Pope Francis is some kind of amazing. I love him.
He is so humble and loving. What’s not to like? He’s winning over people from every sort of camp. Thank God. He has blessed us with another wonderful Pope. So why does there seem to be such confusion within the Church about Pope Francis?
Recently Pope Francis gave an interview to America magazine – a Jesuit magazine. Liberal media outlets seem to be cheering at the Pope’s new words. Recent article’s and headlines indicate that the Pope seems to have a very liberal mind. The New York times article headline reads “Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control”. The Guardian’s article is titled “Pope Francis sets out vision for more gay people and women in ‘new’ church”. A CNN religion blog carries the headline “Pope Francis: Church can’t interfere’ with gays”. There’s seems to be a lot of hope in these articles that some of the Church’s teachings and stances on same-sex marriage, abortion and birth control may change under this new Pope. This has got a lot of Catholics shaken up.
First, it’s important to realize that these companies make their money by getting as many people to read their articles as possible. Therefore, they are going to grab the most controversial sounding quote from Pope Francis and frame it in the most shocking manner in order to grab readers attention. If you see an article titled “Pope gives new interview” and another one that says “Pope wants more gay people in his ‘new’ Church” which one are you likely to click on? They play on our curiosity and it works. Just because the article is on CNN, the New York Times, or the Guardian doesn’t mean you should take it as the gold standard, anyway. There’s so much politics in media outlets these days that it’s hard to be sure what is fact and what is blown out of proportion for the sake of ratings. I would recommend that if you want to know what the Pope said – read the original interview here: A Big Heart Open to God.
Now, let’s talk about the Pope and my opinion of what’s going on. Many of the articles I mentioned above have all been released very quickly in order to be the first on scene. I didn’t respond to any of the articles on facebook or twitter right away because I like to have some time to think before acting or speaking on any important issue. I wanted to have a chance to read the original interview of Pope Francis and then do a little bit of discernment on what the leader of our Church is doing and saying. Something to keep in mind is that the Pope is not a perfect person. He doesn’t have a magical power that prevents him from sinning, making mistakes, being a bad leader or saying things that are wrong. He is protected by the gift of infallibility when he is teaching the Church definitively on matters of faith and morals. Vatican II, an official Church Council states that the Pope is infallible when “he proclaims by a definitive act some doctrine of faith or morals. Therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly held irreformable, for they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit”. This means that if he says in an interview with a news agency representative, or in a private discussion with a friend, “I feel that priests shouldn’t have nice cars” that is not an infallible pronouncement. That’s just his opinion. However, if he calls together a council of Bishops, addresses the entire Church, and makes a definitive proclamation like “It is dogma that Mary was assumed into Heaven” that is an infallible statement. It doesn’t necessarily happen that way I am just trying to give an example that is quick and easy to understand. My point is to say that the Pope is a human person who can make mistakes. Let’s not forget that. He is our leader and I believe he is doing a fantastic job so far. However, keep in mind that he is simply a man who has a special calling from God. In his recent interview he states that the best way he can describe himself is that he is a sinner – and he means it.
After reading the interview I can say that nowhere does he contradict Church teaching or hint that he wishes Church teaching would change. I wasn’t holding my breath, anyway. Many liberals and the liberal media are definitely trying to put a spin on his words to find reason to hope that the Catholic Church’s teachings on issues like same-sex marriage may change. Pope Francis nowhere shows any inkling that he even remotely disagrees with or dislikes Church teaching. Thank God… he’s Catholic. In fact, the opposite is true. I believe Pope Francis is embracing the teachings of the Church, the hardest teachings to practice, and he is challenging us to do the same. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Hate the sin but love the sinner. He is showing us what that really means and what it looks like when someone is truly and humbly living that philosophy. He is an authentic and down to earth person. From what I have gathered he is not looking to change the Church’s teachings. He is looking to change the hearts of those inside the church. That’s what is making us uncomfortable.
If you read his interview you’ll notice that his responses are not bureaucratic and cryptic. They are simple and personal. This Pope speaks from the heart and it sounds almost as though he is just thinking out loud which makes him very vulnerable when he speaks.
I love that about him.
When asked about issues of abortion, same-sex marriage, and other controversial issues that have everyone at each other’s throats – he doesn’t answer like a politician who is campaigning for office. He answers like a person who is interested in having a long and open discussion, or dialogue, with the person asking. He has taken those issues and moved the focus toward the person rather than the issue. Issues are generally political in nature while dialogue is personal. His personal compassion overtakes his office as Pope and he is doing something that we Catholics aren’t used to. He’s spending time listening and ministering to those outside the Church and giving less attention to us. He is advocating a humble and poor lifestyle and he is not acting the way many in the Church expect him to act at a time when the Church is receiving much persecution. He is making many people inside the Church very uncomfortable. But why is that?
Here’s my opinion. Pope Francis is representing Christ in a different way than our past two Popes. If you read my last article titled “Christ the King” I mentioned that sometimes Jesus was meek and humble while other times he was stern and angry. Many inside the Church view Pope John Paul II as a pope who was a philosopher of the experience of man. He is known for helping the church, and the world, to understand “what” the Church teaches. Pope Benedict was a brilliant Theologian who spent his papacy showing the church, and the world, “why” the Church teaches what she teaches. Pope Francis is now showing the Church, and the world, “how” to live those teachings. As most everyone knows – knowing what is right and wanting to do what is right is not nearly as hard as actually doing what is right. Philosophers, theologians, speakers and authors (or bloggers like me) can speak or write on issues and have all the right answers and all the right advice. Then we go home and try to practice what we preach and that doesn’t always work out so well. Some of the best thinkers and writers are not the best at implementing their own teachings. I know that from experience and so does St. Paul (see Romans 7:15). It’s easy to love a leader who teaches us all the beauties of the Catholic faith but when our leader says “now go do it”, and starts to get on us for failing to do what we have been commanded to do, we start to question his leadership. We expected someone to come in and lead us into battle with the secular world and we have been a little bit disappointed that he doesn’t seem too interested to go to war.
Funny. This sounds familiar.
Let’s rewind back to Jesus’ time and recall that the Jews of Jesus’ time were awaiting a Messiah. However, Jesus did not fit the description of the type of Messiah they were awaiting. One school of thought expected a warrior king like David to help the Jewish people to rise up from under the grips of Rome and re-establish Israel as the nation it once was. Jesus was born in a manger, was a carpenter and poor, and… he was compassionate toward sinners and even spent time with them! He asked to be invited into a sinners home. He allowed another sinner to clean his feet with her hair and expensive perfume. This prompted the Pharisees to grumble and ask him “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners? (Luke 5:30) and complain to each other saying “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). Many Catholics today are grumbling about Pope Francis and wondering why doesn’t he come down hard on the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage. Some believe he is being too silent on those issues and others believe his words almost supportive of them.
Pope Francis, in his interview, stated that “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all”. The Pharisees were known for being very astute in the mosaic law. They were experts in the law and they were very proud of that fact. They were so obsessed with the law, however, that they forgot why those laws were put in place. They placed the law above the person which caused them to apply the law inappropriately.
“Departing from there, He went into their synagogue. And a man was there whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’—so that they might accuse Him. And He said to them, ‘What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’ Then He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand!’ He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other.”
The Pharisees were so “locked up in small-minded rules” that they ignored the miracle that was happening right in front of them: the healing of a man whose hand was withered.
We must be careful not to fall into the same traps that the Pharisees fell prey to. If you believe the Catholic Church is the true Church than you must believe that Christ is the head of the Church and it is His Church. Jesus’ words to the Pharisees, who were believers and inside the Church, are very sobering – “Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify” (see Matthew 23:34). He laments over the Church that he is trying to save “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Matthew 23:37). He has sent us a messenger in Pope Francis and Pope Francis is challenging us like any messenger should. He asks “How are we treating the people of God? I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess. The church’s ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbor. This is pure Gospel. God is greater than sin”.
I’m sure that Pope Francis would willingly go to the cross but there’s no need for us to crucify him. His message is simple and it’s a message of love. He is a witness to the love he is asking us to show to those outside the Church. There continues to grow a greater divide between the Church and those advocating for same-sex marriage, abortion and contraception. Maybe, just maybe, Pope Francis is showing us how to bridge that divide. Maybe it’s time to put our weapons down and try a new method of evangelization… Love.
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