Against Triumphalism and Spiritual Worldliness

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Diego Fares SJ

 Diego Fares SJ / Church Life / 10 January 2022


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The temptation to triumphalism – Christianity without the cross – and its more insidious form, spiritual worldliness – is difficult to discern. If there is a theme in the magisterium of Bergoglio-Francis that recurs with particular frequency, it is precisely this.[1]

In the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, pronouncing a “no to spiritual worldliness,” Francis put it in black and white. The alternative is between a Church on the move to evangelize the world and a Church invaded by spiritual worldliness: “This is a tremendous corruption, disguised as a good. We need to  avoid it by making the Church constantly go out from herself, keeping her mission focused on Jesus Christ and her commitment to the poor. God save us from a worldly Church with superficial spiritual and pastoral trappings! This stifling worldliness can only be healed by breathing in the pure air of the Holy Spirit who frees us from self-centeredness, and our being cloaked in an outward religiosity bereft of God” (EG 97).

Back in 1984 Bergoglio had stated: “The triumphalist attitude is not always obvious. Most of the time it appears sub angelo lucis in the choice of our pastoral methods, but it can always be traced back to the invitation to come down from the cross.”[2] Henri de Lubac had prophetically defined triumphalism, even in the subtle form it takes as “spiritual worldliness,” as the worst damage the Church can suffer: “I always find striking the last three pages of Father de Lubac’s book: Meditations on the Church[3] where he spoke precisely of spiritual worldliness. He said that it is the worst of the evils that can happen to the Church. This was not an exaggeration. He listed some terrible evils, and this is the worst: spiritual worldliness, because it is a hermeneutic of life. It is a way of living, even a way of living Christianity.”[4]

The concepts that characterize this temptation to triumphalism and worldliness must not lead us to think that these are superficial issues. The pope recalls that worldliness hates the faith, steals the Gospel from us, kills those who resolutely oppose it, our martyrs,[5] just as it killed the Lord, and seduces those who are willing to accept it in any form, rejecting the cross. “It is curious: ‘But Father,’ someone might say to me, ‘worldliness is a superficial way of life…’ Let us not deceive ourselves! Nothing about worldliness is superficial! It has deep roots, deep roots.  

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