The future Pope Francis on apostolic courage and the danger of ‘spiritual worldliness’
March 14, 2013
In a 2007 interview, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires discussed the importance of apostolic courage, warned against the “clericalization of the laity,” and reflected on the Prophet Jonah’s lack of mercy toward the people of Nineveh.
“To me apostolic courage is disseminating,” Cardinal Bergoglio said. “Disseminating the Word. Giving it to that man and to that woman for whom it was bestowed. Giving them the beauty of the Gospel, the amazement of the encounter with Jesus … and leaving it to the Holy Spirit to do the rest. It is the Lord, says the Gospel, who makes the seed spring and bear fruit.”
“The early theologians said: the soul is a kind of sailing boat, the Holy Spirit is the wind that blows in the sail, to send it on its way, the impulses and the force of the wind are the gifts of the Spirit,” he continued. “Without His drive, without His grace, we don’t go ahead. The Holy Spirit lets us enter the mystery of God and saves us from the danger of a gnostic Church and from the danger of a self-referential Church, leading us to the mission.”
I didn’t say that pastoral systems are useless. On the contrary. In itself everything that leads by the paths of God is good. I have told my priests: “Do everything you should, you know your duties as ministers, take your responsibilities and then leave the door open.” Our sociologists of religion tell us that the influence of a parish has a radius of six hundred meters. In Buenos Aires there are about two thousand meters between one parish and the next. So I then told the priests: “If you can, rent a garage and, if you find some willing layman, let him go there! Let him be with those people a bit, do a little catechesis and even give Communion if they ask him.” A parish priest said to me: “But Father, if we do this the people then won’t come to church.” “But why?” I asked him: “Do they come to Mass now?” “No,” he answered. And so! Coming out of oneself is also coming out from the fenced garden of one’s own convictions, considered irremovable, if they risk becoming an obstacle, if they close the horizon that is also of God.
[The laity’s] clericalization is a problem. The priests clericalize the laity and the laity beg us to be clericalized… It really is sinful abetment. And to think that baptism alone could suffice. I’m thinking of those Christian communities in Japan that remained without priests for more than two hundred years. When the missionaries returned they found them all baptized, all validly married for the Church and all their dead had had a Catholic funeral. The faith had remained intact through the gifts of grace that had gladdened the life of a laity who had received only baptism and had also lived their apostolic mission in virtue of baptism alone. One must not be afraid of depending only on His tenderness.
Reflecting on Jonah, he said:
Jonah had everything clear. He had clear ideas about God, very clear ideas about good and evil. On what God does and on what He wants, on who was faithful to the Covenant and who instead was outside the Covenant. He had the recipe for being a good prophet. God broke into his life like a torrent. He sent him to Nineveh. Nineveh was the symbol of all the separated, the lost, of all the peripheries of humanity. Of all those who are outside, forlorn. Jonah saw that the task set on him was only to tell all those people that the arms of God were still open, that the patience of God was there and waiting, to heal them with His forgiveness and nourish them with His tenderness. Only for that had God sent him. He sent him to Nineveh, but he instead ran off in the opposite direction, toward Tarsis …
What he was fleeing was not so much Nineveh as the boundless love of God for those people. It was that that didn’t come into his plans. God had come once… “and I’ll see to the rest”: that’s what Jonah told himself. He wanted to do things his way, he wanted to steer it all. His stubbornness shut him in his own structures of evaluation, in his pre-ordained methods, in his righteous opinions. He had fenced his soul off with the barbed wire of those certainties that instead of giving freedom with God and opening horizons of greater service to others had finished by deafening his heart. How the isolated conscience hardens the heart! Jonah no longer knew that God leads His people with the heart of a Father.
Asked, “What is the worst thing that can happen in the Church?”, Cardinal Bergoglio replied:
It is what [Cardinal Henri] de Lubac calls “spiritual worldliness.” It is the greatest danger for the Church, for us, who are in the Church. “It is worse,” says de Lubac, “more disastrous than the infamous leprosy that disfigured the dearly beloved Bride at the time of the libertine popes.” Spiritual worldliness is putting oneself at the center. It is what Jesus saw going on among the Pharisees: “You who glorify yourselves. Who give glory to yourselves, the ones to the others.”