Sunday, December 29, 2013

No to selfishness and spiritual sloth, sterile pessimism, spiritual worldliness and warring among ourselves

The title summarizes some of the temptations Pope Francis sees affecting all believers engaged in the essential mission of the Christian Church, from bishops to “those who provide the most humble and hidden services.” For this item of his agenda, the pope takes off his miter, grows a beard and puts all of us with faith on the psychotherapist’s couch.

This includes you and me. Dr. Bergoglio diagnoses us in the following way:
At times our media culture and some intellectual circles convey a marked scepticism with regard to the Church’s message, along with a certain cynicism. As a consequence, many pastoral workers, although they pray, develop a sort of inferiority complex which leads them to relativize or conceal their Christian identity and convictions. This produces a vicious circle. They end up being unhappy with who they are and what they do; they do not identify with their mission of evangelization and this weakens their commitment. They end up stifling the joy of mission with a kind of obsession about being like everyone else and possessing what everyone else possesses. Their work of evangelization thus becomes forced, and they devote little energy and very limited time to it. (EG, 79)
For example, the pope complains, priest and laypeople alike “feel an overbearing need to guard their personal freedom, as though the task of evangelization was a dangerous poison rather than a joyful response to God’s love which summons us to mission and makes us fulfilled and productive.” The result is that they “end up in a state of paralysis and acedia.”

This word acedia is very important to this text. I looked at the Spanish version, which I am guessing is the one the pope penned, and instead of “No to selfishness and spiritual sloth” this section is called No a la acedia ego√≠sta (No to selfish acedia).

Dictionary.com defines acedia as: 1. sloth and 2. laziness or indifference in religious matters. In a peculiarly un-dictionary way, the site reminds us also that it is one of the seven deadly sins: pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth. The list was first drawn up in Greek by a 4th century monk and in the 6th century put in its present order by Pope Gregory the Great, he of the chants and the mission to Christianize the Anglo-Saxons.

Importantly, the use of sloth instead of acedia in English is relatively recent. Sloth lacks the element of dejection of the original Greek term akedia. It is a sad laziness, drenched in melancholy.

Francis begs believers, instead, to experience and happily share the joy of the gospel.

“The evils of our world—and those of the Church—must not be excuses for diminishing our commitment and our fervour,” he bids the reader in paragraph 84. “With the eyes of faith, we can see the light which the Holy Spirit always radiates in the midst of darkness, never forgetting that ‘where sin increased, grace has abounded all the more’ (Rom 5:20).”

Again, I go to the Spanish version to note that “abounded” is given as sobreabund√≥ (literally over-abounded), meaning that God has over-forgiven, or forgiven all and then some, as humanity has had an abundance of misbehavior. The English doesn’t seem to convey the sense of lavish divine forgiveness.

Next he takes on the modern “Pharisees,” meaning those who display “appearance of piety and even love for the Church” but really seek “human glory and personal well-being.” ’Nuff said.

In the same short and sweet way I will dispose of the obvious about warring among ourselves. Francis writes: “How many wars take place within the people of God and in our different communities! In our neighbourhoods and in the workplace, how many wars are caused by envy and jealousy, even among  Christians!”

Note that in all this list of temptations there is nothing about sex. Instead, there is a diagnosis that helps explain the boils and cankers of that turned the dulcet face of Christianity into that of hoary Roman whore (biblical rhetorical excess intended).

Still, Francis wants to put a welcoming smile on that face, one that may sweeten it once again. He wants Christianity to smile, as he does.

Next: a little surprise ...

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