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Nothing Grows in “No”: Pope Francis on the Idolatry of Ideas

Elizabeth Scalia - published on 01/18/16

Pope urges resistance to the god of "but we’ve always done it this way”

During his homily at Mass today, Pope Francis said:

“Christians who obstinately maintain ‘it’s always been done this way,’ this is the path, this is the street — they sin: the sin of divination. It’s as if they went about by guessing: ‘What has been said and what doesn’t change is what’s important; what I hear — from myself and my closed heart — more than the Word of the Lord.’ Obstinacy is also the sin of idolatry: the Christian who is obstinate sins! The sin of idolatry. ‘And what is the way, Father?’ Open the heart to the Holy Spirit, discern what is the will of God.”

Around the internate there have some negative responses to these words, particularly by those who feel like Catholic traditions are under attack, but I can’t help wondering if some aren’t missing the pope’s point which is one I made in my book, Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life:

We cling to ideas long past the point of what is healthy or reasonable, and we set them before us, daring anyone to knock them down. I once heard a new pastor complain about a dreaded first meeting with his pastoral team and liturgy committee. “In every parish,” he said with a sigh, “the first thing they want a priest to do is bow down to the god of ‘but we’ve always done it this way.’”

When we are too fast to say no — especially if we are entrenched in a bunker-mentality that said, “But this is the way we have always done it …,” we cannot help but numb ourselves to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. And that’s all His Holiness is saying. “But this is the way we have always done it …” shuts the door to Joseph accepting a wife carrying a child not his own; “the way we’ve always done it” would prevent the church from taking careful looks at who it elevates to canonical sainthood; “the way we’ve always done it” prevents Pope Pius X from advocating for the reception of Holy Communion by children; “the way we’ve always done it” means no female doctors of the church.

Nothing grows in “no.” Especially not a church, or the life of faith.

Pope Francis’ words seem less a call for revolution than a frustrated cry of “ephphatha be opened”! He is prompting us to make sure we leave enough room in our lives, and in the life of the church, to give the Holy Spirit — who has a way of using the most confounding events and people to bring about God’s will — the room to move, and flow and put God’s purposes to action. As the great saint Philip Neri reminds us, “All of God’s purposes are to the good, and although we may not always understand this, we can trust in it.”


Elizabeth Scalia
is Editor-in-Chief of Aleteia’s English edition

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