Pope Francis warns clergy against spiritual worldliness

spiritual worldliness and clericalism

In a letter addressed to the priests of Rome, Pope Francis highlighted the grave peril posed by spiritual worldliness and clericalism within the clergy and the Church.

The pontiff cautioned that this temptation risks reducing spirituality to mere outward appearances and distancing it from the core teachings of the Gospel.

Pope Francis’s message, although originally written for the memorial of the Dedication of Rome’s Basilica of St Mary Major on August 5th, was released by the Vatican on Monday. It emphasised the need for a “fraternal encounter” in these challenging times.

“God asks us to go to the depths in the fight against spiritual worldliness,” the Pope said, drawing upon the insights of the 20th-century theologian and cardinal Henri de Lubac.

Lubac contended that the infiltration of spiritual worldliness could prove even more destructive than ordinary moral worldliness. This corruption, the Pope asserted, undermines the very essence of the Church.

“Spiritual worldliness leads us to be ‘merchants of the spirit’, men clothed in sacred forms who in reality continue to think and act according to the fashions of the world,” he wrote.

Temptations of mediocrity, power, influence and vanity

The Pope outlined how spiritual worldliness creeps into the lives of priests through various avenues — temptations to mediocrity, power, influence and vanity. He also pointed out that, while doctrinal rigidity and a focus on liturgical aesthetics can simulate religiosity, it can instead prioritise personal glory and self-interest.

Furthermore, Pope Francis used this opportunity to delve deeper into his ongoing concern about clericalism.

The pontiff termed clericalism a distinctive manifestation of spiritual worldliness. He condemned the misguided perception that priests are superior and separated from the rest of the faithful.

The Pope cited the metaphor of “milk” and “wool” (that which nourishes and warms) found in Ezekiel and St Augustine, to warn against the risk of “feeding ourselves and our interests by covering ourselves with a comfortable life.”

“When we are concerned only with milk, we think of our personal gain; when we obsessively seek wool, we think of looking after our own image and increasing our success. And so we lose the priestly spirit,” he wrote.

Concluding his letter, the Pope urged Roman priests to collaborate with the laity, fostering “synodal forms and paths” so that “the Lord’s consolation truly reaches everyone.”

“May the Church of Rome be an example of compassion and hope for all, with her pastors always, always ready and available to bestow God’s forgiveness as channels of mercy that quench the thirst of today’s man.”


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