Pope Francis has outlined a comprehensive vision for the future of the Church, which requires a deeply merciful Catholicism unafraid of change.
Francis told a national Italian church conference in Florence that Catholics must realise: “We are not living an era of change, but a change of era.”
“These times of ours demand that we experience problems as challenges and not like obstacles: The Lord is active and at work in the world.”
He spoke against seeking solutions in “conservatism or fundamentalism, in the restoration of obsolete conduct and forms that no longer have the capacity of being significant culturally”.
In a 49-minute address, the Pope said Church reform does not end in “the umpteenth plan to change structures”.
“It means instead grafting yourself to and rooting yourself in Christ, leaving yourself to be guided by the Spirit – so that all will be possible with genius and creativity.”
Pope Francis warned the national church against two specific temptations, tying modern day struggles to two ancient heresies: Pelagianism and Gnosticism.
Speaking to Pelagianism, which holds that humans can achieve salvation on their own without divine help, the Pontiff said that in the modern day it “brings us to have trust in structures, in organisations, in perfect plans, however abstract”.
“The norm gives to the Pelagian the security of feeling superior, of having a precise orientation. In this is found its force, not in the lightness of the breath of the Spirit.”
Speaking to Gnosticism, which widely held that people should shun the material world in favour of the spiritual realm, Francis identified such thinking today with that which “brings us to trust in logical and clear reasoning . . . which however loses the tenderness of the flesh of the brother”.
Francis also gave a meditation on the face of Jesus, and of a God who is emptied, stating that this is also the face of the oppressed which “looks to us”.
Outlining three aspects of Christian humanism, Francis asked the Italians to adopt an outlook of humility, disinterest in personal praise or power, and of living a life of the beatitudes.
“I want a happy Church with the face of a mother, who understands, accompanies, caresses,” the Pope said.