Pope Francis gave a noteworthy address to the 5th national conference of the Italian church this past Tuesday. There is no official translation yet, but this translation was done by Pádraig McCarthy of Dublin, Ireland. Pray Tell thanks him warmly for sending it in.
MEETING WITH REPRESENTATIVES OF THE FIFTH NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF THE ITALIAN CHURCH
ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence Tuesday, November 10, 2015
The new humanism in Christ Jesus
Dear brothers and sisters, in the dome of this beautiful cathedral is represented the Last Judgment. At the center is Jesus, our light. The inscription that reads the apex of the fresco “Ecce Homo.” Looking at this dome we are drawn upwards, as we contemplate the transformation of Christ judged by Pilate in Christ seated on the throne of the judge. An angel brings him a sword, but Jesus does not assume the symbols of judgment, rather he raises his right hand showing the signs of the passion, because he “gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2,6). “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:17).
In light of this Judge of mercy, our knees bend in adoration, and our hands and our feet are strengthened. We can speak of humanism only from starting point of the centrality of Jesus, finding in him the traits of the true face of the human. It is the contemplation of the face of Jesus who died and rose that recomposes our humanity, even of humanity fragmented by the hardships of life, or marked by sin. We must not domesticate the power of the face of Christ. The face is the image of his transcendence. It is the misericordiae vultus (the face of mercy). Let us look to Him. Jesus is our humanism. Let us be concerned always by his question: “Who do you say that I am?” (Mt 16:15).
Looking at his face, what we see? Before everything else, (we see) the face of a God “emptied,” of a God who has assumed the condition of a servant, humbled and obedient even unto death (cf. Phil 2,7). The face of Jesus resembles that of many of our humiliated, enslaved, emptied brothers. God assumed their face. And that face is looking at us. God – who is “the being than whom no greater can be thought,” as St. Anselm said, or Deus semper major (God is always greater) of St. Ignatius of Loyola – becomes always greater as he humbles himself. Unless we lower ourselves we cannot see his face. We will see nothing of his fullness if we do not accept that God has emptied himself. And therefore we will understand nothing of Christian humanism, and our words will be beautiful, cultured, refined, but will not be words of faith. They will be words that echo as empty.
I do not want here to devise a “new humanism” in the abstract, a certain idea of man, but simply to present some aspects of that Christian humanism which is that of the” mind of Christ Jesus” (Phil 2,5). These are not abstract temporary feelings of the soul, but they represent the hot inner strength that enables us to live and to make decisions.
What are these characteristics (of the mind of Christ)? Today I would like to present at least three of them.
The first characteristic is humility. “Each of you, with all humility, consider others better than yourself” (Phil 2,3), says Saint Paul to the Philippians. Further on the Apostle speaks of the fact that Jesus does not consider it a “privilege” to be like God (Philippians 2.6). Here there is a clear message. The obsession to preserve one’s own glory, one’s “dignity,” one’s influence, should not be part of our characteristics. We must pursue the glory of God, and this does not coincide with ours. The glory of God that shines in the humility of the cave of Bethlehem or in the dishonour of the cross of Christ surprises us always.
Another characteristic of Jesus that gives shape to Christian humanism is selflessness. “Each one should not look for their own interest, but also that of others” (Phil 2,4), asks St. Paul again. So, beyond selflessness, we must look for the happiness of those around us. The humanity of the Christian is always outgoing. It is not narcissistic, self-referential. When our heart is rich and is so self-satisfied, then it has no room for God. Let us avoid, please, “shutting ourselves up in structures that give us a false security, in standards that transform us into implacable judges, in habits which bring us a feeling of tranquillity” (Evangelii Gaudium, 49 ).
Our duty is to work to make this world a better place and to fight for this. Our faith is revolutionary, with an impulse that comes from the Holy Spirit. We must follow this impulse to get out of ourselves, to be people according to the Gospel of Jesus. Any life is decided on the ability to give one’s self. It is there that it transcends itself, that it becomes fruitful.
Another characteristic of Jesus Christ is that of blessedness. The Christian is a “blessed”, and has within the joy of the Gospel. In the Beatitudes, the Lord shows us the way. Following this way, we human beings can get to a happiness which is more authentically human and divine. Jesus speaks of the happiness we experience when we are poor in spirit. Through the great saints blessedness involves humiliation and poverty. But even in the most humble of our people there is a lot of this blessedness: that of one who recognizes the wealth of solidarity, of sharing even the little we have; the richness of the daily sacrifice of work, sometimes hard and poorly paid, but done out of love for the loved ones; a blessedness also of one’s own misfortunes, which, however, lived with trust in the providence and mercy of God the Father, feed a humble greatness.
The beatitudes which we read in the Gospel begin with a blessing and ends with a promise of comfort. They introduce us down a pathway of possible greatness, that of the spirit, and when the spirit is willing the rest follows. Of course, if we do not have a heart open to the Holy Spirit, the beatitudes will seem nonsense because they do not lead us to “success.” To be “blessed,” to enjoy the consolation of friendship with Jesus Christ, you need to have an open heart. Blessedness is a laborious wager, made of relinquishing, listening and learning, whose fruits are harvested in time, gifting us with an incomparable peace: “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34.9)!
Humility, selflessness, happiness: these are the three traits that today I want to present for your meditation on Christian humanism that is born of the humanity of the Son of God. And these traits also say something to the Italian Church which today gathers to walk together in an example of collegiality. These features tell us that we should not be obsessed with “power,” even when it shows the face of a power which is useful and functional for the social image of the Church. If the Church does not take the mind of Jesus, it is disoriented, it loses meaning. If it takes on (the mind of Jesus), however, it knows how to be worthy of its mission. The mind of Jesus tells us that a church that thinks of itself and its own interests would be sad. The Beatitudes, finally, are the mirror in which to look at ourselves, which lets us know if we are walking on the right path: it is a mirror that does not lie.
A church that has these three traits – humility, selflessness, blessedness – is a Church that knows how to recognize the Lord’s action in the world, in culture, in people’s daily lives. I have said more than once and I repeat to you today: “I prefer a restless Church, wounded and dirty, to be out on the streets, rather than a church which is sick from being enclosed and from the comfort of clinging to its own safety. I do not want a Church concerned about being the cenere and which ends up trapped in a knot of obsessions and procedures” (Evangelii Gaudium , 49 ).
But we know that there are temptations; the temptations to be faced are many. I put before you at least two of these. Do not panic, this will not be a list of temptations! Like those fifteen I told the Curia!
The first of these is the Pelagian. It prompts the Church not to be humble, selfless and blessed. And it does so with the appearance of something good. Pelagianism brings us to have confidence in the structures, in organizations, in planning which is perfect because abstract. Often it leads us also to take a style of control, of hardness, setting the norm. The rule gives a Pelagian the security of feeling superior, to have a precise orientation. This is its strength, not in the lightness of the breath of the Spirit. Faced with the evils or the problems of the Church, it is useless to look for solutions in conservatism and fundamentalism, in the restoration of outdated conduct and forms that have not the ability to be even culturally significant. Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, concerns, investigation, but it is alive, knows how to disturb, knows how to animate. It does not have a rigid face, it has a body that moves and develops, it has sensitive flesh: Christian doctrine is called Jesus Christ.
The reform then of the Church – and the Church is always in need of reform – is alien to Pelagianism. That does not end in yet another plan to change the structures. It means to be grafted and rooted in Christ, letting itself be led by the Spirit. Then anything is possible with talent and creativity.
The Italian Church will let itself be carried along by the Spirit’s powerful and therefore, at times, disturbing breath. It always assumes the spirit of his great explorers, who, in their ships, have been passionate for sailing navigating the open sea, and not frightened by frontiers and storms. May there be a Church free and open to the challenges of the present, never on the defensive for fear of losing something. Never on the defensive for fear of losing something. And, meeting people along the way, may it adopt the proposal of St. Paul: “I have become weak to the weak, to win the weak; I have become all things to all, to save some person at whatever the cost” (1 Cor 9:22).
A second temptation to defeat is that of Gnosticism. It leads to trust in logical and clear reasoning, which, however, loses the tenderness of the human flesh of a brother. The fascination of Gnosticism is to “a faith locked into subjectivism, with interest only in a particular experience or a series of arguments and knowledge that are held to comfort and enlighten, but where the person ultimately is closed in the immanence of his own reason or of his feelings” (Evangelii Gaudium , 94 ). Gnosticism cannot transcend.
The difference between the Christian transcendence and any form of Gnostic spiritualism is in the mystery of the Incarnation. Not to put into practice, not to bring the Word to reality, means to build on sand, to remain on the level of ideas, and to degenerate into intimacies that bear no fruit, that make sterile its dynamism.
The Italian Church has great saints whose example can help it live the faith with humility, selflessness and joy, from Francis of Assisi to Philip Neri. But we also think of the simplicity of fictional characters like Don Camillo who teams with Peppone. It strikes me as in these stories by Guareschi, the prayer of a good pastor is one with an evident proximity with people. Don Camillo said of himself: “I am a poor country priest who knows his parishioners individually, who loves them, who knows the pains and joys, who knows how to suffer and how to laugh with them.” Closeness to the people and prayer are the key to living a popular Christian humanism, humble, generous, happy. If we lose this contact with the faithful people of God we lose humanity and not going anywhere.
But then what should we do, Father? – you say. What is the Pope asking of us?
It is up to you to decide: people and pastors together. I today simply I invite you to raise your heads and to contemplate once again the “Ecce Homo” that we have above our heads. Let us pause to contemplate the scene. Let us go back return to Jesus represented here as universal Judge. What will happen when “the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, and sits on the throne of his glory” (Matthew 25:31)? What does Jesus say to us?
We can imagine this Jesus who is above our heads to say to each of us and to the Italian Church a few words. He might say: “Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world, because I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to find me” (Mt 25.34 to 36). I am reminded of the priest who welcomed this young priest who gave testimony.
But he could also say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink , I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me” (Mt 25.41 to 43).
The Beatitudes and the words we have just read on the last judgment help us to live the Christian life on the level of holiness. Few words, simple, but practical. Two pillars: the Beatitudes and the words of the final judgment. May the Lord give us the grace to understand this message of his! And let us look again to the features of the face of Jesus and his actions. We see Jesus who eats and drinks with sinners (Mk 2:16; Mt 11:19); we contemplate him while conversing with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4.7 to 26); we espy him while meeting at night Nicodemus (Jn 3.1 to 21); we enjoy with fondness the scene of him whose feet are anointed by a prostitute (cf. Lk 7.36 to 50); we feel his saliva on the tip of our tongue so that it set free (Mk 7,33). We admire the “goodwill of all the people” surrounding his disciples, that is us, and we experience their “joy and simplicity of heart” (Acts 2.46 to 47).
I ask the bishops to be shepherds. Nothing more: shepherds. May this be your joy: “I am a shepherd.” It will be the people, your flock, who will support you. I recently read of a bishop who was told that on the subway at rush hour, and there was so many people that did not know where to put his hand to steady himself. Pushed to the right and left, he leaned on the people so as not to fall. And so he thought that, besides the prayer, what keeps a bishop on his feet, is his people.
May nothing and no one will take away your joy of being supported by your people. As pastors you’re not preachers of complex doctrines, but heralds of Christ, who died and rose for us. Focused on the essential, namely the kerygma. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this message. But may it be the whole people of God to proclaim the Gospel, people and pastors, I mean. I expressed this pastoral concern of mine in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (see Nos. 111 to 134 ).
To the whole Italian Church I commend what I have indicated in that Exhortation: social inclusion of the poor, who have a special place in the people of God, and the ability for encounter and dialogue to promote social friendship in your country, looking the common good.
The option for the poor is “a special form of priority in the exercise of Christian charity, witnessed by the whole tradition of the Church” (John Paul II, Enc. Ioannis Pauli PP , 42). This option “is implicit in the Christological faith in the God who became poor for our sake, to enrich us with his poverty” (Benedict XVI, Address to the Inaugural Session of the Fifth General Conference of Latin American and Caribbean). The poor know well the sentiments of Jesus Christ because they know from experience the suffering Christ. “We are called to discover Christ in them, to lend our voice to them in their causes, but also to be their friends, to hear them, to understand them and to accept the hidden wisdom which God wants to communicate to us through them” (Evangelii Gaudium , 198 ).
May God protect the Italian church from every substitute in power, image, money. Evangelical poverty is creative, welcomes, supports and is full of hope.
We are here in Florence, city of beauty. So much beauty in this city was put to the service of charity! I think of the Hospital of the Innocents, for example. One of the first pierces of Renaissance architecture, it was created for the service of abandoned children and desperate mothers. Often these mothers left, along with infants, medals broken in half, with which they hoped, by presenting the other half, to be able to recognize their children in better times. Here, we have to imagine that our poor have a broken medal. We have the other half. Because the mother Church in Italy has half the medal and recognizes all her abandoned, oppressed and exhausted children,. And this has always been one of your virtues, because you know well that the Lord shed his blood not for some, not for a few or for many, but for everyone.
I urge on you also, in a special way, the capacity for dialogue and encounter. Dialogue is not negotiation. Negotiating is to try to get one’s own “slice” of the communal pie. That’s not what I mean. But it is to seek the common good for all. Discuss together, dare I say get angry together, think about the best solutions for all. Many times the encounter is found involved in conflict. In dialogue conflict occurs: it is logical and predictable that it is this way. And we should not fear it or ignore it but accept it. “Agreeing to bear the conflict, resolve it and transform it into a connecting link of a new process” (Evangelii Gaudium , 227 ).
But we must always remember that there is no true humanism that does not provide love as the bond between human beings, whether of interpersonal nature, or intimate, or social, or political, or intellectual. This is based on the need for dialogue and encounter to build along with others the civil society. We know that the best answer to the conflict of the human being’s famous man a wolf to fellow man of Thomas Hobbes is the “Ecce Homo” of Jesus who does not blame but welcomes, and paying in person, saves.
Italian society is constructed when its diverse cultural riches can dialogue in a constructive way: the popular way, the academic, the youth, the artistic, the technological, the economic, the political, the media… May the Church be the leaven of dialogue , of encounter, of unity. Moreover, our own formulations of faith are themselves the result of dialogue and encounter between cultures, communities and different factors. We must not be afraid of dialogue: indeed it is the comparison and criticism that helps us to prevent theology from becoming ideology.
Also remember that the best way to talk is not to by talking about and discussing, but tin doing something together, to build together, to make plans: not alone among Catholics, but with all those who have good will.
And without fear of undertaking the moving out which is necessary to every authentic dialogue. Otherwise you cannot understand the reasoning of others, nor fully understand that a brother counts for more than the positions that we consider far from our own certainties however authentic. He is a brother.
But the Church may be able also to give a clear answer to the threats that emerge within the public debate: this is one of the forms of specific contribution of believers to the construction of our shared society. Believers are citizens. And I say here in Florence, where art, faith and citizenship were always put together in a dynamic balance between complaint and proposal. The nation is not a museum, but it is a collective work permanently under construction in which are to be pooled the very things that differentiate, including political or religious affiliations.
I appeal above all “to you, young people, that you be strong,” said the Apostle John (1 Jn 1:14). Young people, overcome apathy. Let no one undervalue your youth, but learn to be models of speaking and acting (cf. 1 Tim 4:12). I ask you to be builders of Italy, to put yourselves to work for a better Italy. Please do not look at life from the balcony, but commit yourself, immerse yourselves in the large social and political dialogue. May the hands of your faith be raised up to the heavens, but may they do so while they build a city built on relationships where love of God is the foundation. And so you will be free to accept the challenges of today, to live the changes and transformations.
We can say that today we do not live an era of change, but rather in a change of era. The situations we live today, then, pose new challenges for us are sometimes also difficult to understand. Our times call us to live the problems as challenges, not as obstacles: the Lord is active and at work in the world. You, therefore, go out through the streets and go to the crossroads: everyone can find, call them, excluding no one (cf. Mt 22,9). Above all, accompany those left at the roadside, “the lame, the crippled, the blind, the deaf” (Mt 15,30). Wherever you are, do not ever built walls or borders, but piazzas and field hospitals.
I like an Italian Church which is restless, ever closer to the abandoned, the forgotten, the imperfect. I want a Church joyful with the face of a mother, who understands, accompanies, caresses. May you also dream of this Church, believe in it, innovate freely. The Christian humanism that you are called to live affirms radically the dignity of every person as a Child of God, it establishes between every human being a fundamental fraternity, it teaches to understand work, to live in creation as a communal home, it provides reasons for joy and humor, even in the midst of a life so often very tough.
Although it is not for me to say today how to realize this dream, let me just leave you an indication for the coming years: in every community, in every parish and institution, in every diocese and district, in every region, try to set going, in a “synodal” (cooperative) way, a deepening of the Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), to draw from it practical criteria and to implement its provisions, especially on the three or four priorities that you have identified in this conference. I’m sure of your ability to get yourselves in creative movement to realize this study. I’m sure of it because you are an adult Church, most ancient in faith, strong in roots and plentiful in fruits. So be creative in expressing the genius that your great people, from Dante to Michelangelo, expressed in an incomparable way. Believe in the genius of Italian Christianity, which is not the inheritance either of individuals or of an elite, but of the community, of the people of this great country.
I entrust you to Mary, who is venerated here in Florence as “Santissima Annunziata.” In the fresco that is located in the Basilica named for her – where I will go shortly – the angel is silent and Mary speaks, saying “Ecce Ancilla Domini” (Behold the handmaid of the Lord). In those words we all of us speak. With Mary, may the entire Italian Church utter those words.