Pope Francis on “Punctilious Concern for Liturgy” and Prayer

Pope Francis just released the apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate “On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World.” Pray Tell readers will be interested in articles 57-59 on the New Pelagians, excerpted below.

The exhortation identifies two subtle enemies of holiness, Gnosticism and Pelagianism (cf. Chapter Two). After a strong statement that we are not saved by our own efforts, but only by the grace of God, Francis writes what follows.

New pelagians

  1. Still, some Christians insist on taking another path, that of justification by their own efforts, the worship of the human will and their own abilities. The result is a self-centered and elitist complacency, bereft of true love. This finds expression in a variety of apparently unconnected ways of thinking and acting: an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages, a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige, a vanity about the ability to manage practical matters, and an excessive concern with programs of self-help and personal fulfillment. Some Christians spend their time and energy on these things, rather than letting themselves be led by the Spirit in the way of love, rather than being passionate about communicating the beauty and the joy of the Gospel and seeking out the lost among the immense crowds that thirst for Christ.[fn 63: Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (24 November 2013), 95: AAS 105 (2013), 1060.]
  2. Not infrequently, contrary to the promptings of the Spirit, the life of the Church can become a museum piece or the possession of a select few. This can occur when some groups of Christians give excessive importance to certain rules, customs or ways of acting. The Gospel then tends to be reduced and constricted, deprived of its simplicity, allure and savor. This may well be a subtle form of pelagianism, for it appears to subject the life of grace to certain human structures. It can affect groups, movements and communities, and it explains why so often they begin with an intense life in the Spirit, only to end up fossilized… or corrupt.
  3. Once we believe that everything depends on human effort as channeled by ecclesial rules and structures, we unconsciously complicate the Gospel and become enslaved to a blueprint that leaves few openings for the working of grace. Saint Thomas Aquinas reminded us that the precepts added to the Gospel by the Church should be imposed with moderation “lest the conduct of the faithful become burdensome”, for then our religion would become a form of servitude. [fn 64: Summa TheologiaeI-II, q. 107, art. 4.]

Pope Francis speaks repeatedly of prayer in relationship to the rest of our Christian lives. Here are some choice quotes:

  1. It is not healthy to love silence while fleeing interaction with others, to want peace and quiet while avoiding activity, to seek prayer while disdaining service. Everything can be accepted and integrated into our life in this world, and become a part of our path to holiness.

  2. … For these great saints [Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Vincent de Paul, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, and many others], mental prayer, the love of God and the reading of the Gospel in no way detracted from their passionate and effective commitment to their neighbors; quite the opposite.

  3. We may think that we give glory to God only by our worship and prayer, or simply by following certain ethical norms. It is true that the primacy belongs to our relationship with God, but we cannot forget that the ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for others. Prayer is most precious, for it nourishes a daily commitment to love. Our worship becomes pleasing to God when we devote ourselves to living generously, and allow God’s gift, granted in prayer, to be shown in our concern for our brothers and sisters.

  4. Similarly, the best way to discern if our prayer is authentic is to judge to what extent our life is being transformed in the light of mercy. …

  5. … I do not believe in holiness without prayer, even though that prayer need not be lengthy or involve intense emotions.

  6. I ask that we never regard prayerful silence as a form of escape and rejection of the world around us. …

  7. The Lord speaks to us in a variety of ways, at work, through others and at every moment. Yet we simply cannot do without the silence of prolonged prayer, which enables us better to perceive God’s language, to interpret the real meaning of the inspirations we believe we have received, to calm our anxieties and to see the whole of our existence afresh in his own light. …

  8. Nonetheless, it is possible that, even in prayer itself, we could refuse to let ourselves be confronted by the freedom of the Spirit, who acts as he wills. We must remember that prayerful discernment must be born of a readiness to listen:

 

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