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
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