Inner Reform

Each year, the Holy Father gives an end of the year address to his Vatican Curia and, each year, it has turned out to be a stinging, strident remonition to the cardinals and Vatican officials. This year was no different, with the pope reminding those that serve the Church in administrative capacities at the Vatican that careerism and bitterness have no place in the life of the Church. In striving for reform of the Vatican Curia, the Pope quoted a 19th century Belgian papal statesman named Frédéric-François-Xavier De Mérode: “Implementing reforms in Rome is like cleaning the Egyptian Sphinx with a toothbrush.”

The Holy Father described some of those Vatican officials who have been asked to leave their assignment as acting in bitterness, stating: “When they are delicately removed, they erroneously declare themselves martyrs of the system, of a ‘non-informed Pope,’ of the ‘old guard’ … instead of reciting the mea culpa.”

Described as “betrayers of trust,” Pope Francis reminded those, who might doubt, that he is not being kept in the dark, but is very aware of what is going on day-to-day in the Vatican. In his typical practical way, he encouraged those officials to embrace their duties, which are usually unnoticed by so many and done with great self-sacrifice, with “diaconal” zeal and to work “with laudable commitment, fidelity, competence, dedication and also great holiness.” Needless to say, the Pope has a long way to go in getting the Church’s central office to reflect his ecclesial vision.

Reform is also on the pope’s mind when it comes to the world. The Holy Father’s New Year’s message encouraged the world to reform and to become more and more like the Blessed Virgin Mary. He stated: “While a man often abstracts, affirms and imposes ideas, a woman, a mother, knows how to ‘keep,’ to put things together in her heart, to give life,” and “If our faith is not to be reduced merely to an idea or a doctrine, all of us need a mother’s heart, one which knows how to keep the tender love of God and to feel the heartbeat of all around us.”

Distributing a card with a picture of a young Japanese boy standing in line at a crematorium with his dead younger brother on his back, taken by American photographer Joseph Roger O’Donnell, a Marine who worked for four years after the atomic blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the pope is reminding us that, if we want peace, it has to become at home and within ourselves.

The Church can only be a force for goodness and peace if she is at peace within herself. The reform of the Curia, peace in the world, can only be accomplished with Marian-like receptivity and interior self-knowledge and peace. All rancor, all bitterness, all in-fighting must be put aside for the greater good of all. The Scholastic axiom: “Nemo dat quod non habet” (“you can’t give what you don’t have”) is true. The Church cannot be an instrument of peace unless she has peace within. Pray that Pope Francis can gently, fatherly, encourage this peace in the Church and thus help it be spread from the Vatican to the local Church and to the world.