“The leaders, the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful… until there was no remedy…“ “God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved.“ (1st Reading, Gospel – 4th Sunday of Lent, 2 Chr 36:14-23; Jo 3:14-21)
The prophets saw the destruction of the temple and the exile as a consequence of Israel’s betrayal of her true vocation. Jesus, too, wept over the fate of Jerusalem, because it did not recognize „what brings her peace.“ Yet, he saw that his own mission was not to condemn, but to save.”
Could it be that the empty churches and convents and the exodus of so many people from the church is a consequence of a long historical development of a church, which was unfaithful to her mission, when she blessed arms of war, made deals with dictators and tolerated abuse?
Following the example of Jesus who harshly criticized the religious authorities of his time, Pope Francis used strong prophetic language to denounce the “diseases” of the Church.
His diagnosis could serve us as an examination of conscience during the time of Lent:
- The disease of thinking we are “immortal”, “immune” or downright “indispensable”; excessive busy-ness: immersing ourselves in work, neglecting: sitting at the feet of Jesus; mental and spiritual “petrification” losing our interior serenity and alertness.
- The disease of excessive planning and of functionalism; poor coordination: losing communion among ourselves, the spirit of fellowship and teamwork.
- The disease of “spiritual Alzheimer’s disease”: losing the memory of our personal “salvation history”, our past history with the Lord and our “first love”; the disease of rivalry and vainglory: when appearances and titles of honour become the primary object in life; existential schizophrenia: living a double life; gossiping, grumbling and back-biting; indifference to others: thinking only of himself and losing the sincerity and warmth of human relationships.
- The disease of hoarding: filling an existential void in his heart by accumulating material goods; the disease of closed circles, belonging to a clique becomes more powerful than belonging to the Body and to Christ himself.
(From the address of Pope Francis to the Roma Curia, Christmas 2014)
Pope Francis does not only diagnose the diseases of the Church. He encourages us to see and live Church differently and contribute to her renewal.
- I see clearly that the thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. (Interview with Antonio Spadaro SJ 21.09.2013)
- Nobody can be excluded from the mercy of God. The Church is the house, which receives everybody and rejects nobody. (Twitter 17. March 2016)
- A Church with wounds can understand the wounds of today’s world and make them her own, suffering with them, accompanying them and seeking to heal them. A wounded Church does not make herself the centre of things, does not believe that she is perfect, but puts at the centre the one who can heal those wounds, whose name is Jesus Christ. (Pope Francis, Santiago 16.01.2018)
- Can we find traces of these „sicknesses of the Church“ in our own lives and in our communities?
- What motivates us when we criticize the church? A cynical and pessimistic attitude or genuine love and compassion for the church?