Fri 31st Oct 2014 | Last updated: Fri 31st Oct 2014 at 16:19pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo

Latest News

Pope Francis: self-help courses can turn Catholics into Pelagians

By on Thursday, 28 March 2013

Pope Francis celebrates  Mass (Photo: PA)

Pope Francis celebrates Mass (Photo: PA)

Pope Francis has said in his Chrism Mass homily that self-help courses can turn Catholics into “Pelagians” who “minimise the power of grace”.

The Pope said at a Mass in St Peter’s Basilica attended by about 1,600 priests that “it is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord”.

He said: “Self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live by going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become Pelagians and to minimise the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others.” The Pelagian heresy, popular in the fifth century, holds that people are capable of choosing good without the grace of God.

In his homily, Pope Francis urged priests to “go out” and to live “in the midst of their flock”. He said that, like the “anointed ones”, Isaiah, David and Christ, priests are anounted so that they, in turn, can anount the faithful.

The Pope said: “We need to ‘go out’, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the ‘outskirts’ where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters.

“A priest who seldom goes out of himself, who anoints little – I won’t say ‘not at all’ because, thank God, our people take our oil from us anyway – misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart.”

The Pope said these priests are likely to “grow dissatisfied” since “he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks”.

The official text of Pope Francis’s homily for the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday 2013:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This morning I have the joy of celebrating my first Chrism Mass as the Bishop of Rome. I greet all of you with affection, especially you, dear priests, who, like myself, today recall the day of your ordination.

The readings of our Mass speak of the “anointed ones”: the suffering Servant of Isaiah, King David and Jesus our Lord. All three have this in common: the anointing that they receive is meant in turn to anoint God’s faithful people, whose servants they are; they are anointed for the poor, for prisoners, for the oppressed… A fine image of this “being for” others can be found in the Psalm: “It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down upon the collar of his robe” (Ps 133:2). The image of spreading oil, flowing down from the beard of Aaron upon the collar of his sacred robe, is an image of the priestly anointing which, through Christ, the Anointed One, reaches the ends of the earth, represented by the robe.

The sacred robes of the High Priest are rich in symbolism. One such symbol is that the names of the children of Israel were engraved on the onyx stones mounted on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, the ancestor of our present-day chasuble: six on the stone of the right shoulder-piece and six on that of the left (cf. Ex 28:6-14). The names of the twelve tribes of Israel were also engraved on the breastplate (cf. Es 28:21). This means that the priest celebrates by carrying on his shoulders the people entrusted to his care and bearing their names written in his heart. When we put on our simple chasuble, it might well make us feel, upon our shoulders and in our hearts, the burdens and the faces of our faithful people, our saints and martyrs of whom there are many in these times…

From the beauty of all these liturgical things, which is not so much about trappings and fine fabrics than about the glory of our God resplendent in his people, alive and strengthened, we turn to a consideration of activity, action. The precious oil which anoints the head of Aaron does more than simply lend fragrance to his person; it overflows down to “the edges”. The Lord will say this clearly: his anointing is meant for the poor, prisoners and the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone. The ointment is not intended just to make us fragrant, much less to be kept in a jar, for then it would become rancid … and the heart bitter.

A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed. This is a clear test. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with “unction”, they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the “outskirts” where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith. People thank us because they feel that we have prayed over the realities of their everyday lives, their troubles, their joys, their burdens and their hopes. And when they feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: “Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem”, “Bless me”, “Pray for me” – these words are the sign that the anointing has flowed down to the edges of the robe, for it has turned into prayer. The prayers of the people of God. When we have this relationship with God and with his people, and grace passes through us, then we are priests, mediators between God and men. What I want to emphasize is that we need constantly to stir up God’s grace and perceive in every request, even those requests that are inconvenient and at times purely material or downright banal – but only apparently so – the desire of our people to be anointed with fragrant oil, since they know that we have it. To perceive and to sense, even as the Lord sensed the hope-filled anguish of the woman suffering from hemorrhages when she touched the hem of his garment. At that moment, Jesus, surrounded by people on every side, embodies all the beauty of Aaron vested in priestly raiment, with the oil running down upon his robes. It is a hidden beauty, one which shines forth only for those faith-filled eyes of the woman troubled with an issue of blood. But not even the disciples – future priests – see or understand: on the “existential outskirts”, they see only what is on the surface: the crowd pressing in on Jesus from all sides (cf. Lk 8:42). The Lord, on the other hand, feels the power of the divine anointing which runs down to the edge of his cloak.

We need to “go out”, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live by going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all.

A priest who seldom goes out of himself, who anoints little – I won’t say “not at all” because, thank God, our people take our oil from us anyway – misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, “has already received his reward”, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks. This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, become sad priests, lose heart and become in some sense collectors of antiques or novelties – instead of being shepherds living with “the smell of the sheep”, shepherds in the midst of their flock, fishers of men. True enough, the so-called crisis of priestly identity threatens us all and adds to the broader cultural crisis; but if we can resist its onslaught, we will be able to put out in the name of the Lord and cast our nets. It is not a bad thing that reality itself forces us to “put out into the deep”, where what we are by grace is clearly seen as pure grace, out into the deep of the contemporary world, where the only thing that counts is “unction” – not function – and the nets which overflow with fish are those cast solely in the name of the One in whom we have put our trust: Jesus.

Dear lay faithful, be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart.

Dear priests, may God the Father renew in us the Spirit of holiness with whom we have been anointed. May he renew his Spirit in our hearts, that this anointing may spread to everyone, even to those “outskirts” where our faithful people most look for it and most appreciate it. May our people sense that we are the Lord’s disciples; may they feel that their names are written upon our priestly vestments and that we seek no other identity; and may they receive through our words and deeds the oil of gladness which Jesus, the Anointed One, came to bring us. Amen.

  • MarkWilliam

    Amen.

  • Patrick_Hadley

    A wonderful homily.

    Pope Francis warns his priests that if they forget their real mission they can become mere managers, and collectors of either antiques or novelties. Our Church is blessed with many fine priests, but there are certainly some whose real passion seems to either in preserving antiques, or in introducing novelties.

    The definition of an antique is something more than either fifty or hundred years old. A novelty is something new and perhaps tawdry. I don’t want to words into the Pope’s mouth, but if you apply this to the liturgy Francis has no more time for the usus antiquior than for trendy gimmicks.

    Francis reminds us that the beauty of the liturgy is not so much about trappings and fine fabrics as about the glory of our God resplendent in his people, alive and strengthened.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    Pope Francis : The sacred robes of the High Priest are rich in symbolism. One such symbol is that the names of the children of Israel were engraved on the onyx stones mounted on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, the ancestor of our present-day chasuble: six on the stone of the right shoulder-piece and six on that of the left (cf. Ex 28:6-14). The names of the twelve tribes of Israel were also engraved on the breastplate (cf. Es 28:21).

    This means that the priest celebrates by carrying on his shoulders the people entrusted to his care and bearing their names written in his heart. When we put on our simple chasuble, it might well make us feel, upon our shoulders and in our hearts, the burdens and the faces of our faithful people, our saints and martyrs of whom there are many in these times…

    From the beauty of all these liturgical things, which is not so much about trappings and fine fabrics than about the glory of our God resplendent in his people, alive and strengthened, we turn to a consideration of activity, action. The precious oil which anoints the head of Aaron does more than simply lend fragrance to his person; it overflows down to “the edges”. The Lord will say this clearly: his anointing is meant for the poor, prisoners and the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone. The ointment is not intended just to make us fragrant, much less to be kept in a jar, for then it would become rancid … and the heart bitter.

    Well, I guess that puts paid to all these rumours that Pope Francis will be ridding our priests of their vestments…

  • OPN

    I think that all the people who were worried that Pope Francis might be a liberal need not be worried. He is clearly telling the clergy that they must now start ‘stepping up to the mark’.

  • LocutusOP

    I was never worried about that, even though I’ve been worried about some of the things he has done and feel some his emphasis has been on trivial matters.

    He is thoroughly orthodox, and I have been appreciative of his homilies. When it comes to faith and morals, we have a cast-iron guarantee that Pope Francis will not err. He is a simple man, and as such, it seems he appreciates the freedom that the Gospel really provides us.

    The worries many people have concern his safeguarding of Catholic tradition and beauty, and the effects this may have on the wider Church.

  • NatOns

    “Francis reminds us that the beauty of the liturgy is not so much about trappings and fine fabrics as about the glory of our God resplendent in his people, alive and strengthened.”

    Precious stones engraved, gold adornments, high-value coloured cloths – all these and more are symbolic of the Jewish High Priest. The trappings of a Jewish liturgy are still wrapped in velvet, finest linen, embroidery, silver, gold, gems, and bells; also chants in a strange language, odd-looking ritual actions, and distinctive leaders. And, liked or disliked, this is part of the Sacred Tradition that the Catholic Church inherited from the apostles; God deserves only the best one has – a truly Franciscan spirit – and at odds with the Judas-spirit which totals the coast of every material item while not appreciating the inestimable value of divine liturgy .. Francis, Bishop of Rome, reminds us all that vain palagian self-righteous deeds are not heavenly worship but fleshly assertion, however, the Eucharist is heavenly worship: participation in Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice laid before the Father in glory.

    “They ought to hold the chalices, corporals, ornaments of the altar, and all that pertain to the Sacrifice as precious.”

    http://www.leroyhuizenga.com/2013/03/15/st-francis-on-liturgical-propriety/

  • Kephas

    Why is the byline Pope Francis when he obviously did not write this piece? He’s quoted extensively, but phrases like “In his homily, Pope Francis urged priests”, and “The Pope said: “We need to ‘go out’, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy” betray another writing the story. Either give proper attribution or don’t stray from what Pope Francis actually said.

  • Guest

    But he fails to follow his own advice, so to speak. Where is the Tiara? Where is the Papal Throne? Where are the red shoes and other Papal vestments he refused? Why does he not make the Sign of the Cross in public? Why the ecumenism with the Jews and Orthodox? Because, despite this sermon, he is a Liberal. One sermon does not calm my fears about this Pope.

  • http://www.adoroergosum.blogspot.com/ Nathan718

    He has celebrated Mass a few times, I’m sure he has made the Sign of the Cross in public. The Tiara was done away with several popes ago (Pope Paul VI being the last to be coronated). Pope Francis will be fine.

  • Gordis85

    I agree…let’s hope so. Time to stop the speculating, the wringing of the hands, the vile and the bemoaning. Time to start praying. Happy Easter everyone!

  • Gordis85

    Then pray for the grace to be charitable.

  • Gordis85

    The wearing of the tiara would be a contradiction if folks would stop and think before they post. I mean, gee, if the poor are maybe cynical looking at the rich, or if the poor in spirit, who no longer believe, are too, but looking at Rome with secular eyes, can you imagine? Along comes a pope who claims he loves the poor and reaches out to them wearing silk brocade and a tiara? “No thanks,” they will say and walk away as they will call him a hypocrite. You just can’t win!
    If they did not listen to Papa Benedict and he wore all the symbols of the Papacy, one might want to consider that perhaps our Lord Jesus Christ is trying to tell us something in the simplicity of Papa Francis who worked the trenches for many years as a Pastor.
    I remain grateful we have them both to press onward as many of us need conversion! May it begin with me.
    And for the record, I miss some of the beauty of the papal regalia, but I see an abiding faith and joy in Papa Francis, that is a beauty in and of itself as well.
    Happy Easter!

  • http://www.adoroergosum.blogspot.com/ Nathan718

    I’m not sure how to take that. On the one hand, he might be saying the beauty of all these liturgical things are not mere trappings and fine fabrics but work to reflect the glory of God as worshiped by his people (the Church). On the other hand, he could mean to say that the beauty of these liturgical things are unimportant as the glory of God is resplendent IN HIS PEOPLE (not in trappings and fine fabrics). I tend toward your view, but I can see the other interpretation. Time will tell.

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    “The readings of our Mass”

    “MASS”, So often I have felt bad about the use of this word to indicate the redemptive Sacrifice of the Son of God.

    In my original Church, the Syrian Catholic Church, Kerala, INDIA, we used the expressions like, DIVYA BELI or PARISHUDDHA KURBANA with so much of intimate Divine connection or fragrance or if you want , say Theological relevance.

    ‘Divya Beli’ means The Divine Sacrifice or the Sacrifice of God; it is the Sacrifice of the Son of God specifically.

    ‘Parishuddha Kurbana’ means the Holy Sacrice.

    Once when I offered the Holy Sacrifice on the occasion of Christmas mostly for Hindu parents, and children of our Kindergarten School in a dacoit infested area ( I and my recently converted Cook were the only Christians there.), I wrote out the invitation using the expression ‘Divya Beli’ and the response of the people was fantastic. The Hall was full of the invitees. It appealed so much to them.

    When things become too official and the tools too primitive and fossilized the result also is such.

    Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    “This means that the priest celebrates by carrying on his shoulders the
    people entrusted to his care and bearing their names written in his
    heart.”

    Well, we have reduced “The People” into ‘laity’ and it is our great achievement through too much Philosophy, Theology, Symbolism and Ritual and above all our ‘Teaching’.

    But in Jesus’ own life, it is the People who so often saved him from an untimely death at the hands of his enemies by their very PRESENCE, Since he made them, his people, resourceful with Faith, Courage and Confidence to act on their own so very spontaneously.

    “A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed.”

    When the Priest excels in ‘Netagiri’ and worldliness, under the cover of religion, rather than in Godliness in Jesus the Lord, such things like anointing and the rest do not happen. Hence the people go away to groups and religions where they get better nourishment and divine joy.

    “Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with “unction”, they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives,..”

    Such things happen only when TRUE APOSTLES preach the Word, and not when mere Priests Preach.

    WHY DID WE DIVIDE Priesthood from APOSTLESHIP and thus descend into PAGANISM?

    If we want to Promote the work of Jesus the Lord, we need to be TRUE APOSTLES and not remain as mere Priests, and also we need to PROMOTE APOSTLESHIP as Jesus the Lord himself kept on doing.

    DO WE NEED two kinds of Priests, Secular and Religious?

    In some dioceses I find bishops creating mini-community of Priests, thus showing some desire to be better.

    Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

  • Dr Falk

    What have red shoes, Tiara’s and thrones to do with Jesus Christ?

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    Simplicity takes us towards the Son of God who had no place to lay his head. ….born in a……. It saves for us a lot of TIME and ENERGY and even money to spend on better causes.

    Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

  • http://www.adoroergosum.blogspot.com/ Nathan718

    You mean Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords who rules the Universe from Heavenly glory at the Right Hand of the Father?

  • Dr Falk

    Yes that’s right Nathan. The same Jesus who said His Kingdom is not part of this world. Why then we use medieval or earlier worldly trappings to surround the Pope?

  • http://www.adoroergosum.blogspot.com/ Nathan718

    That’s a good question. We use “worldly trappings” because ours is an incarnational religion. The Eternal Logos of God took flesh and dwelt among us (cf John 1) and because of this amazing fact, we know that matter matters and it always has. Go back to Genesis and see how God made all things, including gold and jewels, and saw they were good (cf Gen 1:31). Read about the Tabernacle God ordered Moses, with minute instructions, to build (cf. Ex 25). Read about the Temple God ordered to be made for His dwelling with man (cf. 1 Kings 8). These are not OT precedents of a Quaker meeting house, but of Catholic Cathedrals. Read about the clothing of the high priest (cf. Ex 28) – clothing, once more ordained directly from God, and ask yourself if said high priest had so-called “worldly trappings.” “Worldly trappings” matter because we are not Gnostics. We don’t believe we are *really* spirits trapped inside a physical body, but that we are psychosomatic unties – unique among all God’s creations by not being pure spirits (like the angels or demons) nor being mere animals (like our pets or food) – and because both our souls and bodies are essential to who we *really* are, we will be raised up on the Last Day to live united to our flesh forevermore, flesh which will be glorified, flesh which will be the ultimate “worldly trapping”. “Worldy trappings” matter because Jesus Christ is not just a carpenter from Nazareth, but indeed is the Pantocrator – the Lord of Lords and King of Kings and that is reflected in the “trappings” of His Vicar on Earth, the Pope. Happy Easter and God Bless.

  • Dr Falk

    Hi Nathan,

    Thanks for your interesting and thorough reply. You make some important points. I think my short reply would be we are no longer a Old Testament religion – we are called to worship God in spirit and truth. The New Temple is not a building or place but us – you and me ( 1 Cor.3:16). i’m not opposed to beautiful things but our religion is a spiritual interior one – The Kingdom of God is within us. I’ll finish there. Have a great Easter. With all good wishes and prayers.

  • Hening

    The Bishop of Rome has centuries of false teaching to erase, such as only members of the RC Church can achieve salvation. That is in itself is a form of Pelagianistic Legalism. Secondly, the ratio of priests to flocks makes it almost impossible to engage in a pastoral way.

  • Phil B

    That’s the introduction the piece. Read the section beginning The official text of Pope Francis’s homily for the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday 2013: for the Pope’s words.

  • Pope Zicola

    Some time ago, I made it my business to seek out the priest who anointed me before I went for major surgery. It struck me that, whilst there was no RC hospital chaplain available on site, he was sent an urgent message by the staff on my ward and he arrived at my side an hour before I was wheeled down to surgery.
    He might have carried out the Sacrament of Anointing the Sick/Extreme Unction several times in his priestly life but I always hoped that, once those who were anointed were discharged from hospital – those who encountered the comfort and healing of that sacrament – would do the same as me (it doesn’t take much by way of brains or initiative to thing that far ahead) and not treat the poor bloke like the washing machine repair man!
    To edit a long-windy story, I eventually found him. I thanked him heaven knows a dozen or more times.
    He appeared pleasantly surprised.
    It begs more than one question, and it must have been something that Pope Francis has thought about many, many times but which hit home at the Chrism Mass:
    Do we take our clergy too much for granted?
    Do we treat our clergy like 24 Hour Cash machines? Great when funds are available and behave with the attitude of spoiled brats when there’s no cash left in the dispenser?
    Are we treating our priests with the respect they deserve? I don’t mean we should tug the forelock as we pass them on the road, kiss their cassocks or curtsey in the street but to use common sense when, say, we need to postpone or cancel prior appointments?
    Do we bother to listen to our pastors on matters of Church teaching and make the effort to ask pertinent questions at to ‘why?’ instead of arguing the toss with ‘why not?’ or even buly the poor priest saying ‘you should…’ or the pope should ‘yadda yadda… yadda-yadda-yadda-yadda.’? and get all worked up when the priest stands the Church’s ground?
    Christ Himself lost potential apostles because of his Word… through the centuries, we remember Christ and His Word but… what was the name of that bloke who didn’t want to part with his dosh when Christ asked him to sell all to the poor?
    No, me neither!

  • Pope Zicola

    Pope Francis is so, so right about these self-help courses – whether they be books, support groups or articles featured in various parts of the media!
    They promise you the world but the ones raking in the royalties from sales are the ones who will end up travelling!

    If these publications did not get filed away or shelved under the space entitled ‘self-help’ but under, say, ‘medical matters’ – simply for the sake of argument – then the reader’s focus would be different, as in, the focus would be on getting to know the basics of the problem then seeking help from a specialist in their field.
    I was recommended support groups for various medical stuff some years ago, but you were made to feel obliged to attend or guilty when you say it is not for you. What did I chose?
    I chose to feel guilty because, hey! Why change the habit of a lifetime?
    One guy was talking about his disdain for so-called ‘support groups’ for a particular problem he had during the making of a television documentary. I’ll share with you his reply to the question of why he stopped attending one: ‘you felt like you were talking to a mirror!’
    Spot on, friend!
    You don’t quite get the same when you go to Confession, do you? Thank God! One great saint, whom I think was Saint Augustine, described it as the ‘medicine box’.
    On my way back from the Good Friday liturgy with my fiancé, I passed by one church advertising a whole rack of activities involving everything for physical exercise… now…
    It’s becoming rather tedious to pass by a church advertising the following ‘activities’ are available, for the benefit of those who frequent the roundabouts and A-roads…
    ‘Zumba’ classes, Slimming World (or something else resembling it), Salsa dancing, Self Defence, Premier League footy in the main lounge of the Catholic Club, Yoga for Budgies…
    Come ON, Fathers! Don’t throw your wayside pulpit notice board into recycling!
    Where are those glossy, waterproof posters to encourage people to join the Legion of Mary, SVP, Men’s Confraternity, Lourdes Pilgrimage Group or the Union of Catholic Mothers?
    Eeee, I thought, what if Zumba and Self Defence classes were double-booked and the ones who bothered to turn up were to make the best of a bad job?

  • http://descriptivegrace.wordpress.com/ James Jordan

    He obviously has Augustine and Pelagius mixed up. It was Pelagius who would tell the priests to go out and live, while Augustine would tell them to hole up in their monkish cells and theorize all day. Its one of the reasons not so much of Pelagius’ writings have survived — he didn’t write all that much to begin with (and what he did write the priests like Augustine burned). But Augustine’s writings left behind are so voluminous that all of them have still not been translated into English. It was take a lifetime to read them all. He was the sort of self-help bookworm who never got out and lived that the Pope is condemning! Get your facts straight Francis!