Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Up The Down Staircase

Wednesday, and it is time for the ‘papal examen’ once again, our weekly trip through the Pope’s speech to the Roman curia back at Christmas time. In the fifteen spiritual diseases he mentioned in that talk, we are now at number ten, which is:

The disease of idolizing superiors. This is the disease of those who court their superiors in the hope of gaining their favour. They are victims of careerism and opportunism; they honour persons and not God (cf. Mt 23:8-12). They serve thinking only of what they can get and not of what they should give.

Small-minded persons, unhappy and inspired only by their own lethal selfishness (cf. Gal5:16-25). Superiors themselves could be affected by this disease, when they court their collaborators in order to obtain their submission, loyalty and psychological dependency, but the end result is a real complicity.

This one we know, those of us who have spent much of our life in the service of the institutional church, to be rampant in clerical and ecclesial circles. I suppose it is an inevitable downside of any hierarchical institution (I imagine the army would see a similar phenomenon, or academia). At any rate, the Pope certainly lays into it with strong language here: small minded persons… thinking only of what they can get… lethal selfishness. Classic ‘Franciscan’ bluntness!

Outside of the immediate context in which he is writing, it is worth examining our consciences about this disease. Who are we trying to please? What are we trying to accomplish in life? What ladder are we climbing, and is it a true ladder carrying us genuinely higher, or a distorted upside down ladder promising us heights and riches but truly bearing us downward to Hell?

Catherine Doherty wrote of competitiveness, of the ‘rat race’ of modern economic striving, and how it was like a horrible inverted pyramid made of human beings all scrabbling and scratching to get to the top of it, but factually an upside down pyramid where the top was actually the depths of human degradation and compromise, the destruction of the person.

We have to be vigilant about this kind of thing, which can infect anyone in any circle of life. But in the Church in particular—and I say this to any of my brother priests reading this—it is something that should be anathema. Careerism, ambition, ‘sucking up’ to the bishop or the chancery—all of that is utterly at odds with, directly contradictory to, the mission of Christ in the world which is our only reason for existing.

What strikes me about this is what an utter waste of time and energy it all is. All of that ladder climbing stuff—it just doesn’t matter. It means nothing, does nothing, accomplishes nothing, gets us nowhere. It is a sad waste of a human life to spend it seeking and acquiring power and becoming obsessed with ‘playing the game’ to get it, whatever form that game takes (toadying to superiors and cultivating the good graces of those ‘high up’ is only one of those forms).

Meanwhile, Christ beckons, and the Gospel beckons, and the joy of the Gospel beckons, and the call to love and serve and lay down our lives with Him beckons… all the real stuff, the things that actually matter. Money and power and position and the good opinion of ‘those who count’ is the ultimate vanity of vanities—love and service and the good opinion of The Only One Who Counts is everything, the one thing necessary.

That’s all I have time for this morning, as I actually have a plane to catch, and a long drive to get there. I’m heading to Vancouver for two weeks of talks, retreats, and various pastoral commitments. Blogging may be sporadic in the next while—I don’t know what my time and wifi access will be there. So, Fr. Lemieux signing off for now, and here’s hoping we all have a good day seeking the one thing that is necessary and good for our souls and for the good of the world. And pray for me as I go on this next little mission trip!


  1. Safe travels Denis. Please say hello to Gary Franken if you run into him out there. He's my only B.C. classmate and a great all round guy to boot!


    1. Will do... but I'm probably not going to see him - pretty full schedule, so unless he's in my immediate vicinity...


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