Some people still make New Year resolutions, although most, knowing that chances are that they would not keep them, have stopped doing so. It could be useful to find out why people do not keep resolutions that are usually made with the conviction that their life would improve by them.
Probably, the first reason would be that some resolutions are unrealistic. Another reason could be our frailty – the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. A third could be that since we function on two different levels, of reason on the conscious level and of affect on the unconscious level, we make our resolutions inspired by our reason oblivious of the fact that our affect is stronger, and often reason’s enemy.
Resolutions should also be made on the communitarian level, including the level of Church. The Church community consists of hierarchy and laity; it consists of all the baptised; however, the hierarchy is especially responsible for showing the way and this they have to do less by word than by example. In the first days of his papacy, Pope Francis spelled out very clearly what he expected of the hierarchy.
Often we are more a victim of our unconscious desires than we believe
Just one month after his election, on the feast of Holy Thursday, addressing more than a thousand priests, bishops and cardinals at the annual Chrism Mass, he insisted that priests should live very close to their flock so as to get in touch with their longings, their fears, their concerns, their doubts and their faith, thus becoming able to serve the people in their needs. This he called “the smell of the sheep”.
He repeated the same idea a little later when addressing an assembly of nuncios. Often these are involved in the process of shortlisting priests for bishoprics. He wanted bishops to be chosen from among those deeply immersed in their flock, who are not interested in the least in clerical careerism and do not have the “psychology of princes”. Careerism among the clergy is obviously one of the Pope’s main concerns.
In another address, this time to newly promoted cardinals, he was even more blunt. He told them that the red hat should not go to their head. They were not being promoted or honoured; they were being asked to serve with greater intensity and humility.
In the following years, Pope Francis has continued to make choices according to these principles. He sidelines clerics who seem to give great importance to careerism even though they may be competent administrators, and chooses bishops from among those known mostly for their humble service to the flock.
All this is very well known because it has been reported over and over again both by the secular and the religious media. The message of Pope Francis is very clear: if the Church is going to be faithful to Christ it must be a Church that serves.
Pope Francis was unequivocal when he called clerical careerism a cancer. As many priests are still after titles, a touch of purple in their cassock and long lace in their albs, one wonders where so much resistance is coming from.
Often we are more a victim of our unconscious desires than we believe. In the Spiritual Exercises, St Ignatius calls these “inordinate affections” and considers them as one of the main reasons for going our way rather than God’s.
At the beginning of the new year it would be good for all of us to take some time to see whether our reason and our affect are walking out of step.
Fr Alfred Micallef is a member of the Society of Jesus.
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