Christians and the Church must strip themselves of worldliness, said Pope Francis while addressing some of the poor in the Italian hill town of Assisi early Friday. The Pope offered this message in the same hall in which St. Francis, about 800 years ago, undressed himself and laid his fine clothes at his wealthy father’s feet, renouncing his riches and inheritance in favour of a life of poverty consecrated to God.
The Pope once again put aside his prepared speech and began his impromptu remarks by debunking a notion that had circulated in the press in recent days: that he would imitate St. Francis by divesting the bishops, the cardinals and himself, as well. However, he said, today serves as a good occasion to invite the Church to strip itself of worldliness.
All of the baptized comprise the Church and all have to follow Jesus, who stripped himself and chose to be a servant and to be humiliated on his way to the Cross. “And if we want to be Christians, there is no other way,” he said.
Without the Cross, without Jesus and without stripping ourselves of worldliness, he said, “we become pastry shop Christians… like nice sweet things but not real Christians.”
“We need to strip the Church,” he said. “We are in very grave danger. We are in danger of worldliness.”
The Christian cannot enter into the spirit of the world, which leads to vanity, arrogance and pride, he continued. And these lead to idolatry, which is the gravest sin.
The Church is not just the clergy, the hierarchy and religious, he said. “The Church is all of us and we all have to strip ourselves of this worldliness. Worldliness does us harm. It is so sad to find a worldly Christian.”
“Our Lord told us: We cannot serve two masters: either we serve money or we serve God.…We can’t cancel with one hand what we write with another,” he remarked. “The Gospel is the Gospel.”
The Pope acknowledged the local poor who were gathered with him, saying: “Many of you have been stripped by this savage world that does not give work, that does not help, that does not care if children die of hunger …, that does not care if many families do not have anything to eat or money to bring bread home.”
Referring to the hundreds of refugees who died in a shipwreck off the Italian island of Lampedusa Thursday , the Pope lamented the large numbers of people who die trying to escape dire conditions in their home countries.
It is ridiculous that a Christian would want to follow a worldly path, he continued. “The worldly spirit kills; it kills people; it kills the Church.”
The Pope then asked the Lord to bestow upon Christians the courage to strip themselves of the spirit of the world, which he called “the leprosy, the cancer of society and the cancer of the revelation of God and the enemy of Jesus.”
He concluded: “I ask the Lord that he gives us all the grace to strip ourselves.”