I am not the first person today to make the connection between Pope Francis’s “Airing of Grievances” to the Roman Curial leadership and staff this week and today’s marking of the Sienfeld pseudo-holiday “Festivus” which, among its many hilarious ‘traditional’ components, includes the “airing of grievances. My friend Fran Rossi Szpylczyn on her blog “There Will Be Bread” credits theologian Natalia Imperatori-Lee with perhaps the earliest Facebook reference this morning. To whomever might have also thought of this connection, you’re not alone!
I have always been a fan of Sienfeld, with the Costanza family “Festivus” tradition each December 23rd delighting me every time I think of it. It also seems that Pope Francis has a good sense of humor, observational perhaps, even if it is not the same as the Larry David existential cynicism that undergirded nine years of the Sienfeld 90s reign.
However, there is really nothing very funny about Pope Francis’s admonition to the curial staff in Vatican City this week. His now-well-known list of “fifteen diseases” in need of treatment arises from his understanding of the church as the Body of Christ, which is direly in need of a check up. This physical exam begins “at the top” we might say, with those who set the pace and establish the tone for the day-to-day running of the universal church.
But given that you and I are as much part of the Corpus Christi as any curial prefect in a red hat, Pope Francis’s physical-fitness check list is well worth examining for each of us too! Here it is, happy festivus!
The disease of feeling ‘immortal’ or ‘essential’
‘A curia that does not practice self-criticism, does not keep up to date, does not try to better itself, is an infirm Body’. The Pope mentions that a visit to cemeteries could help us see the names of many who ‘maybe thought they were immortal, exempt and essential!’. It is the disease of those who ‘turn into masters and feel superior to everyone rather than in the service of all people. It often comes from the pathology of power, the “Messiah complex” and narcissism’.
The disease of excessive activity
It is the disease of those who, like Martha in the Gospel, ‘lose themselves in their work, inevitably neglecting “what is better”; sitting at Jesus’ feet’. The Pope recalls that Jesus ‘called his disciples to “rest a little”, because neglecting necessary rest brings anxiety and stress’.
The diseases of mental and spiritual ‘petrification’
It is the disease of those who ‘lose their internal peace, their vivacity and audacity, to hide under papers and become “procedural machines” instead of men of God’, unable to ‘weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice!’.
The disease of overplanning
‘When the apostle plans everything in detail’ and believes that, through this, ‘things progress effectively, thus becoming an accountant. Good planning is necessary but without falling into the temptation of wanting to enclose or steer the freedom of the Holy Spirit… it is always easier and more convenient to fall back on static and unchanged positions’.
The disease of bad coordination
It is the disease of members who ‘lose the community among them, and the Body loses its harmonious functionality’ becoming ‘an orchestra producing undisciplined noise because its members do not cooperate and do not live communally and have team spirit’.
The disease of spiritual Alzheimer’s
That is a ‘progressive decline of spiritual faculties’ which ’causes severe disadvantages to people’, making them live in a ‘state of absolute dependence on their, often imagined, views’. We can see this in those who have ‘lost their memory’ of their encounter with the Lord, in those who depend on their ‘passions, whims and obsessions’.
The disease of rivalry and vainglory
‘When the appearance, the colour of the vestments and the honours become the first objectives of life… It is the disease that leads us to become false men and women, living a false “mysticism” and false “quietism”‘.
The disease of existential schizophrenia
It is the disease of those who live ‘a double life, a result of the hypocrisy typical of mediocre people and of advancing spiritual emptiness, which degrees or academic titles cannot fill’. It often strikes us that some ‘abandon the pastoral service and limit their activities to bureaucracy, losing touch with reality and real people. They thus create their own parallel world, where they set aside all that the others harshly teach’ and live a ‘hidden’ and often ‘dissolute’ life.
The disease of gossip and chatter
‘It takes hold of a person making them “sowers of discord” (like Satan), and, in many cases, “cold-blooded murderers” of the reputation of their colleagues and brothers. It is the disease of cowards, who do not have the courage to speak upfront and so talk behind one’s back… Watch out against the terrorism of gossip!’.
The disease of deifying the leaders
It is the disease of those who ‘court their superiors’, becoming victims of ‘careerism and opportunism’ and ‘live their vocation thinking only of what they must gain and not of what they must give’. It might also affects the superiors ‘when they court some of their collaborators in order to gain their submission, loyalty and psychological dependence, but the final result is real complicity’.
The disease of indifference to others
‘When each one thinks only of themselves and loses the truthfulness and warmth of human relationships. When the more experienced ones do not offer their knowledge to the service of less experienced colleagues. When, because of jealousy or cunning, we rejoice in seeing others fall, rather than lift them up and encourage them’.
The disease of the funeral face
It is the disease of people who are ‘scowling and unfriendly and think that, in order to be serious, they must show a melancholic and strict face and treat others – especially those, whom they think are inferior – with rigidity, harshness and arrogance’. In reality, adds the Pope, ‘theatrical strictness and sterile pessimism are often symptoms of fear and insecurity about themselves. The apostle must strive to be a polite, serene, enthusiastic and joyful person…’. Francis invites people to be full of humour and self-irony; ‘How beneficial a healthy dose of humour can be!’
The disease of hoarding
‘When the apostle seeks to fill an existential void in his heart by hoarding material possessions, not because of necessity, but only to feel secure’.
The disease of closed circles
When belonging to a clique becomes more important than belonging to the Body and, in some situations, than belonging to Christ himself. Even this disease starts from good intentions, but in time it enslaves all its members becoming “a cancer”‘.
The disease of worldly profit and exhibitionism
‘When the apostle turns his service into power, and his power into a commodity to gain worldly profits, or even more powers. It is the disease of those people who relentlessly seek to increase their powers. To achieve that, they may defame, slander and discredit others, even on newspapers and magazines. Naturally, that is in order to show off and exhibit their superiority to others’. A disease that ‘badly hurts the Body because it leads people to justify the use of any means in order to fulfill their aim, often in the name of transparency and justice!’