Pope: Fragile egos, power grabbers, sad sacks are cancer in church

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

church is not a prop for one’s ego, a soapbox for ideas or a suit of
armor protecting a sad life, Pope Francis

church exists only as an instrument for communicating God’s merciful
plan to the people,” he said in an
interview published in the Nov. 18 edition of Avvenire, an Italian
Catholic newspaper.

God doesn’t ask for grand
gestures, just for the trustful abandon of a child in a father’s arms
and for sharing that divine love and mercy with others, he said.

“Those who discover
they are loved very much begin to emerge from terrible solitude, from
the separation that leads to hating others and oneself,” he

most of the lengthy interview’s questions touched on ecumenism and
the meaning of the Year of Mercy, the pope’s responses revealed his
vision of the church and the “bad spirit” or psychological
defects that foster division.

example, he said, some reactions to his apostolic exhortation,
“Amoris Laetitia,” continue to reflect a lack of
understanding about how the
Holy Spirit has been working in the church since the Second Vatican

“Lumen Gentium,” its dogmatic constitution on the church,
he said, the church “returned to the source of her nature — the
Gospel. This shifted the axis of Christian understanding from a kind
of legalism, which
can be ideological, to the person of God, who became mercy in the
incarnation of the son.”

about certain reactions to ‘Amoris Laetitia’ — some continue to not
understand, (seeing) either white or black, even if it is in the flow
of life that one must discern.”

however, say it takes a century for a council’s teachings to fully
sink in, which means “we are at the halfway mark,”
Pope Francis said.

church and its members are asked to be docile to the Holy Spirit, he
said, and to let the Spirit do the work because the Spirit knows when
“the time is ripe” for things.

the Year of Mercy was an example of that, he said. It
was not “a plan” of his own, but something inspired by the
Spirit and built on the cornerstones of his predecessors.

church is the Gospel, it is the work of Jesus Christ,” the pope
said. “It is not a course of ideas, a tool for asserting them.”

“The cancer in the
church is giving glory to one another,” he said in response to
an observation made by Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of
Constantinople, who said a worldly
mentality within the church was at the root of divisions among

who has never heard of or encountered Christ can always come to know
him someday, Pope Francis said.

he said, if someone is already “in the church and moves within
it because precisely in the world of the church they cultivate and
feed their hunger for domination and self-affirmation, (then) they
have a spiritual disease; they believe the church is a
self-sufficient human reality where everything proceeds according to
the logic of ambition and power.”

is a “sinful habit of the church to look too much at itself as
if it believed it had its own light” — what Bartholomew called
an “ecclesial introversion,” the pope said. Divisions are
born when the church looks too much too itself and not to the real
light of Christ, which the church reflects like the moon does

at Christ frees us from this habit and also from the temptation of
triumphalism and rigidity,”
the pope said.

guide for knowing the right path to take is always understanding the
importance of following the Holy Spirit, he said when asked about
criticisms that his outreach to other Christian communities was a
sign of “selling out” Catholic doctrine or
the church.

said he doesn’t “lose sleep” over such critiques because
it’s important to see what kind of “spirit” is motivating
such opinions.

there is no bad spirit” behind the remarks, differing
opinions can be helpful for walking the way of the Lord, he said.

times, it is immediately obvious when criticism is driven by wanting
to “justify a position that’s already been taken,” he said.
Such criticisms “are not honest, they are made with a bad spirit
to foment division.”

sees right away that certain forms of strictness “arise from a
shortcoming, from the desire to hide one’s own sad discontent within
a suit of armor,” he said, adding that the film Babette’s Feast
offered a good example of “this rigid behavior.”

long as the church and its members keep their focus on Christ, they
will avoid many of these errors and temptations, he said.

is walking behind Christ and doing his will by praying together,
helping the needy and dying as martyrs together that will unite all
Christians who already share the same baptism.

is a process, a walking together, not carving out or “occupying
spaces,” or setting aside and ignoring theological differences,
he said.

“grave sin” of proselytism, too, goes against the “dynamic”
of authentically becoming and being Christian. “The church is
not a soccer team seeking fans,” he said.

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