By Vatican News staff writer
A crisis, such as the current pandemic, “can prove beneficial to us all”, if we make it an opportunity for conversion and renewed authenticity, by allowing ourselves to be led by the Spirit with courage and humility. On the other hand, if the crisis is seen as a conflict, it will create discord, competition and enemies.
Pope Francis made the point on Monday, in his address to members of the Roman Curia, the various departments of the Holy See and the central body in the Vatican. In the traditional pre-Christmas meeting with them, he noted that in “contemplating the mystery of the Incarnation, before the child lying in a manger, but also the Paschal Mystery, in the presence of the Crucified One, we find our proper place only if we are defenceless, humble and unassuming”.
Lessons from pandemic and Christmas
In the “Urbi et Orbi” Blessing and prayer service on March 27 in a deserted St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis noted that the coronavirus “has exposed our vulnerability and uncovered those false and superfluous certainties” and “uncovered once more “our belonging to one another as brothers and sisters”.
This is also stressed in Fratelli tutti, his Encyclical devoted to the theme of fraternity and social friendship. One great lesson that we learn from Jesus’ birth, he said, is that Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the Magi and all came together, in one way or another, in solidarity, fraternity and friendship. Dreams, the Pope said, are not built in isolation but together, in a community, bringing the richness of our beliefs and convictions.
The pandemic, the Pope noted, has been a time of trial and testing, but also a significant opportunity for conversion and renewed authenticity. He explained that the Greek origin of the word “crisis” - “krino” - denotes “sifting that separates the wheat from the chaff after the harvest”. In this regard, he recalled the Biblical figures, such as Abraham, Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, Paul and even Jesus Himself, who were “sifted” by crisis and who showed that God never abandons us.
“This reflection on crisis warns us against judging the Church hastily on the basis of the crises caused by scandals past and present.” The Pope noted that in the Curia, there are many people who with their discreet, unassuming, faithful, honest and professional work, are a living witness to the fact that the Lord has not abandoned his people. “The only difference,” he said, “is that problems immediately end up in the newspapers, while signs of hope only make the news much later, if at all.” Hence, we must recover the courage and humility to admit that a time of crisis is a time of the Spirit, which should be seen in the light of the Gospel.
In this regard, the Holy Father urged that one must not confuse crisis with conflict. “Crisis generally has a positive outcome, whereas conflict always creates discord and competition, an apparently irreconcilable antagonism that separates others into friends to love and enemies to fight. In such a situation, only one side can win.”
Conflict, the Pope said, is a “false trail leading us astray, aimless, directionless and trapped in a labyrinth; it is a waste of energy and an occasion for evil”. “The first evil that conflict leads us to, and which we must try to avoid, is gossip, idle chatter, which traps us in an unpleasant, sad and stifling state of self-absorption. It turns crisis into conflict.”
Church in crisis, not in conflict
“When the Church is viewed in terms of conflict – right versus left, progressive versus traditionalist – she becomes fragmented and polarized, distorting and betraying her true nature,” the Pope said. A body in continual crisis because she is alive, she must never become a body in conflict, with winners and losers. This would only “spread apprehension, become more rigid and less synodal, and impose a uniformity far removed from the richness and plurality that the Spirit has bestowed on his Church”.
Openness to the Spirit
The newness born of crisis and willed by the Spirit, the Pontiff said, is never a newness opposed to the old, but one that springs from the old and makes it continually fruitful. Like a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, a crisis can be called both “death and decay” and “birth and blossoming”, for the two are one. In an end, a new beginning is taking shape. Hence by shielding ourselves from crisis, we hinder the work of God’s grace, which would manifest itself in us and through us
Everything evil, wrong, weak and unhealthy that comes to light, the Pope said, serves as a forceful reminder of our need to die to a way of living, thinking and acting that does not reflect the Gospel. Only by dying to a certain mentality will we be able to make room for the newness that the Spirit constantly awakens in the heart of the Church.
Every crisis, he pointed out, contains a rightful demand for renewal and the courage to be completely open. “We need to stop seeing the reform of the Church as putting a patch on an old garment, or simply drafting a new Apostolic Constitution.” “We are not called to change or reform the Body of Christ”, as Jesus is the “same yesterday, today and forever”, “but we are called to clothe that Body with a new garment so that it is clear that the grace we possess does not come from ourselves but from God.”
Hence, the Pope noted that a crisis is a time of grace granted us to discern God’s will for each of us and for the whole Church. It is essential not to interrupt our dialogue with God, however difficult this may prove. And in this, the Pope said, prayer will allow us to “hope against all hope”.