In listening to the words of the Holy Father in his many different homilies, audiences and speeches since his election, there is one incredibly clear message he is sending to us: the Church is narcissistic. We are a narcissistic Church, the product of a narcissistic culture.
In almost every homily, audience and speech that he has given since he began his papacy, Pope Francis has emphasized the need to, as a Church, “go out” of ourselves, and to not remain enclosed. Here is one quote from his homily at the Chrism Mass this year that gives us a clue as to what he sees:
“We need to ‘go out,’ then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the ‘outskirts’ where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live our priestly life going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become Pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all.
Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, ‘has already received his reward,’ and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks. This is precisely the reason for the dissatisfaction of some, who end up sad – sad priests – in some sense becoming collectors of antiques or novelties, instead of being shepherds living with “the odour of the sheep.”
This was a homily addressed especially at priests, but when I read these words, I can’t help but feel that he is talking directly to me, on a personal level, and I experience an increasing sense of responsibility when I am faced with the reality of the challenge that his words present. What is it that he is talking about? What does he mean by the need to “go out” as a Church? When I look at what he wrote in a letter to his brother Bishops in Argentina, the message he is trying to convey becomes radically more clear:
“This way of seeing Christianity often carries with it the attitude of, ‘I was baptized, I made Confirmation, First Communion … I have my identity card, alright.’ And now, go to sleep quietly, you are a Christian.”
Instead, he said that believers must be:
“Faithful to the Spirit, to proclaim Jesus with our lives, through our witness and our words. Mission…is key to ministry. A Church that does not go out of itself, sooner or later, sickens from the stale air of closed rooms…I prefer a thousand times over a Church of accidents than a sick Church.”
In the same letter, he also emphasized that the Church typically suffers from being self-referential, only looking to and relying on itself, and that it is this kind of self-centeredness that “leads to a routine spirituality and convoluted clericalism” and prevents people from experiencing the sweet and comforting joy of evangelization.
The question is, how does this apply to us, the faithful, who are also called to live as priest, prophet and king? Do we truly ‘go out’ to meet the needs of others, of the Church, and fight the falsely-idealistic, politically correct philosophies that are running rancid in our culture? Or do we find ourselves among the quiet members of the Church who attend religious events and collect rosaries from different holy sites that gather dust along with the life of our faith? How often do we fit this profile and convince ourselves that it is enough, sitting silently inside our private bubbles of individual conscience, while outside the world is crumbling, and where the notion of “a right” has gotten us so confused as to the essential construction and nature of the human being, that we are no longer able to distinguish what is good and healthy versus what is bad and detrimental to our own humanity?
Do we know that we have a role to play? Do we understand that we as individuals have a responsibility within the Church to proclaim the Gospel, and to proclaim the truth? Or are we too afraid of being labeled a hater or a bigot? Or do we cry out for the Church and the world to change, but sit back and say that its solely the job or the priest or bishop to make that happen?
I think that our Holy Father is onto something, and that if we take ourselves and our faith seriously, we will take our Holy Father’s words to heart and think about how they apply to us, because, let’s face it, if anyone reads what he says and tells themselves that they do not take part in this sickness – this narcissistic attitude of the Church, then they are sadly deceived. I recognize it in myself, and honestly, it frightens me a bit. Because if we do not preach the truth, or if we preach nothing instead, then what are we really preaching? In the words of our Holy Father, and those of Léon Bloy, “Anyone who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil,” and “When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness.” And that includes our silence.
*Elise Harris is the Assistant Multimedia Specialist for CNA. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the University of Northern Colorado.