by Katie Rich
In recent weeks, the Catholic world has been abuzz with the Extraordinary Synod on the Family that recently concluded in Rome. I’ll leave the heavy-lifting dissection to the professionals, but would like to help you reflect on Pope Francis’ final speech to the assembled fathers at the conclusion of the Synod. This speech is by no means an official church document. It is just another example of the Holy Father shedding invaluable light on a matter very important to all modern-day Catholics.
Pope Francis covers a lot of ground in not a lot of time. He reaffirms tradition while emphasizing the spirit of parresia, or openness. He outlines the role of the pope, of clergy, and of the Church itself. But arguably the most powerful moment of the speech is when Pope Francis admits that the Synod is “a journey of human beings,” and as such, prone to moments of desolation, to tensions and temptations. These temptations are not only temptations faced by the Synod fathers, but also by lay Catholics in our everyday lives. By investigating these harmful potentials, much can be learned about being a follower of Christ.
The first temptation Pope Francis acknowledges is “hostile inflexibility,” or as he says, “not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises.” How often do we close ourselves off to God, thinking we have a plan and don’t want to consider alternatives the Spirit may have to offer? How rarely do we recite the words, “thy will be done,” and truly mean them?
The second temptation is the “destructive tendency to goodness,” in the sense that we “bind wounds without first curing them,” or “treat the symptoms and not the causes or the roots.” Am I the queen of shoving my problems under the rug? How often do you find yourself putting in the least amount of effort needed to get by, without really confronting the root of the problem?
The third temptation is “the temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).” Are you ever tempted to abuse a power you have because you’re exhausted? Do you walk through the quad and through life, judging others even though you yourself are imperfect? Do you forget that the Father loves you so much, that when you ask for bread, He would never hand you a stone? Do you see the emotional burdens that your neighbors carry, but are too afraid to reach out and help?
The fourth temptation is “to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.” Do you find yourself eager to drop the cross of faith you have been given, and instead pour yourself into the mold the world has constructed for you?
The final temptation is to “neglect the deposit of faith, not thinking of [our]selves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it].” How often do we preach, thinking ourselves experts on a matter we really could stand to learn more about? Do we ever shut down opinions because they differ from our own?
These temptations are a real part of our everyday lives as Catholics and as people. But Pope Francis tells us not to be discouraged, that he “would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations… this movement of the spirits, as St Ignatius called it.” That we undergo these temptations means we are trying to live a life of faith. If they were absent, as St. Ignatius explains in the Spiritual Exercises, it would seem that we were doing something wrong. The Holy Father reminds us that “this is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy.” We are sinners. We are tempted. But even Jesus was tempted, and the servant cannot be greater than the master. By pinpointing these temptations in our lives, these potholes of sin we are inclined to fall into, we can only grow in faith and love. Let yourself be surprised by God. By acknowledging our shortcomings, we can only become better Christians.