Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Papal Examen

Among the ways of ‘missing the point’ that the post-modern world specializes in, is the shortened attention span that makes it hard for us to focus on any one thing for any great length of time. Driven by the constant inflow of stimulus (I won’t call it information) that the Internet delivers up to us, it is all too easy to let the latest stream of words and images wash over us and then just keep gushing down-stream. If we stop and think and talk about that one thing that just happened, we will miss the next twenty things that come along, and wouldn’t that be a tragedy?

This is very bad for us. We lack depth in our own personal reflections in this; furthermore, we essentially ‘out-source’ the analysis of the events of the day to those people—the media—who have no specialized knowledge or expertise and certainly no wisdom to speak of, but who have the ability to churn out vast quantities of words in short periods of time (a friend of MH who is a very successful Canadian journalist told us that this is, in fact, the salient qualification needed to work in the newspaper business).

For example, does anyone remember that thing that happened a whole whopping two weeks ago, when Pope Francis gave a talking to the members of the Curia? Remember how he was furious with them and lashed at them about their sins, and how they were cold and unfriendly to him in return, and how this is clearly a sign of… well, something or other happening in the Vatican, and…?

Remember that? I know it happened a whole two weeks ago, but isn’t it amazing how everyone has basically forgotten in any real way what was (we were assured at the time) such an earth-shaking event. A whopping two weeks ago it got everyone’s tongue flapping, either bringing out the Francis cheer-leaders to say “Yeah! Go, Papa! Sock it to them, those lousy no-good curial jerks! Woo hoo!” or on the other hand the Francis nay-sayers wringing their hands: “Oh, those poor curia people. They work so hard! Why is Francis always so mean? That’s not a good way to talk to your subordinates!”

Well of course part of it was that once those who were interested read the whole text and watched the video, nothing of what I wrote above was particularly borne out as, you know, having happened. The Pope was offering, in good Ignatian style, an examination of conscience (appropriate for Advent!); he was careful, as all good pastors are, to use the pronoun ‘we’ throughout, and the points of the examen were hemmed on both sides by warm expressions of gratitude and affection.

The curial officials meanwhile, certainly looked serious during the talk. It was a serious talk. Perhaps they were… I don’t know, examining their consciences! It's been known to happen. And afterwards they were all of them smiling and chatting with the Pope with complete cordiality. As usual, the people whose only skill is generating large volumes of words in short periods of time (hey! I could get a job in the media!) force-fed us a narrative with only the most tenuous connection to reality, and that is all the vague recollection most have of that earth-shattering event from two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, we have all moved on, and it’s a shame. Why is it a shame? Because it is a darned good examination of conscience, and not just for the curia, either. And so on this blog I am going to say ‘heck, no!’ to the ADD quality of our modern culture. I am NOT going to move on. In fact, I am going to take the next fifteen Wednesdays, and blog about each of the fifteen ‘diseases’ the Pope wrote about and reflect on how these might apply to our lives.

It is easy to point fingers at the curia, or at Cardinal X or Archbishop Y or Fr. Q. And yes, those in high ecclesial offices do have a higher burden of responsibility and accountability… to God and to their lawful superiors, that is. But it is useless—worse than useless, it is deeply harmful to gleefully or angrily or sorrowfully account for the sins of other people, in high office or otherwise. We are never, no matter what, no matter who, to examine the conscience of another person, only our own.

And so Wednesdays on the blog will be dedicated the next little while to “The Papal Examen” – Lent really is just around the corner, and this will be a good warm-up exercise for that season. See you tomorrow with the first disease!


  1. I love it how you avoided Fr. Z, which would have been the logical progression from Cardinal X and Archbishop Y. lol.
    I hate to say it, but, when it comes to journalism, most of it is written by idiots for idiots. Though I, naturally, not being an idiot, read it because I want entertainment, not truth.

    1. You know, I didn't think of it - probably was one of those instinctive authorial choices one reads about. I actually have a great affection for Fr. Z., even if I don't fully share some of his views on liturgy, etc. He seems like a good guy.

  2. Amen, Fr. Denis. As members of the Body of Christ ourselves, it would behoove each of us to carefully and prayerfully read and meditate upon Pope Francis' fraternal exhortation and reflect upon the circumstances of one's own life in its light. We are each of us susceptible to the same spiritual "diseases" that Francis points out to the members of the curia -- we who are members of a diocese, a parish, a ministry or apostolate, a domestic church -- members with one another in Christ. I personally have been convicted by what the Holy Father has spoken. I take it to heart (and will take it to Confession!).

    Thank you, Fr. Denis, for taking the time to reflect on this "Papal Examen." I look forward to your reflections which will lead us from Christmas through Lent and beyond -- from cradle to grave, so to speak.

    Just today I began reading through the address with the students in the Foundations of Catholicism class that I teach at St. Therese. We will finish reading and discussing it next week, and I will direct them to your blog. In fact, by your leave, I may use your blogs for ongoing reflection and discussion as we continue our course.

    God's peace, and thanks again.

    1. Absolutely, Jim - use anything of mine that would be helpful, by any means.

  3. Can you examine his New Years resolutions next?


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