Pope Francis Calls for Epochal Change: ‘Rigidity Conceals Derangement’

The Vatican and China do not maintain diplomatic relations, but since becoming head of the Holy See in 2013 Pope Francis has tried to mend ties with Beijing in the hope of reconnecting with Catholics in China
AFP Photo/Alberto PIZZOLI

ROME — Pope Francis has underscored the need for the Church to embrace “epochal change,” insisting that resistance to change always hides some mental disorder.

Addressing the Roman Curia Saturday, the pope said that “tradition is not static, it is dynamic,” while proposing that “what we are living is not simply an epoch of change, but a change of epoch.”

He said:

We are therefore in one of those moments when changes are no longer linear, but epochal; they constitute choices that quickly transform the way of living, of relating, of communicating and elaborating thought, of relating between human generations and of understanding and living faith and science.

The pope cited fellow Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former archbishop of Milan, in saying, “The Church has remained 200 years behind the times. Why has it not been shaken up? Are we scared? Fear instead of courage?” These are words, Francis said, that “should make us think.”

“There is always a temptation to fall back on the past,” Francis said, “because it is more reassuring, known and, certainly, less conflictual. Yet this too is part of the process and the risk of undertaking significant changes.”

Memory itself “is not static, it is dynamic. By its nature it implies movement,” he said.

The pope went on to warn against the dangers of “rigidity,” an attitude he has often associated with conservatives who seek security in doctrinal truth, which makes them intransigent.

“Here we must warn against the temptation of adopting an attitude of rigidity,” he said. “The rigidity that arises from the fear of change and ends up sowing the terrain of the common good with stakes and obstacles, making it a minefield of incommunicability and hatred.”

“We always remember that behind every rigidity lies some imbalance,” he continued. “Rigidity and imbalance feed each other in a vicious circle. And today this temptation of rigidity has become commonplace.”

Citing Saint John Henry Newman, Francis said that “here on earth to live is to change, and perfection is the result of many transformations.”

Christian life, he said, is “a journey, a pilgrimage,” and the entire history of the Church “has always been marked by departures, shifts, and changes.”

“The path, of course, is not purely geographical, but above all symbolic: it is an invitation to discover the movement of the heart which, paradoxically, needs to depart in order to remain, to change in order to stay faithful.”

The pontiff also quoted from the Italian novel Il Gattopardo. “If we want everything to remain as it is, everything must change.”

“We must start processes and not occupy spaces,” he said. “God manifests himself in a historical revelation, over time. Time begins the processes, space crystallizes them. God is found in time, in ongoing processes.”

In his appeal for a new mentality more open to change, the pope also addressed the reform of the Roman Curia.

The aim of the current reform, he said, is the transformation of customs, styles, schedules, language, and every ecclesial structure so that it can “become an adequate channel for the evangelization of the present world, rather than for self-preservation.”

The world we live in is no longer the world of past generation, the pope said, and, therefore, it requires a new mentality.

“Brothers and sisters, we are no longer in Christendom!” he said. “Today, we are no longer the only ones producing culture; we are not the first or the most listened to. We therefore need a change of pastoral mentality.”

“We are no longer in a regime of Christianity because faith — especially in Europe, but also in a large part of the West — no longer constitutes an obvious presupposition of common life, indeed it is often even denied, derided, marginalized and ridiculed,” he insisted.

The change of epoch “poses serious questions regarding the identity of our faith,” he said.

“Christmas is the feast of God’s love for us,” he concluded. “The divine love that inspires, directs and corrects change and overcomes the human fear of leaving what is ‘safe’ to relaunch us into the ‘mystery.’”

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