So it is time for the Wednesday Papal Examen once again—our weekly appropriation of the Pope’s talk to the Curia a month or so ago for our own examination of how the ‘fifteen diseases’ he spoke of may show up in our own lives.
Disease number three: “Then too there is the disease of mental and spiritual ‘petrification’. It is found in those who have a heart of stone, the ‘stiff-necked’ (Acts 7:51-60), in those who in the course of time lose their interior serenity, alertness and daring, and hide under a pile of papers, turning into paper pushers and not men of God (cf. Heb 3:12).
“It is dangerous to lose the human sensitivity that enables us to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice! This is the disease of those who lose ‘the sentiments of Jesus’ (cf. Phil 2:5-11), because as time goes on their hearts grow hard and become incapable of loving unconditionally the Father and our neighbour (cf. Mt 22:34-35).
“Being a Christian means ‘having the same sentiments that were in Christ Jesus’ (Phil 2:5), sentiments of humility and unselfishness, of detachment and generosity.”
This is a tough one, folks. As life goes on, it is so easy to allow one’s heart to grow hard and cold. It is so easy to take refuge in just doing one’s job, doing what is expected of you, whether it involves piles of papers or some other mountain of work. This is not hard to understand or sympathize with. Again, it is important to note that we are not speaking of ‘sin’ here, but of spiritual disease, pathological ways of being and doing that can afflict the human heart.
Life is hard; the world is hard. There is pain, there are problems, there are troubles on all sides, always. Even if one’s own life is basically OK or even more than OK, there are always people around about us who are in great distress over one thing or another. And as Christians we are called to a high degree of compassion, empathy, warmth, sympathy with all suffering humanity.
It is truly very hard to achieve this and persevere in it. If you really take seriously that call to ‘weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice,’ first you are going to weep a lot, because there is always someone weeping somewhere. But also, you are going to have to surrender a certain autonomy in this—if the sorrows and joys of humanity are meant to be our sorrows and joys (and they certainly are, if we have any understanding of what it means to live in Christ), then we lose quite a bit of control over our lives.
We cannot help but love and reach out, love and go out, love and have our hearts be broken by love, love and constantly live under the dynamic that is the heart of love, which is to give everything one has for the beloved. But when the beloved is all of humanity, every human being, this call to love pushes us to heroic generosity and total self-gift.
Oh, it’s easier just to push papers around on my desk. It’s easier just to say, “I was hired to do a job; I’ve done the job, and now I’m checking out.” It’s easier to do a lot of things that end up turning us into nice little functionaries who do everything we’re ‘supposed’ to do, but with cold hearts and unseeing eyes.
As I keep saying as I write these little examens, this may or may not be something people in the Curia have to contend with, but it’s hardly unique to the Roman Curia. And so we need to keep turning to Jesus in this. No matter how nice we are or how sympathetic a disposition we start out with in life, there is no way any human being is going to have enough store of compassion and generous tender love to be sufficient for the task we have as Christians. It is Jesus’ own compassion for us, his own tenderness and care for us, that gives us what we need to give to others, and this is not a once and for all affair, but a matter of daily seeking and finding, asking and receiving, knocking at the door of Christ’s heart that it be opened and we enter in.
It is that and only that which redeems us from the disease of spiritual petrification, that gives us hearts of flesh and the gift of tears for humanity, that allows us to love without counting the cost and be faithful to our call, to the end.