This is the time of year when many of us begin narrowing down our New Year’s resolutions. I have had great success with resolutions I make throughout the year: drinking water, managing a better to-do list, and blogging more frequently. Your mileage may vary.
Pope Francis, however, seems to be on top of the end-of-the-year reflection. He has reminded the Roman Curia—and by extension, all of his faithful—that this is resolution season. He was especially hard on the Curia because they comprise the highest court in the Church. Many of us are leaders, though. We leaders all need to ferret out the “illnesses and temptations that weaken our service to the Lord.” You can read the full Vatican News report of the meeting, but here’s a summary of the fifteen points of self-examination the Holy Father offered:
- Thinking that you are immortal, and therefore, “superior to others, rather than at their service”
- “Excessive industriousness” with no time for authentic rest
- Loss of the empathy that allows us to “weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice”
- “Excessive planning and functionalism” in our approach to life, leaving no room for Spirit-led “freshness, imagination, and innovation”
- A lack of teamwork, so that “the communion between members is lost”
- Forgetting our original saving encounter with God and the commitment we have made to let him (rather than the idols we build up) guide our lives
- Rivalry and “vainglory” that leaves us chasing titles and honors
- Living a double life, “abandoning pastoral service” for bureaucracy
- Gossip, turning otherwise virtuous people into the “cold-blooded murderers of the reputations of their colleagues and brethren”
- “Deifying leaders” rather than God in order to get ahead
- Self-centeredness and indifference that crowds out the “sincerity and warmth of personal relationships”
- “The illness of the funereal face,” especially toward subordinates, eliminating joy in favor of perceived seriousness
- “The disease of accumulation” of material goods to fill our hearts
- The exclusivity of “closed circles: when belonging to a group becomes stronger than belonging to the Body”
- The “disease of worldly profit” from power gained by service and turned into more worldly power or material goods
Are you convicted by that? I am.
Servant leadership is at the heart of the Christian life. As Christ did, we are called to evangelize and to give of ourselves for the sake of others. The specifics of how we balance the great power of living like Jesus with the great responsibility of guiding his people can be lost in the shuffle.
Not all the points Pope Francis raises are about running from bad habits. Rest is commanded by the Sabbath, and tired people make bad decisions. Shining forth the joy of the Gospel attracts newcomers to the faith (flies to honey). We should never forget that original moment when we met Jesus, and it should inspire every day of our lives.
On the other hand, Pope Francis has called out the Curia for their issues. He’s been in Rome long enough to know about what’s really going on, and he doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would diagnose general problems when he has the opportunity to be specific. Chastising men for chasing titles follows straight from his elimination of the title “monsignor” for younger priests. Reminding them that they are shepherds before they are legal staff sounds very much like the pope that calls individual people on the phone to address their pastoral needs. I barely even need to touch on accumulating material goods as something Pope Francis frowns upon. This is exactly the style of dressing-down I would expect from a pope like Francis.
As the calendar year draws to a close, the liturgical year directs us to grow in hope, waiting for the Second Coming of Christ as we commemorate his First Coming with our period of Advent waiting. As you make your plans for the coming holidays and your resolutions from this day forward, keep the spiritual goals at the forefront. It’s never too late to change.