As many saints, scholars and sundry others have discovered, reform is a difficult business. Reforming oneself is hard enough, in others, more difficult still, and in an entity as ancient and set-in-its ways as the Vatican, nearly impossible. Hence, we may surmise, the resignation of Libero Milone, a financial peritus hired two years ago to reform the byzantine and allegedly venal and corrupt financial situation in that political entity known since 1929 as the ‘Vatican City State’, a 110 acre country within the centre of Rome. As John Allen concludes in his article, it is another blow in Pope Francis’ attempt at reform.
There is a complicated history to the evolution and constitution of the ‘Vatican’, for the Church is not just a spiritual entity, but requires a temporal basis for its earthly activity, a ‘state’ with its own whole system of laws, postage, citizenship, governance and, yes, finance. And where there is money, the flies will gather, all seeking their crumb.
Such an imbalance and concentration in wealth, even outright corruption, afflicts not just the Vatican, but every temporal entity this side of heaven. The temptation is always to want more than our fair share, and to justify it. To take but a few examples amongst many, health care, once carried out with joy by legions of sacrificing Sister and Brothers, is now done by highly-compensated professionals, nearly all of whom make well into the six figures, many multiple times that, a financial burden that is bringing the whole system to the brink of collapse. And many are unhappy and unfulfilled. CEO’s, upper management and shareholders of most companies make hundreds of times more than the workers who actually make their products. Lawyers bill the ‘system’, aka, their clients, often hundreds of dollars per hour, convinced that they are well worth it, but in turn making the legal system either inaccessible to many, or a path to quick bankruptcy for those who must. Politicians vote themselves consistent pay raises, along with their own myriad of employees, and so on it goes.
The whole world needs reforming. Of course, most such individuals work within the law, but we should have the right to question the ‘law’, and the custom of how various jobs are compensated. Added to these imbalances in the system, there are also those who graft, bribe, steal, horde and in general rob and take what they can get away with, if you forgive my dangling preposition.
In the midst of all this, why should the Vatican in its temporal dimension be any different, and any easier to reform?
Ah well, one is tempted just to let them have their lucre, so long as they leave enough of the crumbs for the Church to lumber on in her mission, less encumbered with the cares of the world. Through all of her members’ imperfections, even through the greed, avarice and ambition, Christ is there in the midst. We just have to keep our eyes and ears open and attuned to the spiritual dimension, through prayer, contemplation and, as Cardinal Sarah has so forcefully reminded us, golden and beautiful silence, in which God speaks to our heart, even, perhaps especially, in the midst of affliction. For ‘noise’ is not just ‘sound’, but also all those riches and cares that weigh down the heart, making it calcified and hard, resistant to those whispers that are the grace of God. As Christ reminds us in today’s Gospel from Luke: Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things. Only one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.
As Pope Francis, in his final homily for the summer, reiterating the advice I was given by a wise woman once, said that our God is a God of surprises, Who often acts when we least expect, when all we have left is a slender, spider-web-thin trust in Him. He can clean out any Augean stables far better than the mythological Hercules, in His own good time. It is that steadfast faith and hope in the goodness and providence of God, and not in the riches of this world, that will lead us to our final end of glory with Him forever.