Pope Francis On What Is Missing In The Church

Pope Francis On What Is Missing In The Church March 28, 2024

What is missing in the Church? Pope Francis suggested something we might not expect this Holy Thursday.

Each year on Holy Thursday, the bishop of the diocese gets together with his priests for the Chrism Mass. For practical and pastoral reasons, this mass is often moved to earlier in the week, as happened on Monday this week at the cathedral in Los Angeles. It is a telling moment to know the heart of the pastor. Pope Francis had a special focus during his homily to the priests of Rome, focusing on something he feels is missing in the Church: compunction.

The healing of the heart of Peter, the healing of the apostle, the healing of the pastor, came about when, grief-stricken and repentant, he allowed himself to be forgiven by Jesus. That healing took place amid tears, bitter weeping, and the sorrow that leads to renewed love. For this reason, I have felt the need to share with you a few thoughts on an aspect of the spiritual life that has been somewhat neglected yet remains essential. Even the word I am going to use today is somewhat old-fashioned, yet well worthy of reflecting on. That word is compunction (Pope Francis, Chrism Mass Homily 2024).

It is an interesting take, and beautiful and spiritual. In a way, it echoes the famous quote from Pope Pius XII on the world losing the sense of sin.

Perhaps the greatest sin in the world today is that men have begun to lose the sense of sin (Pope Pius XII, 26 October 1946).

A More Experiential Approach

And yet, it is certainly taking a different tack, and an interesting one for today’s world: more experiential, more existential. One thing is to feel guilty about what we have done. This is something ever less popular, pushed aside by therapists and post-modern thinkers who do not recognize the place of guilt since they recognize no universal moral standards. The concept of compunction is related, yet nuanced enough to perhaps enter the understanding of the modern world.

Because even in a world that has “canceled” sin and guilt, people recognize that they have done things for which they are sorry. Perhaps they need to recover a sense of compunction in order to start a path of conversion and gain peace with others and with themselves. Holy Thursday is typically a day to celebrate the priesthood, and one essential characteristic of the priesthood is to help people be freed from sin.

Piercing Pain From Sin

Compunction comes from the word “piercing.” It is related to repentance. This makes sense because we really do feel bad about the things we do that are harmful to others and offend God. We do not want to be told that everything is ok, but rather receive a way to fix what we have done wrong.

Compunction is “a piercing of the heart” that is painful and evokes tears of repentance. Here, another episode from the life of Saint Peter can help us. His heart having been pierced by Jesus’ gaze and his words, Peter, now purified and set afire by the Holy Spirit, proclaimed on the day of Pentecost to the inhabitants of Jerusalem: “God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (cf. Acts 2:36). His hearers, recognizing both the evil that they had done and the salvation that the Lord was offering them, were themselves “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37). (Pope Francis, Chrism Mass Homily 2024).

Pope Francis smiling and waving
Pope Francis waves to the crowd | Courtesy of Cathopic

Not Guilt, But Repentance

This is not about getting stuck with a sense of guilt, but rather about going through an experience of repentance and conversion that allows us to put the evil of our past behind us. So often in confession, I find people are digging up the ancient past. Although I sympathize with the sentiment, it always makes me a little sad that they have not yet realized the power of the sacrament to distance us from the evil that we have committed to the past. As Gandalf stood between the Fellowship of the Ring members and the Balrog, so Jesus stands between us and the sin of our past that we have confessed and he has forgiven. The Cross of Christ stands between us and our past life.

Compunction demands effort but bestows peace. It is not a source of anxiety but of healing for the soul, since it acts as a balm upon the wounds of sin, preparing us to receive the caress of the Lord, who transforms the “broken, contrite heart” (Ps 51:19), once it has been softened by tears (Pope Francis, Chrism Mass Homily 2024).

Our world needs peace. It seems that so much of the virtue-signaling is an effort to justify ourselves and to erase any need for individual and collective guilt. It is perhaps much healthier to recognize our guilt, repent, confess, and be free. I find so many people who are not free, suffering from slavery to sin. A great part of the mission of the priest is to free people from sin and open to them a path of peace.

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About Fr. Nicholas Sheehy, LC
Fr. Nicholas Sheehy was ordained a Catholic priest in 2013 for the Legionaries of Christ. He has been involved in youth work including missions, retreats and apostolic outreach in Germany, Italy, the United States and Central America. He is passionate about the New Evangelization and formation for young adults and married couples. He is a spiritual director and retreat director, offering marriage preparation and marriage counseling through the Divine Mercy Clinic and Family Center. He is currently Executive Director and Chaplain of the Newman Center at St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Pasadena, California. You can read more about the author here.
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