WCR Logo


January 12, 2015

Pope Francis' Dec. 22 address to the Roman curia drew considerable media attention for its alleged implied criticisms of Vatican bureaucrats. The pope listed 15 "curial diseases" which weaken people's service to the Lord, sins such as thinking one is indispensable, excessive busy-ness, the "terrorism of gossip" and "the disease of a lugubrious face."

Reports on the pope's address in media were headlined in ways such as the following: "Merry Christmas, you greedy gossipers" and "Francis gives Roman curia officials coal for Christmas."

Or course, telling the curia to shape up may well have been the pope's intention. Yet, it should not be forgotten that Pope Francis is a spiritual director whose forté is helping others to live holy lives. It would only be fitting if he gave the benefit of his expertise to his closest associates.

Nor should it be forgotten that we are more inclined to chortle over the sins of others than to examine our own consciences. To turn the pope's address to the Roman curia into a matter of Church politics is a convenient way of refusing to look at the darkness within oneself.

In reading Pope Francis' speech, I was struck by how many of the spiritual ills he listed apply to me. The laundry lists of potential sins found in typical manuals of prayer have never been so convicting as the 15 "diseases" the pope laid out for the benefit of his collaborators.

That speaks of the deep practical wisdom of the pope more than to any crankiness he may have been feeling towards the curia. He knows the human heart, its dark places, its self-centredness and its evasiveness. Many of us could benefit from a self-examination based on the pope's address. (The pope's talk is available on the WCR website at wcr.ab.ca/pdf/p-address122214.pdf.)

Pope Francis' goal is not to drive us into a guilt-ridden existence. It is rather to free us from those sins which block the experience of joy. In a footnote, the pope cites a prayer of St. Thomas More which he prays every day and which is worth repeating in full:

"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, grumbling, sighs and laments, nor excess of stress, because of that obstructing thing called 'I'. Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humour. Allow me the grace to be able to take a joke and to discover in life a bit of joy, and to be able to share it with others."

Perhaps the finest New Year's resolution one could make would be to pray that prayer often and to live it always.