Holy Spirit, heal us from the disease of a lugubrious face

March 23, 2015
Here is our final installment of the WCR Lenten series taken from Pope Francis' Dec. 22, 2014 Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia. Our hope is that the pope's reflections on "spiritual diseases" will assist you in your examination of conscience prior to partaking of the sacrament of Reconciliation. In his closing remarks to the Curia, the pope says that it is the Holy Spirit who enables us to identify and heal our spiritual infirmities. "Healing also comes about through an awareness of our sickness and of a personal and communal decision to be cured by patiently and perseveringly accepting the remedy."

The disease of indifference to others. This is where each individual thinks only of himself and loses sincerity and warmth of human relationships. When the most knowledgeable person does not put that knowledge at the service of his less knowledgeable colleagues. When we learn something and then keep it to ourselves rather than sharing it in a helpful way with others. When out of jealousy or deceit we take joy in seeing others fall instead of helping them up and encouraging them.

12. The disease of a lugubrious face. Those glum and dour persons who think that to be serious we have to put on a face of melancholy and severity, and treat others – especially those we consider our inferiors – with rigour, brusqueness and arrogance. In fact, a show of severity and sterile pessimism are frequently symptoms of fear and insecurity.

An apostle must make an effort to be courteous, serene, enthusiastic and joyful, a person who transmits joy everywhere he goes. A heart filled with God is a happy heart which radiates an infectious joy: it is immediately evident.

So let us not lose that joyful, humorous and even self-deprecating spirit which makes people amiable even in difficult situations. How beneficial is a good dose of humour! We would do well to recite often the prayer of St. Thomas More. I say it every day, and it helps.

13. The disease of hoarding. When an apostle tries to fill an existential void in his heart by accumulating material goods, not out of need but only in order to feel secure. The fact is that we are not able to bring material goods with us, since "the winding sheet does not have pockets," and all our earthly treasures – even if they are gifts – will never be able to fill that void; instead, they will only make it deeper and more demanding.

To these persons the Lord repeats: "You say, I am rich, I have prospered and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. So be zealous and repent" (Revelation 3.17, 19).

Accumulating goods only burdens and inexorably slows down the journey. Here I think of an anecdote: the Spanish Jesuits used to describe the Society of Jesus as the "light brigade of the Church."

I remember when a young Jesuit was moving, and while he was loading a truck full of his many possessions, suitcases, books, objects and gifts, an old Jesuit standing by was heard to say with a smile: And this is "the light brigade of the Church"? Our moving can be a sign of this disease.

14. The disease of closed circles, where belonging to a clique becomes more powerful than belonging to the Body and, in some circumstances, to Christ himself. This disease too always begins with good intentions, but with the passing of time it enslaves its members and becomes a cancer which threatens the harmony of the Body and causes immense evil – scandals – especially to our weaker brothers and sisters.

Self-destruction, "friendly fire" from our fellow soldiers, is the most insidious danger. It is the evil which strikes from within; and, as Christ says: "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste" (Luke 11.17).

15. Lastly: the disease of worldly profit, of forms of self-exhibition. When an apostle turns his service into power, and his power into a commodity in order to gain worldly profit or even greater power.

This is the disease of persons who insatiably try to accumulate power and to this end are ready to slander, defame and discredit others, even in newspapers and magazines. Naturally, so as to put themselves on display and to show that they are more capable than others.

This disease does great harm to the Body because it leads persons to justify the use of any means whatsoever to attain their goal, often in the name of justice and transparency.

Here I remember a priest who used to call journalists to tell – and invent – private and confidential matters involving his confrères and parishioners. The only thing he was concerned about was being able to see himself on the front page, since this made him feel "powerful and glamorous," while causing great harm to others and to the Church. Poor sad soul!