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A timely talking-to by Pope Francis

02 January 2015

Do we share some of the failings of the Curia listed by the Pope, asks Paul Vallely

NEW YEAR resolutions were not what the cardinals, archbishops, and monsignors of the Roman Curia were expecting when they gathered just before Christmas, for what was billed as "An exchange of Christmas greetings" with the Pope.

On such occasions, popes traditionally consider the events of the previous 12 months, or offer a "State of the Church" reflection. Pope Francis marked the end of 2014 with a withering account of the failings of the men who run the Roman Catholic Church. The Curial chiefs sat in stony-faced silence throughout the 30-minute address in the richly-frescoed Clementine Hall - inside the apostolic palace that the Pope has refused to adopt as his home, preferring instead the Vatican guest house.

Media reports concentrated on the ways in which the speech discomfited power-brokers and bureaucrats among the prelates.

But it is worth reading the Pope's speech in a different light. His analysis of the spiritual failings of those at the top of his Church has a wider application. It may offer some useful tips on New Year resolutions for those of us in less exalted positions.

The 15 spiritual ailments that the Pope listed are by no means restricted to the prelates of Rome. Among the foibles of our time and culture he placed at the top an exaggerated sense of our own importance. The cure for that, he suggested, is to visit a cemetery and ponder the gravestones of others who once thought the world could not manage without them.

We might all discover one or two useful correctives for the year ahead in the Pope's other "pathologies of power". Do we itch to control others rather than work in harmony with them? Do we over-plan and seek to enclose or direct where the Holy Spirit should blow? Do we form cliques, suck up to superiors for preferment, or encourage such behaviour among those who work for us?

Does our chit-chat sometimes turn to gossip that sows discord, or seeks to damage the reputation of others, in person or through the press? Does an obsession with paperwork make us lose touch with real people - or harden us so that we no longer see the image of God stamped on the face of others?

Or perhaps we suffer from what Pope Francis calls "Martha-ism", the disease of excessive activity when we ought to take the better part of spending time just sitting at the feet of the Master. Jesus called on his disciples, the Pope reminds us, to "rest a little", and take on board the teaching of Ecclesiastes that "there is a time for everything."

The Pope concluded his address by disclosing that he prays, every day, the prayer of St Thomas More which begins: "Grant me, O Lord, good digestion, and also something to digest. . ."

It is a very English prayer, which ends with the words: "Grant me a sense of good humour. Allow me the grace to be able to take a joke, to discover in life a bit of joy, and to be able to share it with others." It would make 2015 a better year were we all to say "Amen" to that. 

Paul Vallely is the author of Pope Francis: Untying the knots (Bloomsbury).

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