Saturday, September 21, 2013

Pope Francis: Is He Going To Give Us Whiplash?

File:Pope Francis in March 2013.jpg

Well, Pope Francis certainly got everyone's attention this week.  First, he said 

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time."  
Then, what does he say the next day?
“Every unborn child, though unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of the Lord, who even before his birth, and then as soon as he was born, experienced the rejection of the world,” 
and the press called this "an olive branch" to conservative Catholics.

So, what do I think the Pope is calling us to do?  Well, this is just my opinion, and I don't have a direct line to discuss it with him (though, Your Holiness, if you are reading this, feel free to clarify in the comment box), but I think he is saying there is more to being Catholic than refraining from abortion, birth control and homosexual activity.  Here is part of the interview that has gotten less airtime:

“I see clearly,” the pope continues, “that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.... And you have to start from the ground up.
“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 confessor, for example, is always in danger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax. Neither is merciful, because neither of them really takes responsibility for the person. The rigorist washes his hands so that he leaves it to the commandment. The loose minister washes his hands by simply saying, ‘This is not a sin’ or something like that. In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds
I don't read anything there saying that the Church is going to change its rules about the unholy trinity of abortion, contraception and illicit sexual activity.  What I do read is an attitude of meeting each person where she or he is, and striving to help that person grow, not be ignoring the reality of his or her sin (whether one of the aforementioned or another) but loving the person for who she or he is and helping remove the barriers to a fuller life in Christ. 

When Jesus described the final judgment, the condemned weren't told "I wanted more babies in church and you killed yours, I wanted bigger families and  you used birth control, I wanted strong marriages and you fornicated".  Those sent off to eternal torment were sent, not for what they did, but for what they failed to do.  It is easy to look at my life and say "I've never had an abortion, I'm faithful to my husband and I don't use birth control, I must be ok."  I think the Pope is calling us to go beyond that, to care for each other.
“The image of the church I like is that of the holy, faithful people of God. This is the definition I often use, and then there is that image from the Second Vatican Council’s ‘Dogmatic Constitution on the Church’ (No. 12). Belonging to a people has a strong theological value. In the history of salvation, God has saved a people. There is no full identity without belonging to a people. No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community. God enters into this dynamic, this participation in the web of human relationships.
“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity. And the church is Mother; the church is fruitful. It must be. You see, when I perceive negative behavior in ministers of the church or in consecrated men or women, the first thing that comes to mind is: ‘Here’s an unfruitful bachelor’ or ‘Here’s a spinster.’ They are neither fathers nor mothers, in the sense that they have not been able to give spiritual life. Instead, for example, when I read the life of the Salesian missionaries who went to Patagonia, I read a story of the fullness of life, of fruitfulness.
The thing about bearing fruit is that it is something the plant, in this case us, works at all growing season and once it is accomplished this year, it is time to start working on next year.  It's not like checking the box saying "I don't ____"; we have to keep on doing.  That's tough.  

For the complete text of the interview, See America 


  1. I agree with everything you wrote. This Pope really understands evangelization. Some people think he is de-emphasizing Church teaching, but he's not. He's saying that to call people to holiness we have to meet them where they are and go from there. Very missionary. And we better not get smug about ourselves or we'll be just like the Pharisee in the temple who bragged to God about how he kept all the rules but couldn't see his own sin of pride and hypocrisy.

  2. "The unholy trinity" does stick together pretty tightly, doesn't it? I agree with what you're saying. When I read the interview, I didn't see any new information, only a bigger focus. And maybe a smaller focus. Instead of focusing on an "issue" such as abortion nationally and globally, I think he's calling to focus on the people right in front of us. To love them as they are, but to help be a part of their healing. Obviously, he's not okay with abortion (and I'm sad if he felt that he needed to "extend an olive branch to conservatives"; I choose to believe that he said something that needed to be said just because it was important and not for all sorts of political motivations.")

  3. Great post. I agree. Barb put it well too.


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