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March 1, 2021

The art of living

Today begins the electoral synod of Catholic cardinals. Even though the situation is unique (a voluntary retirement, rather than a demise), the elections will not be significantly different from the previous ones. Not only in terms of procedure, but also in the perspective of conscience dilemmas. It is true that Benedict XVI has retired, but his gesture will have a resonance for his posterity, even in spite of his possible intentions. But it is too soon for such a message to become active in the consciences of cardinals (and not only in theirs). First because it is not direct, the motivation of his gesture is limited to problems of ‘vigour’ (not just physical). The rest is just speculation, for now. Against this rather ambiguous background one may consider his move as exemplary, meant to stimulate the test of conscience with regard to ecclesial responsibilities. Despite the inevitable de facto heterogeneity of the Catholic Church, its pyramidal structure has transformed the latest Popes – in an epoch dominated by the media – into overexposed personalities. Thus, their impact has new forms, some of them hard to foresee. A Pope that retires accentuates the impression of human responsibility (potentially ambivalent) of clerical dignities. A priest and a bishop may retire the same way, if they are no longer capable to do their duties. A cleric, even the Pope, can make mistakes, from weakness or willingly. The priest’s service should not be anymore a refuge for unworthy people, in other words the de facto (sometimes also de jure) immunity must be rethought. Moreover, the gesture of Ratzinger is exemplary not just as essentially voluntary, but it can also weigh in favour of increased pressure aimed at removing certain people for possible acts of abuse or even incompetence. If the ‘democratisation’ (following own values, not imported from the secular) of the Church leadership is a hard to conceive perspective, the argument of responsibility adapted to the present epoch gains precedence in the catholic rhetoric, with all its temptations and specific dilemmas. As a matter of fact, if there is something to be re-launched in the ‘millenary’ Churches (catholic, as well as orthodox, each with its drifts and limitations) this is precisely the pastorate. We should not forget that the clergy is not only the leading personnel of a certain structure, but above all a corps meant to transmit a message of spiritual accomplishment. A message which, after two millennia of Christianity, seems evident, but often unattractive. Well, this is the precise misleading evidence. An authentic cleric is a seeker himself, and ecclesial relations should be biunivocal. In fact, the crisis of pastorate is not one of methods, messages etc. It mostly is an ecclesial crisis, because the forms of ecclesial communion are often problematic. Beyond the virtues of the pyramidal model (which should not be neglected), the limitations (through the force of a ‘tradition’ that is disputable, at least in part) brought to some of the less artificial forms of communion represents a blockage today. And the ‘decision’ must be once again linked to the community, of a more living manner. It is obvious that the ideal leadership form of the Church does not exist. But the ossification of an organism that pretends to be mainly spiritual is a pathology that must be always countered. In a broad sense, the problem of pastorate is ‘cultural.’ But not in the sense of a necessary move of getting away from Europe, by the possible election of a Pope with American or African origins. The challenge is to ‘update’ (in the best sense of the term) a Christianity capable of generating a culture which a Christian could really live within. This is not about an administrative reform, but a re-coupling of the spiritual horizon with the concrete imperatives of a formative culture. The Church (and the new Pope) must know how to learn, in the name of his God, ‘the art of living.’

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