During the first week of the Synod on the Future of the Church, Pope Francis gave the participants a book titled “Holy, not Worldly: God’s grace saves us from interior corruption,” the Holy See announced on October 6, 2023. This short book of around 80 pages includes a preface written by the Pontiff, along with some previously published texts, and invites the readers “to overcome the temptation of closing ourselves.”
Available in Italian, Spanish and English, the first half of the book consists of an article titled “Corruption and Sin,” which was written by the future Pope Francis in 1991 when he was a priest and confessor in the Diocese of Cordoba (Argentina). The second part of the book is a letter the Pope wrote in the summer of 2023 to the priests of his diocese of Rome.
In the four-page preface, the Pope explains that these two texts, 32 years apart, are “united by the concern, which I feel to be a loud call from God to the entire Church, to remain vigilant and to fight with the strength of prayer against every concession to spiritual worldliness.” He goes on to encourage every reader to seize the opportunity to wage their own personal “interior combat” for holiness.
Jesus has already won our battles for us
“The battle we carry out as followers of Jesus is first of all a battle against spiritual worldliness, which is a form of paganism in ecclesiastical clothing,” the Pontiff writes in the preface. “Though it be camouflaged with the appearance of the sacred, it ends up being idolatrous because it does not recognize the presence of God as Lord and liberator of our lives and of the history of the world. It leaves us prey to our capricious desires.”
“But our battle is not vain nor without hope, because this battle has already been won by Jesus, who overcame the strength of sin in his death,” the Pope emphasizes. “With his resurrection, he has made it possible for us to become new persons.”
However, this can only be done by looking at “the cross, which at first repels us and pushes us away” but is a “sign of a limitless love, humble and tenacious,” the Pontiff explains.
“Jesus loved us to the point of the ignominious death on a cross in order that we no longer be able to doubt that his arms will remain open even for the last of the sinners.”
“Holiness is therefore remaining open to the ‘more’ that God asks of us and that is manifested in our adherence to our daily lives,” Francis encourages.
“God asks us to be open to His newness, he asks us to be unquiet and never satisfied, searching and never stuck in comfortable opacity, not defended within the walls of false certainties, but walking on the road of holiness.”
Corruption: worse than sin
After the preface comes the 1991 article ‘Corruption and Sin’, which was republished in 2005 when the current pope was a cardinal and archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The version in the book is the 2005 one and is subtitled “we should kneel only before God or before a child.” This essay is a lengthy warning against the spiritual corruption from which all other corruptions flow, particularly religious and political.
“A corrupt person is one who ‘stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God’ (Luke 12:21),” Cardinal Bergoglio wrote. “How difficult it is for any word of truth to find its way into their hearts!”
He also highlighted that “sins are forgiven, but corruption cannot be forgiven,” as the “the corrupt person sets himself up as sufficient for his own salvation – and he gets tired of asking for forgiveness.”
“Corrupt people do not notice their own corruption. It is the same as when someone has bad breath: they seldom realize it themselves,” Bergoglio explained. He then described symptoms of this corruption such as bragging, triumphalism, the need to justify oneself, frivolity, false optimism, or proselytism.
Inject a new spirit into the Church
The second text featured in the book is a letter written by Pope Francis to the priests of the Diocese of Rome in August 2023. “May the Church of Rome be for everyone an example of compassion and hope, with her pastors always, truly always, ready and willing to extend God’s forgiveness, as channels of mercy that quench the thirst of today’s humanity,” the Pope wrote.
“It is not a matter of bringing back good observance or reforming external ceremonies, but rather of returning to the sources of the Gospel, of discovering fresh energies to overcome habits, of injecting a new spirit into the old ecclesial institutions,” the Pope said. In this letter, he warned them against spiritual worldliness, but also against clericalism.