Pope’s words should be read in context of the Church, scholar says

Denver, Colo., Nov 7, 2013 / 03:46 pm (CNA).- In a new column for CNA, a theology professor and author says that the Pope’s recent interviews need to be understood in light of his missionary vision for the Church rather than as individual declarations.

“The key to interpreting Pope Francis’ statements properly is found in his vision for the Church,” Dr. Edward Sri, professor of scripture and theology at the Augustine Institute, said in his most recent column, “Making sense of Pope Francis: Christian ambition in evangelization and the humility of dialogue.”

The Holy Father’s seemingly off-the-cuff comments about moral issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and contraception have been both “celebrated” and “feared” as a “radical departure from Catholic moral teachings on the matters.”

However, Dr. Sri wrote, rather than drawing conclusions from sound bites of Pope Francis’ interviews, people should consider his overall vision for the Church, which seems to be one of missionary outreach.

“The Holy Father says he wants a Church that doesn’t just open its doors to others, but goes out to the world: to those Christians who are indifferent, to the Catholics who stop going to Mass, and even to unbelievers like Eugenio Scalfari,” Dr. Sri said, referring to the Holy Father’s Oct. 1 interview with the prominent atheist journalist.

Dr. Sri recalled the Pontiff’s analogy of the Church as a field hospital charged with treating critical injuries in order to save a patient’s life. Only after the “most serious wounds” are addressed can the doctor move on to “other aspects of living a healthy life.”

He explained that when it is separated from the “context of God’s loving plan of salvation,” Church teaching can appear to be nothing more than “arbitrary rules from a bygone era being imposed on people today.”

Now that we live in a secular culture, more people than ever need to be exposed to the love and mercy of God before they can be expected to live out Christian morality, which is a “response to God’s love for us and our life in Jesus Christ.”

The Pope’s comments are a sign of “a new emphasis” in how the faith should be proclaimed in the “missionary territory” that is the post-modern world.

“(People) need the initial proclamation of the Gospel to understand the context of the Church’s moral teachings,” the professor explained. “And they need the hope and encouragement that grace gives the person to pursue the good, even when it is very difficult to do so.”

Just as in the New Testament, Pope Francis is using different ways of reaching people by first proclaiming the Good News and then following with moral exhortation as is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of St. Paul.

“In Acts, the way Peter and Paul initially proclaim the faith to those who have not yet heard the Gospel is different from the way Paul instructs believers in his letters to established Christian communities,” Dr. Sri said.

The apostles, while “not afraid to address tough moral issues,” used different approaches to address different groups of people. Some addresses were directed at those who did not yet know Christ while others were meant for those who had converted but struggled with living a Christian life.

Above all else, the Pope sees himself, like Matthew the tax collector, as “a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze.”

“And in doing so, I think he is inviting us to do the same,” Dr. Sri wrote.

To read Dr. Sri’s column in full, please visit: www.catholicnewsagency.com/column.php?n=2719.

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