There’s an old saying: Once you’re ordained a bishop, you’ll never again hear the truth or eat a bad meal. And Pope Francis is turning this sense of the hierarchy upside down.
Part of being human and social and fallible and sensitive is a strong aversion to taking responsibility for our own inadequacies and mistakes. Things aren’t as they should be, I’m not as I should be. I like to think of myself as part of the solution, but actually I’m part of the problem too. This is hard to admit.
So I don’t. Instead, I point fingers.
The closer someone is to Jesus, the more the Pope takes him/her to task. The farther away, the more he beckons them to be closer. You can argue with this as a strategy, but in any case, it’s the Gospel. Jesus didn’t say, “Get thee behind me, Satan” to Pontius Pilate. He said this to Peter. He welcomed sinners and ate with them, while constantly upbraiding his own. “He scourges every son He receives.” “He prunes the fruitful branches.”
Note that in the interview, some of the Pope’s strongest criticisms are of his own leadership as a Jesuit superior.
For all we might have learned by actual persecutions of the Church, still, flattery is everywhere. I remember noticing this at my first real Church job. People deferred to me, just because of my position. It seemed weird. Still does. When people whom I know well and serve personally say thanks in some way, ok, that makes sense. But when those employed by a parish (or diocese or universal Church) act like a faultless elite, there’s a problem. “You know that among the Gentiles…the great ones make their authority felt. It cannot be like that with you.”
The only intellectually consistent way to get through a day without faulting myself is by faulting others. Things aren’t right, obviously. Someone is wrong. O yes, “them.”
What if, without abandoning our labors for the good, the true, and the beautiful, we all did a better job of the personal examen, which if I understand correctly is the most important of the Jesuit daily spiritual practices, so much so that if because of time pressure no other prayer is possible, the examination of conscience must never be omitted. What if each minister in the Church sat before God every day and said, “Lord, show me my mistakes. My mistakes, and not anothers. Show me how to change my ways for your glory and the good of the people.” Somehow, I think we would all cheer up. We’d start thinking more creatively, considering real solutions and best practices.
I was sitting on the church steps tonight after adoration, keeping an older friend company while her ride was on its way. A man came by, said a very cheery “Good evening,” and went to look at the sign to see when Mass times are on Sunday. No doubt he’d just watched the news. I couldn’t help thinking that he probably thought his mistaken views were now compatible with Catholic doctrine, now that the news said that the Pope said so. That’s a sort of frustrating pastoral thought, and yes, there will probably be a spike this year in the number of doctrinal/ pastoral corrections that will be going in the RCIA.
Take it as a form of flattery. You don’t strongly criticize a kid practicing scales, all thumbs. But a reviewer may take a concert pianist to task. The new Christian, the returning Christian, though often he puts us elder sons to shame from the get-go, will have a time of trial. But first, let him be drawn closer. And let the grownups take one for the team.