Rorate Caeli

Sinners, yes! Corrupt, no!

Fr. Antonio Ucciardo
Celebrant of the Traditional Mass in the 
Archdiocese of Catania
from  Porta Santa Anna

One of the recurrent themes of the preaching of Pope Francis is that of corruption.  In our view, this should be read from the viewpoint of that spiritual worldliness that represents perhaps the key to understanding this papacy. 
We know that the Holy Father is referring to that worldliness that was described by Henri de Lubac in his most significant works.  This Jesuit theologian, later made Cardinal by Pope John II, spoke of this worldliness as the greatest danger for the Church.  He wrote: “None of us is totally safe against this evil.  A subtle humanism, the adversary of the living God, and, in a deep way, no less an enemy of man, is able to insinuate itself in us by thousands of devious ways. That ‘original crookedness’ in us is never definitively straightened.  The ‘sin against the Holy Spirit’ is always possible.”

De Lubac owes his use of this category to Anscar Vonier, a Benedictine who died in 1918.  He makes a distinction between the spirituality of the world and a material spirituality:  “Even if men were full of every spiritual perfection, but these perfections were not in relation to God (supposing that such a thing were possible), we would be talking about a worldliness incapable of redemption.”  And again: “ If Christianity ever had to lower itself to the level of a perfect ethical society whose only purpose was to promote human prosperity, or even the promotion of human morality, the Church would, following this path, become completely apostate, like Lucifer himself.  The Church in doing this would be denying the Spirit, would be refusing to follow the Spirit wherever it wants to lead her. The Church would be trying to please men rather than Christ, and human applause would be her highest recompense.”

Why are we saying these things?  For the simple fact that the way of thinking of the world, always ready to find enthusiastic admirers among Catholics, understands corruption as an evil bound to riches, weakness, honors, and obsession with a career.  When this understanding is applied to a priest, the evidence of his corruption may be that he owns a luxury car.  From here comes the message that the reform, strangely having become a preoccupation dominated by whether someone knows how to distinguish between a curate or a catechist, is within reach. It is enough to get rid of the corrupt men in the Curia, to reduce priests and dioceses to a state of poverty, to abolish some titles, and the game is over and done. But this is not the intent of the Pope, who does not hide from himself or the Church the duty of making sure that we have pastors who live according to the Heart of Christ.  Benedict spoke of secularized priests.  Francis speaks of corrupt priests.  We need to be grateful to the Pope for this continuing and healthy shaking up of the pastors. Their conversion must begin with their realization that they have been called to be heralds and ministers of conversion for others.  Among other things, for decades now there has been an emphasis from all quarters on the priesthood of all believers. This is a good thing, when, following the teaching of Vatican II, one recognizes the dignity of every person who has been baptized.  But it becomes something negative when it is used to democratize the Church and bring everyone down to the same level, and in this way shows disrespect for the Council.  Why does one, when speaking of corruption, shrink back from applying the need for conversion to the laity, instead thinking that it applies only to the ministerial priesthood?

Secularization and corruption are categories that do not apply only to priests, especially if it is true that the Church is not made up only of priests.  The spirit of the world calls everyone to its cause, because it consists of a constant temptation that has existed throughout history, beginning with the scene in the Gospels of the temptations of Christ.  This worldly spirituality offers a human redeemer, who would marry the cause of a hazy humanism and who would satisfy all the aspects and all the pretenses that are those of a man who chooses the darkness so that he does not have to look at the light of truth.  These pretenses the world has never put aside.  In a few days our national song festival will host a singer who includes in his repertory a song called “Gay Messiah”.  We hope that at least in Italy the song will not be on his program, even though the invitation offered this singer seems to follow closely that preoccupation that is becoming the sole obsession of politics, of institutions and men of culture.

There exists also a corruption of faith, which can be the cause of yielding to the spirit of the world or that can be a direct reflection of it, depending on the perspectives that one assumes when looking at the unfolding situation.  And we should not necessarily think of heresy in this context.  If heresy is truth gone haywire, corruption is the obfuscation of truth.  If the heretic, as the great Chesterton would say, affirms his partial truth at the expense of the whole truth, the corrupt man says nothing about the whole truth by emphasizing his partial truth in the everyday life of the Christian. 

One cannot be a Christian without love of one’s neighbor, without wanting to clothe all forms of poverty with this love.  There have been so many appeals on the part of the Pope, so many warnings about having to open the eyes of the heart when confronted with that indifference that is the mark of our time, so satisfied and yet so unsatisfied.  But let us beware of those who separate the neighbor and the poor from the love of God, as if everything should be done on this earth according to the parameters of perfect efficiency of charitable institutions.  And let us beware of those who sow confusion in the hierarchy of truths by emphasizing only that aspect that makes them more comfortable.  One is not a Christian, even less a Catholic, if one chooses a single value and separates it from truth.  This is the mixed-up thinking that is today found everywhere and is so ably to falsify the truth by meeting supposed needs that originate from those who think with the world. Perhaps it is necessary to be Christians “on the street” but with the proviso that the street lead to Paradise.  History does not show that living a simple life produces Christians.  It leaves us as simply men.  And in no Gospel is there written that a man must just live simply per se.  But the worldly redeemer does not have to trouble himself to let a man into his way of life.  It is he, rather, who chooses a man’s way of living.  That is how it is.

De Lubac spoke about a subtle humanism.  He spoke in this way in the 1950s. Today because this humanism has taken off its mask and has shown itself to have become solidly entrenched and has penetrated our culture so deeply as never before, we need to turn to the faith of the Church in its integrity.  These uncontrollable elements that respect no authority other than themselves have produced a paradoxical situation that is beneath our own eyes, and they are preparing to gain success in new places. Not content to have obtained the applause of the world, they would like that of the Church as well, which they see as something for which they should take credit as the logical consequence of the changing times.   Many indications of this are coming together with an adamantine clarity.

The Body of Christ is made up of members.  The Church is built through the work of all her members, not only some of them.  Temporal realities are entrusted to the faithful laity, not to priests.  The Church of the pure does not exist, save in Paradise. On earth we have a Church made up of poor sinners, who have only one pure thing that they can accept and retain:  grace.  The purity of the Faith, transmitted by our Mother, pure and without stain, is the only antidote to corruption, as much as for our personal lives as for the life of the Church in this hour.

The Pope has reminded us of this: “Sinners yes, all of us, that is what we are! But betrayers, no! Corrupt, no! Always within! And the Church is so much a mother that she wants us as we are, so many times dirty, but the Church cleanses us: she is Mother.”  (February 6, 2014)

If the distinction is between sin and corruption, the Pope is not speaking of material worldliness.  He is speaking of spiritual worldliness.  He is not speaking about moral fragility but about corruption in the heart and in the mind.  And since we must love God with all our heart and all our mind, he is speaking about our personal conversion and about the corruption of faith and morals in the presence of a worldly fiction that flatters us, applauds us, and welcomes us if we present those who invent this fiction with a redeemer that is in accord with their pretenses.  And to betray Christ is the ultimate corruption.

Translated by Father Richard G. Cipolla