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Brimstone for dads

The fire-and-brimstone sermon has gone from being a common fixture of Christian life for our great-grandparents to a much rarer occurrence today. Perhaps that's why Pope Francis' pre-Christmas address to the Vatican Curia hit such a chord with so many people, churchgoers or not; no soft touch or "attaboys" for those guys. It was a cold shower and in his own words, an "examination of conscience."

We all could use a cold shower. Maybe that's why the pope entitled his talk, "To the Roman Curia and the Body of Christ." Most guys I know will choose brimstone over fluff any day of year. So, I invite everyone - especially my fellow dads - to find a seat in that Vatican hall. Let's join our curia-bureaucrat-brothers in Christ and do a New Year's inventory on our identity, prayer life, time, stuff and relationships.

It's going to hurt. So before you read this, invite the Holy Spirit to open your mind. And take heart - while the curia heard 15 "diseases," I have room here for only seven.

And now, over to the Holy Father (Note: the 3,400-word original is abbreviated here with "dad" in place of "curia/priests" and alternate titles and order):


1. Thinking we are "immortal," "immune" or downright "indispensable," neglecting the need for regular check-ups. The dad who is not self-critical, who does not keep up with things, who does not seek to be more fit, is sick. A simple visit to the cemetery might help us see the names of many people who thought they were immortal, immune and indispensable.

2. A lugubrious face. Those glum and dour persons who think that to be serious we have to put on a face of melancholy and severity and treat others - especially those we consider our inferiors - with rigor, brusqueness and arrogance. In fact, a show of severity and sterile pessimism are frequently symptoms of fear and insecurity. A dad must make an effort to be courteous, serene, enthusiastic and joyful; a person who transmits joy everywhere he goes.


3. "Spiritual Alzheimer's disease": It consists of losing the memory of our personal "salvation history," our past history with the Lord and our "first love" (Rev 2:4). It involves a progressive decline in the spiritual faculties which, in the long or short run, greatly handicaps a person by making him incapable of doing anything on his own, living in a state of absolute dependence on his often imaginary perceptions.

4. Mental and spiritual "petrification": It is found in those who have a heart of stone; the "stiff-necked" (Acts 7:51-60); in those who in the course of time lose their interior serenity, alertness and daring, and hide under a pile of papers, turning into paper-pushers and not men of God (cf. Heb 3:12). It is dangerous to lose the human sensitivity that enables us to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice.


5. Excessive busyness: It is found in those who immerse themselves in work and inevitably neglect "the better part": sitting at the feet of Jesus (cf. Lk 10:38-42). … A time of rest, for those who have completed their work, is necessary, obligatory and should be taken seriously; by spending time with one's family and respecting holidays as moments of spiritual and physical recharging.


6. Hoarding: When a dad tries to fill an existential void in his heart by accumulating material goods, not out of need but only in order to feel secure. The fact is that we are not able to bring material goods with us, since "the winding sheet does not have pockets," and all our earthly treasures - even if they are gifts - will never be able to fill that void; instead, they will only make it deeper and more demanding.


7. Rivalry and vainglory: When appearances, the color of our clothes and our titles of honor become the primary object in life, we forget the words of St. Paul: "Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Phil 2:3-4).

Brothers, these diseases and these temptations are naturally a danger for each Christian. … Therefore, so as not to fall … let us ask the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the church, to heal the wounds of sin, which each of us bears in his heart … to the glory of her Son and for our salvation and that of the entire world.

Johnson, a husband and father of five, is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde's special assistant for evangelization and media. He can be reached on Twitter @Soren_t.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015