Francis’ Interview and the Unexpected Unity of the NY Times and the Francis Haters

Well, it’s been a day now since Francis’ terrific interview was published. First thing you should do go read the whole thing, cuz it’s great.

What’s fascinating to me is how many people are reacting, not to the interview, but to the dunderheaded way in which it is being misread and misinterpreted in the media. Exhibit A:

 Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control

Um, no. He didn’t say that. If you want to really understand what the pope said you need to grasp that the central issue for him is the living encounter between Jesus Christ and each human person. Here are the *real* key words from the interview:

“The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.”

That’s the key to understanding everything else in Francis’ interview. The whole thing was about the fact that the faith is primarily an encounter of human persons with the person of Christ, not about salvation by rules and slogans. It’s in *that* context that he makes the following remarks:

We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.

“This is also the great benefit of confession as a sacrament: evaluating case by case and discerning what is the best thing to do for a person who seeks God and grace. The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better. I also consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she is now happy and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it. She would like to move forward in her Christian life. What is the confessor to do?

“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.

“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

There are two massive ironies about this whole kerfuffle.

The first irony is that the press pored over a 12,000 word interview, zeroed in on a dozen words on the Pelvic Issues and declared “POPE SAYS CATHOLICS OBSESSED ABOUT SEX!!!!” Erm, have you checked the mirror, MSM?

That said, the Pope isn’t wrong to direct his message to Catholics.  And his principal message to conservative Catholics when it comes to the Pelvic Issues is “Don’t be as cramped, narrow, and blind to the person as the world and the world’s media is. When you focus too much on fighting the world you start to think like the world, trying to run the Church by rules and laws and slogans and power and fear and punishment and not by putting first things first: which is Jesus Christ and our personal encounter with him. The press can’t be expected to get that. But we Catholics *must* get that.”

And so (irony #2) what astonishes me is not the the NY Times doesn’t get that, but that the conservatives all over the blogosphere panicking about the pope’s remarks don’t get that either. Those who are expressing various degrees of outrage, dismay, panic and betrayal at the Pope’s remarks ironically agree far more with the NY Times’ take on the core of the Faith than they do with Francis’ take. Both talk as though Francis has somehow overturned or endangered the Tradition of the Church by his remarks. They only differ on whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Neither grasp that Francis has done no such thing and has, in fact, articulated the heart of the Tradition.  It is this: the law was made for man, not man for the law.

The encounter of the human person with God in the person of Christ Jesus has primacy over everything else.    Everything. Else.  All other things–yes, even the extremely important issues of abortion, gay marriage, and the family–cannot be allowed to become the *only* things or the faith is reduced a form of idol worship (a favorite theme of his) in which a few secondary truths take precedence over the encounter of the human person with his Savior Jesus Christ.  The “obsession” he denounces is not with defending innocent human life and the family (“The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church”).  Rather, it is with reducing the faith–the living encounter of human beings with the merciful Savior Jesus Christ–to abstract rules, power, and fear without respect for the person (“The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently”).

In this he is perfectly right and, mark this, wholly unoriginal.  It’s the same thing that moved Jesus to eat with tax collectors and sinners.  It’s also the same thing that moved JPII to remark in Redemptor Hominis, not that the Church is the road that man and woman must walk but that man and woman are the road the Church must walk.

Sherry Weddell had some very perceptive commentary on her FB page:

From Forming Intentional Disciples, spurred by reading Pope Francis’ interview:

I am not a Christian because it “makes sense” or because someone sat down and diagrammed it for me. I am a Christian because I have been loved deeply and unconditionally by Christians. Some of them… troubled me with hard questions. But all of them loved me when I did not love them… Reason is a wonderful tool, but it is a weak force for deep change in human beings. Faith, hope and love are not tools; they are virtues, powerful and exceedingly difficult to embody, and much more efficacious than reason for changing lives.” – Paul Wallace

It’s amazing, challenging, unnerving for Trads, and you have to read between the lines on homosexuality but it fits in completely with the thresholds of pre-discipleship. He is an evangelizing pastor whose instincts are all personal and missionary, not a defender of the sharp lines and exact phrasing . . but a highly relational apostle. Many American Catholics have regarded the fundamental job of the papacy to be drawing sharp lines and defending those lines against those who want to cross them. PF wants to cross those lines to connect with the lost and lapsed.

I would certainly agree that JPII was highly apostolic and exceedingly personal but he was also a major intellectual while Benedict was a loving but deeply introverted intellectual who needed lots of private space. Francis is a cultured, literate man but not a public intellectual and that is really different. He is first and foremost an apostolic pastor – not an intellectual. Very different from the last four Popes. This is an experience of the Papacy through a man who is 100% pastor. Different charisms really matter.

I love this guy so much.  He really really gets it.  So far from seeing him as overturning the Tradition or (as the media love to promote) attacking the work of his predecessors, I see this man as offering a magnificent opportunity to make the riches of the Faith available to the world in a way that makes Jesus personally accessible to a generation that cries out for Him.  He is an unexpected and astounding gift to us and I am deeply grateful to God for him as I am for his predecessors.  What an amazing Church this is!  What an amazing time to be alive.  Deo gratias.

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  • Flores

    In the interview Pope Francis said that Fellini’s “La Strada” was his favorite movie? If any one has ever watched Fellini’s stuff one could only conclude that it is one big powerful wall of evil. When Fellin’s movie “La Dolce Vita” came out the Vatican denounced it as disgusting and immoral.

    I did read the entire interview but I was not present at the interview
    nor do I speak Italian so I do not know if it was tampered with. I’m
    not into conspiracies or looking for things wrong with the Pope but his Fellini statement leaves me confounded.

    • michicatholic

      If the only thing you can say is that you think he likes bad movies, then he’s doing pretty good.

    • Paul Giesting

      FWIW…yes, it’s wikipedia, but…”In 1995, the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Commission for Social Communications issued a list of 45 films representing a “cross section of outstanding films, chosen by a committee of twelve international movie scholars”. This has come to be known as the “Vatican film list”, and includes La Strada as one of 15 films in the sub-category labeled “art”.[83] Pope Francis, has said it is “the movie that perhaps I loved the most”, because of his personal identification with its implicit reference to his namesake, Francis of Assisi.[84]”

  • michicatholic

    Mark, this is the best thing you’ve written in quite a while. I agree totally with the paragraph that contains this: “The encounter of the human person with God in the person of Christ Jesus has primacy over everything else. Everything. Else. All other things–yes, even the extremely important issues of abortion, gay
    marriage, and the family–cannot be allowed to become the *only* things
    or the faith is reduced a form of idol worship (a favorite theme of his)
    in which a few secondary truths take precedence over the encounter of
    the human person with his Savior Jesus Christ.”

    Pointing out that the media and the rabid denouncers of Francis are on the same page is one of the highlights of the article. They are. They all think, mistakenly I might add, think that this is what religion consists of, which it does not. Morals and values are not religion, but rather the consequences which follow true religion. But you have to get true religion FIRST. And you don’t get that by being born into it and having it put on you by your parents like one of those dumb sun hats babies wear.

    That said, I think blanket vilification of the media distinct from the sex thing is passe. What happens next we will be responsible for. No one is making us fail at what we’re supposed to be doing, except us. The ball is in our court, and so far we’re fumbling it like a drunken comedian. What happens next is anybody’s guess.

  • Jolene Cassa

    This is John XXXIII 2.0. We’ve been here before. Are we that blind? It didn’t work then because 90% of our fellow parishioners want their sin not God’s Truth. They’ll scramble over every stray comment from any theologian in a desperate attempt to support their vices. We’ve had two generations of Church wreckers who were created out of thin air by the collective musings and magazine interviews of John XXXIII, Paul VI and a raft of liberal bishops and cardinals. Now, just as we’ve a made a bit pf progress, the zombie of “the people’s magisterium” rises again. Humans have spiritual needs yes, but whatever happened to striving for a state of grace free from conscious mortal sin? We need that baseline set of commandments EMPHASIZED. Only then can we encounter God.

    • rodlarocque1931

      I agree, I don’t see how the pope’s comments, knowing that they will be spun in the most liberal way by the media, can help people to wake up from the coma of their sins and vices to start the heavy work of digging themselves out of their sins.
      I know that what worked in my case was an awareness of sin in my personal life and the guilt associated. Guilt is a motivating factor and an integral ingredient in a true conversion.
      The whole issue regarding gays in the Church is that they want to desperately hang on to their sins and are doing everything they can to justify it. The reality is that individuals are not the best judge of what is right and wrong for themselves, Our Lord is, this is Catholicism 101, seek first the kingdom of heaven and all else will be added to you. Obviously gays want to seek first sexual satisfaction and just won’t offer it up.

      • People are never going to come to this consciousness of sin–or whatever you want to call it–by other people telling them about it. It must come from within, through the Holy Spirit. Guilt is not a motivating factor. It does the opposite. It paralyzes. It distracts. It spurs defensiveness.

        On the other hand, forgiveness and grace are motivators. A person is changed by that message. Now you may say that a person cannot understand grace before they have understood guilt. I don’t agree. I believe that many sins are only understood within a context built on God’s grace. That was Jesus’ message in many of his teachings (“You have heard it said… But I say to you…”).

        The point is, if you want the Church to be the instrument by which people are beating down to be built back up by God, you’re going to continue to experience the phenomenon that is happening now: people are unable to hear the Gospel because all they can think about is how much the Church hates them.

        • rodlarocque1931

          My opinion and your opinion can be verified or discounted based on empirical evidence, on whether guilt is motivational or not. I simply don’t agree with you that it isn’t – how many times have people for example, gone to bed without brushing their teeth and within a few minutes get up and go to the washroom to get the brush?
          I suppose a quick check of the academic literature might solve this issue.

        • propacis

          Ephesians 2 (Revised Standard Version)

          And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins

          in which you once walked, following the course of this world,
          following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at
          work in the sons of disobedience.

          Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh,
          following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature
          children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

          But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us,

          even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),

          and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

          that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

          For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God–

          not because of works, lest any man should boast.

          For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,
          which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

          Grace is the freely given gift of the Lord. Until you experience it, ask for it. Always pray for those who do not know God’s grace, that the Lord will be generous to them above and beyond anything we can think or imagine.

      • I also find it ironic that you wrote this…

        “The reality is that individuals are not the best judge of what is right and wrong for themselves, Our Lord is, this is Catholicism 101, seek first the kingdom of heaven and all else will be added to you”

        ….because, to me, it looks like you have put yourself in the role of determining what is right and wrong, and not even God himself could change your mind.

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