I’ve pointed out before how Pope Francis seems to have a knack for coming up with pithy verbal images to encapsulate negative tendencies in Christian living; such as the “soap bubble Christians” who inhabit a culture of comfort, or those who treat the Lord as if he were a kind of “God spray”, sort of vaguely all around us and not very concrete.
Yesterday, he coined a new term: “bakery Christians” (some reports are translating it as “pastry shop Christians”; no official translation has yet been provided). He was in Assisi, on the Feast of St. Francis, and one of the stops that he made was to the “Hall of the Stripping” – the room where St. Francis famously stripped himself naked as a way of renouncing every worldly possession.
It seems that many journalists and folks of various stripes were expecting that the Pope would go to this place and do something rather drastic and humiliating to the clergy, something “prophetic”. But they were wrong (and probably disappointed). He reminded everyone that all of us comprise the Church, and that all of us have to be stripped of worldliness. Here is my translation (Italian source), with a few notes added to provide better context:
My brother bishop [the bishop of Assisi] told me that this is the first time in 800 years that a pope has come to this place [the “Hall of the Stripping”]. The newspapers and communications media have engaged in fantasies in these days. “The pope will go there to despoil the Church!” “What will he strip away from the Church?” “He will strip the attire of the bishops and cardinals [i.e., make it less fancy]; he will strip himself.”
This is a good opportunity to invite the Church to strip herself. But we are all the Church! All of us! From the first baptized person, we are all Church, and all of us have to follow the way of Jesus Himself, which is a path of divestiture. He became a slave, a servant; he wanted to be humiliated all the way to the Cross. And if we want to be Christians, there is no other path.
“But”, they say, “can’t we make Christianity a little more human? Without the cross, without Jesus, without this stripping-down?” In this way we would become “bakery Christians”, like nice cakes, like nice sweet things! So nice, but not really Christian!
Someone will say: “But of what things does the Church need to despoil herself?” Today she must strip away a most grave danger, which threatens each person in the Church, everyone: the danger of worldliness. The Christian cannot coexist with the spirit of the world. Worldliness leads us to vanity, to arrogance, to pride. And this is an idol, it is not God. It is an idol! And idolatry is the gravest sin!
When the media speak of the Church, they think that the Church is the priests, the sisters, the bishops, the cardinals, and the pope. But all of us are the Church, as I said. And all of us must divest ourselves of this worldliness: the spirit which is contrary to that of the Beatitudes, the spirit that is contrary to that of Jesus. Worldliness is bad for us. It is so sad to find a worldly Christian…
Bakeries are not really all that common anymore in most parts of the United States; I guess they are making a bit of a comeback in the area where I grew up, and in some areas they never really went away (I think of my family that lives in the New York City metro, lots of bakeries there). But in many areas we are simply confined to whatever mass-produced stuff they have in the local Mega Wal-Mart® or grocery store.
In Italy there is mass-produced stuff also, even in the little shops, but they do at least still have those little shops everywhere and they often make a very splendid display! Here is a bakery window in Assisi that I photographed on a previous visit there:
Yes, being a “bakery Christian” is very tempting!
It’s easy for a prominent journalist who drives a nice car, lives in a nice house and, overall, has a very comfortable life (and probably isn’t particularly interested in the Catholic faith on a personal level), to point the finger and hope that the Pope will humiliate someone else. “Maybe he’ll finally stop the cardinals from wearing those sumptuous robes, the fools!”
But the Pope wanted to remind everyone: we are in this together. All of us have to avoid the pitfalls of worldliness. This is a real issue for everyone in the Church today. All of us have to carry the cross. All of us have to follow the same path that Christ trod!