Pope Francis wrote that spiritual worldliness begins to take hold in the lives of priests not only through temptations to mediocrity, power and influence, and vainglory but also “from doctrinal intransigence and liturgical aestheticism,” which have the appearance of religiosity and even loving the Church but instead seek human glory and personal well-being.
“How can we fail to recognize in all of this the updated version of that hypocritical formalism which Jesus saw in certain religious authorities of the time and which in the course of public life made him suffer perhaps more than anything else?” the pope wrote.
The pope also took the occasion to address more deeply one of his perennial concerns, clericalism, which he described as a “specific form” of spiritual worldliness. Pope Francis wrote that clericalism falsely gives the impression that priests are “superior, privileged, placed ‘high’ and therefore separated from the rest of God’s holy people,” which the pope said denotes “an illness that makes us lose the memory of baptism we have received.”
Drawing from the prophet Ezekiel and St. Augustine, the pope also told the Roman clergy that they must not seek primarily the “milk” of material gain nor the “wool” of praise and worldly recognition, which undermines “the priestly spirit, the zeal for service, [and] the yearning for the care of the people.”
The pope also critiqued a “clerical spirit” among the laity, manifested by elitism, possessiveness of one’s ministry, and an inward focus, which he said leads to the loss of joy and gratuitousness and the rise of criticism and anger.
The antidote to spiritual worldliness and clericalism, the pope wrote, is “to look at Jesus crucified, to fix our eyes every day on him who emptied himself and humbled himself for us unto death.” Looking at the wounds of Jesus, Pope Francis said, helps the clergy learn “that we are called to offer ourselves, to make ourselves bread broken for the hungry, to share the journey of the weary and oppressed.”