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Called to set an example

In Pope Francis’ Christmas address to the Curia he could not help but refer to the fundamental words of Paul VI in 1963, who spoke to his collaborators on 21 September, exactly three months after his election and on the eve of the reopening of the Council, which had been interrupted by the death of John XXIII. Montini’s carefully calibrated text — regarding the “calling to set an example” — definitely supported the reflection of his Successor, who quite obviously meditated a great deal in preparing his challenging discourse, drawing explicitly upon that of years past.

As in previous speeches, the “catalogue” of virtues that every member of the Curia must have to offer can also be applied, as Pope Bergoglio said, to “any Christian, curia, community, congregation, parish or ecclesial movement”. The word misericordia — mercy in English — was spelled out by the initial letters of 12 pairs of virtues, which the Pontiff presented as “antibiotics” for spiritual “maladies”: missionary and pastoral spirit, idoneity and sagacity, spirituality and humanity, example and fidelity, reasonableness and gentleness, innocuousness and determination, charity and truth, openness and maturity, respectfulness and humility, diligence and attentiveness, intrepidness and alertness, accountability and sobriety.

Antidotes indeed, which are clearly needed, to the point which in the subsequent meeting with Vatican employees the Pope asked forgiveness for the truly deplorable scandals of late. At the same time he gave his assurance that what happened has been and will continue to be “the object of sincere reflection and decisive provisions. The reform will move forward with determination, clarity and firm resolve, since Ecclesia semper reformanda”.

By no coincidence at the time of the Council, Paul VI addressed the Curia with words that bear repeating again today: all the world looks to “Catholic Rome, to the Roman Pontificate, to the Roman Curia. The duty to be authentically Christian is eminently demanding here. We would not remind you of this duty if we did not remind ourselves of it each day. Everything in Rome is a lesson: letter and spirit. How one thinks, how one studies, how one speaks, how one feels, how one acts, how one suffers, how one prays, how one serves, how one loves; every moment, every aspect of our lives emit around us a radiance which may be beneficent if faithful to what Christ asks of us, maleficent if unfaithful.

Indeed, it is in this very light that the Pontiff’s discourse should be read. Thus Francis restated, with his Predecessor, his gratitude and appreciation for the “efficiency of the services rendered to the Pope and to the entire Church by the Roman Curia, with great effort, responsibility, commitment and dedication”. In keeping with the spiritual teachings of St Ignatius, the Holy Father added that “this is a real source of consolation” which sustains our will to “advance on the path of goodness”. In Christian recognition of the limitations of individual effort, the Pontiff quoted a prayer recited by a well-known figure in American Catholicism, the late Cardinal John Francis Dearden.

G.M.V.

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