Spiritual Diseases

It is customary in The Vatican for the Pope to address the Curia, the Vatican officials, and give them season’s greetings before Christmas. Last December Pope Francis seized the opportunity to point out some major failings among them. He cited 15 spiritual diseases that the Curia suffered from. I presume that the atmosphere in the Clementine Hall was rather strained as he went through the long list. However the maladies that he cited are not confined to the Curia, but could be suffered by any Christian or church body. As we approach Lent the time for spiritual self-assessment  let us look at part of what Pope Francis had to say.

The Pope used some choice phrases. He warned against ‘spiritual alzheimers disease’ whereby we lose the memory of our personal salvation history. We forget how we first came to faith, of the time when our faith was fervent and we loved Christ more. Instead we become set in our material ways.

He talks of the disease of mental and spiritual 'petrification'; we become hard-hearted, with hearts of stone. We become so wrapped up in ourselves that we loose the ability to empathise with others and share their joys and sufferings. We no longer show the compassion of Jesus, and find it hard to love.

'Existential schizophrenia' would get you a high score in scrabble, but was perhaps the most savage of criticisms. Here he warns of living a double life. Holy on the outside but sinful on the inside. And to make matters worse, we create two parallel worlds, coming down hard on the failings of others will leading a hidden and dissolute life.

He also warns against the “Martha complex” whereby we fill our lives with an excessive business but neglect “the better part”: sitting at the feet of Jesus. Jesus called his disciples to “rest a while” for a reason because they needed rest to avoid stress and agitation. We all need to set aside time for spiritual and physical recharging.

He warns against the disease of hoarding. We are not able to take material goods with us, after we die since “the shroud has no pockets”. Earthly treasures will never be able to fill that void; instead, they will only make it deeper and more demanding.

He says to be on guard against the terrorism of gossip, grumbling and back-biting. It is a grave illness which if left unchecked takes over a person, making him become a“sower of weeds”  and even a cold-blooded killer of the good name of other people. It is the disease of cowardly persons who lack the courage to speak out directly, but instead speak behind other people’s backs. Saint Paul admonishes us to 'do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent'.

He warns against the disease of indifference, when we learn something and then keep it to ourselves rather than sharing it in a helpful way with others. Out of jealousy or deceit we take joy in seeing others fall instead of helping them up and encouraging them.

Do you suffer from a lugubrious face? Christians must make the effort to be courteous, enthusiastic and joyful, people who transmit joy wherever they go. A heart filled with God is a happy heart which radiates an infectious joy: so let us not lose that joyful, humorous and even self-deprecating spirit which makes people amiable even in difficult situations. How beneficial is a good dose of humour!

It is also a disease to think ourselves indispensable. We must not be puffed up with self-importance but realize that we are all sinners and only say, “We are unworthy servants. We have only done our duty

You can imagine the stunned reaction of the curial officials. I wonder how many enemies were made that day.

As the Pope said, these afflictions can affect any Christian, any church. Lent is the time for us to address our own spiritual ailments. Let us look at what is most lacking in our Christian lives. Let us consider how we can both purge and nourish our souls.

Let us spend time on Shrove Tuesday or Ash Wednesday in examination of our conscience, that we may redouble our efforts to correct our shortcomings. When we are marked with the sign of the cross on Ash Wednesday, let us have in mind those sins which are most severe for us. May I also recommend that you consider making a confession during Lent.

As we approach Lent may we turn to Christ to heal us of our spiritual disaeases . That the Lord who healed the leper, who washed us clean at our baptism may cleanse us from the stain of sin.