In his annual Christmas address to members of the Roman Curia, Pope Francis urged the Church’s governing bureaucracy to be open to change and to resist “rigid ideological positions” that prevent them from moving forward.
Speaking to members of the curia during a Dec. 21 audience, Pope Francis stressed the need to “remain vigilant against rigid ideological positions that often, under the guise of good intentions, separate us from reality and prevent us from moving forward.”
“We are called, instead, to set out and journey, like the Magi, following the light that always desires to lead us on, at times along unexplored paths and new roads,” he said.
Referring to something he said was once told to him by a “zealous priest,” the pope said “it is not easy to rekindle the embers under the ashes of the Church. Today we strive to kindle passion in those who have long since lost it.”
“Sixty years after the Council, we are still debating the division between ‘progressives’ and ‘conservatives,’ while the real difference is between lovers and those who have lost that initial passion,” he said.
Pope Francis every year before Christmas delivers a speech to members of the Roman Curia, which he has consistently used as an occasion to offer updates on his reform, and occasionally to rap them on the knuckles for what in the past he’s said are “diseases” preventing them from doing the work of the Gospel, urging them to internal conversion.
In this year’s speech, Francis told the curia to imitate God’s style of closeness, compassion, and tenderness, and to embark on a path of faith marked by an ability to listen and discern, and an openness to journey.
To this end, he highlighted several biblical figures in the Christmas narrative he said exemplify these verbs, beginning with the Virgin Mary, who he said illustrates what it means to listen by “hearing not only with the ears, but also with the heart and one’s entire life.”
Listening, he said, is more than a mere exchange of information or hearing a message, but requires openness, honesty, and humility.
“There is no better way to listen than on our knees,” the pope said, saying at times “we risk being like hungry wolves: we can devour the other person’s words, without really listening to them, and then shape them to fit our own ideas and judgements.”
“Really listening to another person, however, requires interior quiet and making room for silence between what we hear and what we say,” he said, saying to listen implies reflecting on what a person said before responding.
Doing this “expands the heart, overturns our egocentrism, shows us how to listen to others and awakens in us the quiet of contemplation,” Francis said, saying members of the curia must also learn the art of humble listening.
“Even more important than our daily tasks and responsibilities, or even the positions we hold, is our need to appreciate the value of relationships, to keep them simple and straightforward, marked by an evangelical spirit, above all by our ability to listen to one another,” he said.
Pope Francis voiced hope that the curia would increasingly “listen to each other, free of prejudices, with openness and sincerity” and that they would “hard to understand what our brother or sister is saying, to grasp his or her needs and, in some way, his or her own life… without judging.”
He also underlined the importance of discernment, pointing to the example of John the Baptist as someone who preached about a powerful and mighty God but who experienced “a dramatic crisis of faith” because this image “shatters before Jesus’ gestures, words and style, before the compassion and mercy he shows.”
With this experience, John the Baptist needed to have the humility and courage to discern, “to receive fresh eyes,” because Jesus was not what people had expected, Francis said.
Discernment is an important spiritual art for everyone, he said, because it can “strip us of the illusion of omniscience, from the danger of thinking that it is enough simply to apply rules, from the temptation to carry on, even in the life of the curia, by simply repeating what we have always done.”
God, the pope said, shows that people “are, and will always remain, superior to ideas and theories.”
“We need, then, to practice spiritual discernment, to seek God’s will, to be sensitive to the deeper stirrings of our hearts, and then to assess our possibilities and the decisions that we need to take,” he said, saying the practice of real discernment will help the curia “to choose procedures and make decisions based not on worldly criteria, or simply by applying rules, but in accordance with the Gospel.”
Turning to the importance of being open to a journey, Pope Francis said that if the joy of the Gospel is embraced, it leads to the decision to leave oneself behind in pursuit of and encounter with God.
“The Christian faith – let us remember – is not meant to confirm our sense of security, to let us settle into comfortable religious certitudes, and to offer us quick answers to life’s complex problems,” he said.
In this regard, Francis said that whenever God calls, he “draws us out of our comfort zones, our complacency about what we have already done, and, in this way, he sets us free.”
Within the curia, “it is important to keep faring forward, to keep searching and growing in our understanding of the truth, overcoming the temptation to stand still and never leave the labyrinth of our fears,” he said.
“Fear, rigidity and monotony make for an immobility that has the apparent advantage of not creating problems – ‘stay put, don’t move’ – but lead us to wander aimlessly within our labyrinths, to the detriment of the service we are called to offer the church and the whole world,” he said.
Pope Francis urged curial officials to guard against ideology and to be flexible and open to new ideas.
“When service becomes dull and “enclosed in the labyrinth of rigidity or mediocrity, whenever we find ourselves entangled in the web of bureaucracy and content ‘just to get by,’ let us always remember to look up, to start afresh from God, to be enlightened by his word and to find the courage needed to start anew,” he said.
He thanked members of the curia for their work and voiced hope that they would “cultivate the hearing of the heart and serve the Lord by learning to accept and listen to one another.”
“May the Lord Jesus, the Word Incarnate, grant us the grace to rejoice in humble and generous service.”
Please, may we never lose our sense of humor,” he said, and asked curial officials to “say a prayer for me before the manger.”