Friday, 10 January 2014

The Church is not only for good people

Dsm02 wordle

Due to the brief break in masses at Pope Francis’ residence - the Domus Sanctæ Marthæ - over the Christmas holidays, the set of 43 sermons he delivered there since the beginning of September until the end of 2013 can be considered their second season.1 In this post, I will again look at his sermons’ textual features, compare them against the first season and share with you some of my favorite moments from Francis’ homilies during this period, that haven’t already been referred to in the blog posts I wrote over the same period, which are frequently inspired by them or at least make reference to them.

In terms of the latest season’s language, it very much remained like that of the the first, with a heavy focus on Jesus - by far the most frequently used word throughout. The remaining nine of the top ten most frequently-used words were: God, Lord, you, our, him, Church, people, life and Christian (in that order) which means that eight of the top words from the first season remained unchanged, with only “love” and “what” dropping our of the top ten, being replaced by “Christian” and “people.” The specific shifts of these words are also worth noting from the following figure:


While even a relatively small dataset like the above fifty pairs of word frequencies is big enough to have lots read into it, it’d still venture to make the following observations: first, that “Lord” no longer outweighs “God,” second that the gap between the frequency of “our” versus “you” has dropped significantly and third that “Church” and “people” are on almost equal footing instead of the former being said almost twice as often as the latter in the previous season. I don’t mean to build an elaborate analysis on the above features, but they strike me as indicators of an even greater closeness between Francis and his audience.

Worth noting is also the further reduced Gunning-Fog readability Index (from an already very low 6.6 to 6.3), which indicates an increased ease of the text and that this is achieved at the same time as an almost doubling of the text’s lexical density (from 15.2 to 25.3). All of this points to Francis’ words being very accessible, while at the same time holding substance.

Both as an example of his style and as a way to pick out some of my favorite moments from these last three months, the following five are passages from Francis’ homilies that particularly spoke to me:
  1. “Those who live judging their neighbor, speaking ill of their neighbor, are hypocrites, because they lack the strength and the courage to look to their own shortcomings. The Lord does not waste many words on this concept. Further on he says that he who has hatred in his heart for his brother is a murderer. In his first letter, John the Apostle also says it clearly: anyone who has hatred for his brother is a murderer, he walks in darkness, he who judges his brother walks in darkness. And so, every time we judge our brothers in our hearts – or worse still when we speak ill of them with others, we are Christian murderers: A Christian murderer.... It’s not me saying this, it’s the Lord. And there is no place for nuances. If you speak ill of your brother, you kill your brother. [...] Gossip always has a criminal side to it. There is no such thing as innocent gossip. [...] Some may say that there are persons who deserve being gossiped about. But it is not so: Go and pray for him! Go and do penance for her! And then, if it is necessary, speak to that person who may be able to seek remedy for the problem. But don’t tell everyone! Paul had been a sinner, and he says of himself: I was once a blasphemer, a persecutor, a violent man. But I have been mercifully treated. Perhaps none of us are blasphemers – perhaps … But if we ever gossip we are certainly persecutors and violent. We ask for grace so that we and the entire Church may convert from the crime of gossip to love, to humility, to meekness, to docility, to the generosity of love towards our neighbor.” (13th September)

  2. “You can’t govern without loving the people and without humility! And every man, every woman who has to take up the service of government, must ask themselves two questions: ‘Do I love my people in order to serve them better? Am I humble and do I listen to everybody, to diverse opinions in order to choose the best path.’ If you don’t ask those questions, your governance will not be good. The man or woman who governs – who loves his people is a humble man or woman.” (16th September)

  3. “The Church is not the Church only for good people. Do we want to describe who belongs to the Church, to this feast? The sinners. All of us sinners are invited. At this point there is a community that has diverse gifts: one has the gift of prophecy, another of ministry, who teaching … We all have qualities and strengths. But each of us brings to the feast a common gift. Each of us is called to participate fully in the feast. Christian existence cannot be understood without this participation. ‘I go to the feast, but I don’t go beyond the antechamber, because I want to be only with the three or four people that I am familiar with …’ You can’t do this in the Church! You either participate fully or you remain outside. You can’t pick and choose: the Church is for everyone, beginning with those I’ve already mentioned, the most marginalized. It is everyone’s Church!” (5th November)

  4. “When we look at a father or a mother who speaks to their little child, we see that they become little and speak with a voice of a child and with the manners of children. Someone looking in from the outside think, ‘This is ridiculous!’ They become smaller, right there, no? Because the love of a father and a mother needs to be close. I say this word: to lower themselves to the world of the child … If the father and mother spoke to them normally, the child would still understand; but they want to take up the manner of speaking of the child. They come close, they become children. And so it is with the Lord. The Greek theologians explained this attitude of God with a somewhat difficult word: “syncatabasis” or “the humble and accommodating disposition of God who lowers Himself to make Himself one of us.”” (12th December)

  5. “There is a third coming of the Lord: that of every day. The Lord visits His Church every day! He visits each of us, and so our souls as well experience something similar: our soul resembles the Church, our soul resembles Mary. The Desert Fathers say that Mary, the Church and our souls are feminine, and that what is said about one can be said analogously of the others. Our soul is also in waiting, this waiting for the coming of the Lord – an open soul that calls out, ‘Come, Lord.’” (23rd December)

1 For a review of the "first season," see here.