At his general audience on November 25, Pope Francis expressed his concern about Catholic groups that chart their own path. His words are a challenge to those on both the left and the right who discount the importance of thinking with the church.
“At times, I feel a great sadness when I see a community that, with goodwill, takes a wrong path because it thinks it is making the church through gatherings, as if it were a political party: the majority, the minority, what this one thinks of this or that or the other, [saying], ‘This is like a synod, a synodal path that we must take,” the Holy Father said. “I ask myself, ‘Where is the Holy Spirit there? Where is prayer? Where is the community’s love? Where is the Eucharist?’ Without these four coordinates, the church becomes a human society, a political party,” he said. “But there is no Holy Spirit.”
“If the Holy Spirit, who attracts people to Jesus, is missing, then there is no church there. There is a nice club of friends, good, with good intentions, but there is no church, there is no synodality,” he added.
We are accustomed to the pope using harsh words against the conservative legalists in the church. “A rigidity born of the fear of change, which ends up erecting fences and obstacles on the terrain of the common good, turning it into a minefield of incomprehension and hatred,” Francis scolded in last year’s Christmas address to the Roman Curia, the Vatican equivalent of a State of the Union address. “Let us always remember that behind every form of rigidity lies some kind of imbalance. Rigidity and imbalance feed one another in a vicious circle. And today this temptation to rigidity has become very real.”
In November, however, his words seemed directed at us, the more liberal wing of the Catholic Church. And it behoves us to pay attention because, if we are honest with ourselves, we know the pope is diagnosing a real problem.
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Michael Sean Winters covers the nexus of religion and politics for NCR.
With thanks to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) and Michael Sean Winters, where this article originally appeared.