February 23, 2015

In December, Pope Francis made headlines around the world when he used his Christmas speech to members of the Roman Curia to describe 15 spiritual diseases which he hoped would spur an examination of conscience in order to prepare their hearts for the holy feast of Christmas.

However, as the pope said, the Curia is "a small-scale model of the Church." If spiritual diseases are present in the Curia, they are most likely present throughout the people of God.

Pope Francis said the diseases he listed "are diseases and temptations which weaken our service to the Lord. I think a 'listing' of these diseases . . . will help us to prepare for the sacrament of Reconciliation."

In that spirit, over the next three issues, we will share Pope Francis' description of the 15 spiritual diseases to aid our readers in their own Lenten examinations of conscience.

Here is the first installment which lists five "diseases":

1. The disease of thinking we are "immortal," "immune" or downright "indispensable," neglecting the need for regular check-ups. A Curia which is not self-critical, which does not keep up with things, which does not seek to be more fit, is a sick body.

A simple visit to the cemetery might help us see the names of many people who thought they were immortal, immune and indispensable! It is the disease of the rich fool in the Gospel, who thought he would live forever (cf. Luke 12.13-21), but also of those who turn into lords and masters, and think of themselves as above others and not at their service.

It is often an effect of the pathology of power, from a superiority complex, from a narcissism which passionately gazes at its own image and does not see the image of God on the face of others, especially the weakest and those most in need. The antidote to this plague is the grace of realizing that we are sinners and able to say heartily: "We are unworthy servants. We have only done what was our duty" (Luke 17.10).

2. Another disease is the "Martha complex," excessive busy-ness. It is found in those who immerse themselves in work and inevitably neglect "the better part": sitting at the feet of Jesus (cf. Luke 10.38-42). Jesus called his disciples to "rest a while" (cf. Mark 6.31) for a reason, because neglecting needed rest leads to stress and agitation.

A time of rest, for those who have completed their work, is necessary, obligatory and should be taken seriously: by spending time with one's family and respecting holidays as moments of spiritual and physical recharging. We need to learn from Ecclesiastes that "for everything there is a season" (3.1-15).

3. Then too there is the disease of mental and spiritual "petrification." It is found in those who have a heart of stone, the "stiff-necked" (Acts 7.51-60), in those who in the course of time lose their interior serenity, alertness and daring, and hide under a pile of papers, turning into paper pushers and not men of God (cf. Hebrews 3.12). It is dangerous to lose the human sensitivity that enables us to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice!

This is the disease of those who lose "the sentiments of Jesus" (cf. Philippians 2.5-11), because as time goes on their hearts grow hard and become incapable of loving unconditionally the Father and our neighbour (cf. Matthew 22.34-35). Being a Christian means "having the same sentiments that were in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2.5), sentiments of humility and unselfishness, of detachment and generosity.

4. The disease of excessive planning and of functionalism. When the apostle plans everything down to the last detail and believes that with perfect planning things will fall into place, he becomes an accountant or an office manager.

Things need to be prepared well, but without ever falling into the temptation of trying to contain and direct the freedom of the Holy Spirit, which is always greater and more flexible than any human planning (cf. John 3.8).

We contract this disease because "it is always more easy and comfortable to settle in our own sedentary and unchanging ways. In truth, the Church shows her fidelity to the Holy Spirit to the extent that she does not try to control or tame him . . . to tame the Holy Spirit! . . . He is freshness, imagination and newness."

5. The disease of poor coordination. Once its members lose communion among themselves, the body loses its harmonious functioning and its equilibrium; it then becomes an orchestra which produces noise: its members do not work together and lose the spirit of fellowship and teamwork.

When the foot says to the arm: "I don't need you," or the hand says to the head, "I'm in charge," they create discomfort and scandal.