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One of the great games in the press, both secular and religious, is wondering who Pope Francis listens to on matters of pastoral care for the entire Church.

He himself has made no secret that there are some Cardinals he respects greatly. He has chosen 7 as his personal Council of Cardinals. These cardinals, from all points of the globe, offer him advice on matters of great significance and delicacy.

But recently I have been paying attention to one relatively new Cardinal, not in this inner circle of seven. Capuchin Raniero Cantalamessa OFM bears the title of “Preacher to the Papal Household”.  He must be well respected! Three successive Popes over a 40-year span, Saint John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis, have looked to him for spiritual nourishment in their annual Advent and Lenten Sundays of recollection.

What did he say this year?

Although often quoting saints and scholars of the past, he makes great use of images. Given his audience, what particularly caught my eye is his pointed image of what happens with certain old buildings.

“Over the centuries, in order to adapt to the needs of the moment, they become filled with partitions, staircases, rooms and closets.

The time comes when we realize that all these adjustments no longer meet the current needs, but rather are an obstacle, so we must have the courage to knock them down and return the building to the simplicity and linearity of its origins.

This was the mission that St. Francis of Assisi heard “Go, Francis, and repair my Church”.

He continues…

This is the struggle against the Church becoming self-referential, a theme often underscored by the last two Supreme Pontiffs, Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis.

We must do everything possible to make sure that the Church never becomes as complicated and cluttered an old building so that the message can be spread as freely and joyfully as when the journey first began.

He speaks of the “walls of division” are that can restrain the messenger

…walls that keep the various Christian churches separated from each other … the excess bureaucracy, the remnants of meaningless ceremonials, including vestments, former laws, and disputes that by now have become nothing more than debris.

His strongly personal note

It remains for us now to reflect on something that concerns all of us without distinction, something that touches each of us very personally: Christ being born of the believer (you and me).

This is is the heart of the matter: Jesus who was once physically and corporally born of Mary must now be born spiritually of the Church and of each believer.

Christ who, before departing this world, entrusted to the Church the message: “Go throughout the world; proclaim the good news to every creature” (Mk 16:15).

In the Gospel Jesus explains to us how to become a mother of Christ, He says that it happens by listening to the Word and putting it into practice (see Lk 8:21).

He reminds us Saint Francis of Assisi said something similar…

We are mothers of Christ when, through divine love and pure and sincere conscience, we bear him in our heart and in our body… we give birth to him when we do good deeds that reveal Christ to the world and give glory to the Father in heaven (see Mt 5:16).

Who have you listened to and nourished you this Advent?

  • Secular writers or social influencers?
  • Scriptures, the Sunday gospels, or homilies?
  • Your conscience?
  • A spiritual director?
  • A combination of the above?

Click below for an early audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk

Who is Pope Francis listening to?