, we can feel and experience this fact: there is a gift of mercy and of the fullness of life for us and for all those that live in Rome. This gift is the goodwill of the Father for us: we, as individuals and as a people. It is His taking the initiative, His preceding us in attesting to us that He has loved us and loves us in Christ, that He has our life at heart and we are not creatures abandoned to their fate and to their slaveries. That everything is for our conversion and for our good: moreover, as Saint Paul says, “we know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
The analysis of the sicknesses has made evident a general and healthy tiredness of the parishes, be it of going around in circles, be it of having lost the way to follow. Both are bad attitudes that hurt. To go around in circles is somewhat like being in a labyrinth; and to lose the way is to take mistaken paths.
Perhaps we are shut-in in ourselves and in our parish world because in reality we have neglected or have not dealt seriously with the life of the people that were entrusted to us (those of our territory, of our daily life environments) whereas the Lord always manifests Himself incarnating Himself here and now, namely, also and precisely in this very difficult time to interpret, in this very complex context and seemingly far from Him. He didn’t make a mistake putting us here, in this time, and with these challenges facing us.
Perhaps because of this we find ourselves in a condition of slavery, namely, of suffocating limitation, of dependence on things that are not the Lord; thinking, perhaps, that this is sufficient or is in fact what He was asking us to do: to be close to the pot of meat and knead bricks, which then serve to build the Pharaoh’s deposits, functional to the same power that exerts slavery.
We were content with what we had — ourselves and our “pots.” We ourselves: and here is the great subject of the “hypertrophy of the individual,” so present in the verifications: of the ‘I’ that doesn’t succeed in becoming a person, of living of relations and that thinks that the relationship with others isn’t necessary for him; and our “pots,” namely, our groups, our little memberships, which in the end reveal themselves as self-referential, not open to a whole life. We have fallen back on preoccupations of ordinary administration and survival. How often one hears this: “The priests are busy, they must do the accounts, they must do this, that and the other . . .” And people perceive this. ”He is a good priest, but why do we let ourselves get into this crazy whirlwind?
It’s good that this situation made us tired; this tiredness is a grace of God: it makes us want to go out.
And to go out, we need God’s call and the presence/company of our neighbor. It is necessary to listen without fear to our thirst for God and the cry that issues from our people of Rome, asking ourselves: in what sense does this cry express a need of salvation, namely, of God? How does God see and listen to that cry? How many situations, among those that emerged from your verifications, express in reality precisely that cry! The invocation that God show Himself, draws us out of the impression (or of the bitter experience, which makes one murmur) that our life is useless and expropriated from the frenzy of the things to do and from a time that constantly slips from our hands; expropriated from solely utilitarian/commercial relationships and little free from fear of the future; expropriated also from a faith conceived only as something to do and not as a liberation that makes us new at every step, blessed and happy with the life we have.
As you must have understood, I’m inviting you to undertake another stage in the path of the Church of Rome: in a certain sense a new exodus, a new departure, which renews our identity as people of God, without regretting what we must leave behind.
As I was saying, it will be necessary to listen to the cry of the people, as Moses was exhorted to do: thus being able to interpret, in the light of the Word of God, the social and cultural phenomena in which you are immersed. That is, by learning to discern where He is already present, in very ordinary ways of holiness and of communion with Him: encountering and accompanying yourselves always more with people that are already living the Gospel and friendship with the Lord. People that perhaps don’t engage in catechism, yet have been able to give a sense of faith and of hope to life’s elementary experiences; that the Lord has already given meaning to their existence, and precisely within those problems, those environments and those situations of which our ordinary pastoral care normally remains distant. I’m thinking now of Puah and Shiphrah, the two midwives who objected to the murderous order of the Pharaoh and who thus impeded the extermination (Cf. Exodus 8:21). In Rome also, there certainly are women and men that interpret their everyday work as work destined to give life to someone and not take it, and they do so without a particular order from anyone but because they “fear God” and serve Him. The life of the people of Israel owes much to those two women, as our Church owes much to persons that remain anonymous but that have prepared God’s future. And the thread of history, the thread of holiness is carried forward by people we don’t know: the anonymous, those that are hidden and carry everything forward.
To do this, it’s necessary that our communities become capable of generating a people – this is important, don’t forget it: a Church with people, not a Church without people –, that is, capable of offering and generating relationships in which our people are able to feel themselves known, recognized, heard, loved, in sum: not an anonymous part of the whole. A people in which a quality of relationships is experienced that is already the beginning of a Promised Land, of a work that the Lord is doing for us and with us. Phenomena such as individualism, isolation, fear of existence, crushing and social danger . . . , typical of all the metropolises and present also in Rome, already have in these communities of ours an effective instrument of change. We must not invent something else for ourselves; we are already this instrument, which can be effective, on the condition that we become subjects of that which I’ve called elsewhere the revolution of tenderness.
And if the leadership of a Christian community is the specific task of the ordained minister, namely, of the parish priest, the pastoral care is incardinated in Baptism, it flowers from fraternity and is not solely the task of the parish priest or of the priests, but of all the baptized. This care spread and multiplied of the relationships will also be able to innervate in Rome a revolution of tenderness, which will be enriched by the sensibilities, the looks, the stories of many.
Having this as a first pastoral task, we will be able to be the instrument through which the action of the Holy Spirit among us is experienced (Cf. Romans 5:5), whether we see lives changed (Cf. Acts 4:32-35). As God intervened for Israel through Moses’ humanity, so humanity healed and reconciled by Christians can be the instrument (almost the Sacrament) of this action of the Lord, who wants to liberate His people of all that makes it a non-people, with its burden of injustice and sin that generates death.
However, it’s necessary to look at these people and not at ourselves; to let ourselves be questioned and be uncomfortable. This will certainly produce something new, unheard of and will by the Lord.
There is a previous passage of reconciliation and of awareness that the Church of Rome must fulfil to be faithful to this, her call: and that is to be reconciled and to take up again a truly pastoral look – attentive, solicitous, benevolent, involved – be it towards herself and her history, be it toward the people to which she is sent.
I would like to invite you to dedicate time to this: to make this coming year a sort of preparation of the backpack (or of bags) to begin an itinerary of some years that makes us reach the new land, which the pillar of cloud or of fire will indicate to us; that is to say, new conditions of life and of pastoral action, responding more to the mission and the needs of Romans of this, our time; more creative and more liberating also for the presbyters and for those that collaborate more directly with the mission and to the building of the Christian community. To no longer fear what we are and the gift we have, but to make it fructify. The path can be long: the people of Israel spent 40 years. Not to get discouraged but to go forward!
The Lord calls us to “go and bear fruit” (Cf. John 15:16). The fruit in a plant is that part produced and offered for the life of other living beings. Don’t be afraid to bear fruit, to have yourselves “eaten” by the realities you encounter, even if this “letting oneself be eaten” seems much like a disappearing, a dying. Some traditional initiatives might perhaps have to be reformed or, in fact, cease: we will be able to do it only by knowing where we are going, because it is with Him.
So I invite you to read also some of the difficulties and sicknesses that you have found in your communities: as realities that perhaps are no longer good to eat, can no longer be offered for some one’s hunger, which in fact doesn’t mean that we can no longer produce anything, but that we must graft new shoots: grafted, which will give new fruits. Courage and forward. The time is ours. Forward.
[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
© Libreria Editrice Vatican