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Pope takes a swipe at malicious critics in Christmas greetings

VATICAN (SE): “Christmas is thus the feast of a loving humble God, of the God who upsets our logical expectations, the established order, the order of the dialectician and the mathematician,” Pope Francis told the cardinals and superiors of the Roman Curia in his traditional exchange of Christmas greetings on December 22 last year.

After receiving the greetings of the president of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Cardinal Sodano, the pope offered a few hard hitting words as his Christmas and New Year greeting to the members of the curia and the staff of nunciatures worldwide.

He then prepared them gently for a good, old fashioned dressing down.

It is not the first time Pope Francis has read the riot act to the Curia, but on the first occasion in 2014, he spoke of the illnesses that can affect bureaucrats, but this time he launched into a stinging attack on malicious criticism.

Speaking of the feast of Christmas, he began gently, quoting from St. Augustine, who in describing contemplation on the face of the baby Jesus called it something immense in the form of God, but tiny in the form of a slave.

“To describe the mystery of the incarnation, St. Macarius, the fourth-century monk and disciple of St. Anthony the Abbot, used the Greek verb smikryno, to become small, to reduce to the bare minimum,” Pope Francis told the gathering at the Clementine Hall in the Apostolic Palace.

“He says, ‘Listen attentively: the infinite, unapproachable and uncreated God, in his immense and ineffable goodness has taken a body, and, I dare say, infinitely diminished his glory’,” the pope continued.

“As Romano Guardini said, ‘What an overturning of all our familiar values—not only human values, but also divine values!’” Pope Francis continued.

“Truly this God upsets everything that we claim to build up on our own,” he noted, adding, “At Christmas, we are called to say yes with our faith, not to the master of the universe and not even to the most noble of ideas, but precisely to this God who is the humble lover.”

He pointed out that Christ was not born to provoke awe, but came in humble form so that all may approach him without fear.

“In this gentle yet overpowering light of the divine countenance of the Christ child, I have chosen as the theme of this, our yearly meeting, the reform of the Roman Curia,” Pope Francis said.

“It seemed to me right and fitting to share with you the framework of the reform, to point out its guiding principles, the steps taken so far, but above all the logic behind every step already taken and what is yet to come.”

But this was the end of the niceties. He told the gathering that reform is to be understood in two ways; to make the curia con-form to the joyous message that must be proclaimed to the poor, as well as the signs of the times and its human achievements.

He said that this is necessary to respond to the demands of the men and women whom the Church is called to serve.

While in 2014 he spoke of the danger of overwork that can affect the judgement of officials in the Curia, or the feeling of being indispensable that leads to a lack of self-critique and mental hardness that precludes weeping with the suffering around us, this time he launched into what he called malicious resistance.

In what seems to be a direct reference to ever increasing rumbling against him by a small handful of bishops over the interpretation of his latest apostolic letter, The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia), Pope Francis said that what is demanded is support for the Roman pontiff in the exercise of his singular, ordinary, full, supreme, immediate and universal power.

Contrary to what may be the opinion of some, he stressed that the curia is not an immovable apparatus. Consequently, it is in need of reform precisely because it is still a living entity.

“Consequently, the aim of reform is not aesthetic, an effort to improve the looks of the curia, nor can it be understood as a sort of facelift, using make-up and cosmetics to embellish its aging body, nor even as an operation of plastic surgery to take away its wrinkles,” he said in his colourful imagery.

“Dear brothers and sisters, it isn’t wrinkles we need to worry about in the Church, but blemishes!” he stressed.

He said this calls for constant conversion of the curia personnel, not just a reshuffling of the permanently formed, but a constant reconversion of those involved.

“It must become in the case of the curia, a permanent personal and structural process of conversion,” the pope continued.

He added that resistance to this is normal and possibly even desirable.

“There can be cases of open resistance, often born of goodwill and sincere dialogue, and cases of hidden resistance, born of fearful or hardened hearts content with the empty rhetoric of spiritual window-dressing typical of those who say they are ready for change, yet want everything to remain as it was before,” he pointed out.

Finally arriving at his bottom line, Pope Francis said, “There are also cases of malicious resistance, which spring up in misguided minds and come to the fore when the devil inspires ill intentions, often cloaked in sheep’s clothing.”

He described this type of resistance as hiding behind words of self-justification and often accusation.

“It takes refuge in traditions, appearances, formalities, in the familiar, or else in a desire to make everything personal, failing to distinguish between the act, the actor and the action,” the pontiff said.

However, he stressed that this is not all negative, as the absence of reaction is a sign of death.

“Consequently, the good cases of resistance—and even those not quite so good—are necessary and merit being listened to, welcomed and their expression encouraged, because this is a sign that the body is living,” he said.

He then listed off 12 guiding principles of reform: individualism; pastoral concern; missionary spirit; clear organisation; improved functioning; modernisation; sobriety; subsidiarity; synodality; catholicity; professionalism and gradualism.

Steps that he said have already been taken are the creation of a body of eight cardinals to advise him on various matters, the creation of a body to study the legal status of what is commonly known as the Vatican Bank, provisions defining the jurisdiction of the Vatican State in criminal matters and another council to study the economic standing of the Holy See.

He then listed off other financial steps that are primarily aimed at preventing illegal financial transactions and ensuring that proper audits are done.

He added to his list the commission for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults against abuse and the reshuffle of media arrangements within the Holy See.

In addition there have been measures taken to guard against the negligence of bishops and the establishment of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life.

In his final prayer of his seasonal greeting, Pope Francis reiterated that Christmas is a feast of humility, repeating his earlier words that the challenge is to become small, like the infant Jesus, and reminding the gathering that God will not rest easily until we find the same smallness in our lives.

“Do not deprive us of your revelation, the epiphany of your infancy in our hearts, so that with it we can heal all our pride and all our arrogance,” he said.

“Our world is weary and exhausted, because everyone is vying to see who is the greatest. There is a ruthless competition between governments, Churches, peoples, within families, from one parish to another: Who of us is the greatest?”

The pope said that this is not the solution to what ails the Church and neither salvation nor peace will be found unless we go back to encountering the Christ child anew in the manger of Bethlehem.

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