A reader is pleased and puzzled to be Catholic

He writes:

Hi Mark, enjoy your blog and writings. I’m new back to the church after decades in born again church’s. I’m thrilled to be back, after studying for a couple of years Catholic Church doctrine.

Wonderful! Welcome back!

But at the same time I understand again why many leave the church for what seems simpler approach by Protestants.

Sure. But “simpler” doesn’t mean “truer”. It’s simpler to believe in six day creationism, or that God is an old man on a cloud, or that the sun goes around the earth, or that the good are always rewarded with riches and happiness and the wicked are always punished with misfortune, and lots of children believe such things till they bump into the real world and are disabused of these simplicities. Catholic faith is complicated because it describes the relationship between a Triune God and a fallen world. That relationship is complicated, so theology is too. Though, paradoxically, it’s simple if you have the faith of a child and simply trust that Jesus knows what he is doing as he leads the Church and teaches us through the Magisterium.

Why does almost everything Catholic hierarchs, especially the pope, say, need to be interpreted?

Because all human language–including the Bible itself–needs to be interpreted. There is no such thing as a self-interpreting text.

I’m keeping on top of all this, and I’m confused. What exactly is Pope Francis trying to say? I think I get the gist, and he does sound a lot like Jesus, but when he speaks about rules that have to change, what rules?

What are you referring to? I haven’t heard him say that rules have to change (though, of course, he’s perfectly right if he has said this since human rules are subject to the changeability of human situations). But I’m not sure what you are referring to.

I don’t think people like to float on an unsure foundation. Again, I understand that he doesn’t want the rules thrown out before the love, but, for instance, don’t warn against taking communion unworthily, as St. Paul warned?

Again, what are you referring to?

And Pope Francis seems to say a lot of “I want this, I don’t want that”, is he the rule maker or the protector of the doctrine.

I’m not sure those two roles are opposed. But I’m still not clear on what rules you are referring to.

I am really trying to learn and grow from what the pope says, but I’m a little confused, and a little scared. I don’t want to be returning to what is turning into the Episcopal Church.

Don’t worry. You’re not. The pope has not said one iota that is heterodox. He may well make some changes here and there to the bureaucracy of the Church or various disciplines, I don’t know. But he won’t (and can’t) contradict the core dogmas of the Faith. The Spirit won’t let him. Indeed, most of what he does will scarcely impact you at all in terms of how you live your life at the parish level.

His message is basically the same as his predecessors: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Keep yourself from idols. These are money, pleasure, power, and honor. All his recent teaching on mammon (and the priority of poor people over it) is basically about that and is the same thing his predecessors (and Jesus) had to say.

Read his exhortation. He’s very accessible.  Meanwhile, God bless your efforts to learn and grow through our Lord Jesus.  The Faith is huge and fascinating and God will bless your openness to his Spirit as you continue to feed on Christ and try to imitate his mind, heart, and deeds.

He replies:

Thank you for taking the time to reply to my email. I guess a couple of the things Pope Francis wrote in his exhortation that I wasn’t sure of we’re

“The church has rules and precepts that might have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness in directing and shaping people’s lives.”

I wonder what rules he’s referring to.

Beats me. But of course the basic principle is perfectly sound. The Church has the authority and sometimes the obligation to alter its merely human rules when fitting. Fasting regulations, for instance, were deliberately calibrated to focus the onus on the rich, rather than the poor, who live an eternal compulsory fast anyway. It was the same idea as the biblical model which allowed the poor to sacrifice a cheap pigeon instead of something more expensive. The poor at fish all the time anyway, so only the rich felt the pinch of the Friday fast. He may, for all I know, be referring to some human system like the curia, which badly needs reform.


“The Eucharist…is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

Not sure exactly what he means by that, and if that is different than Paul’s warning not to take communion unworthily.

He means that holier than thou super-Catholics who spend much of their time demanding that the Impure be barred from the sacraments need to pipe down and accept the judgment of their pastors when they allow weak sinners to approach the Altar. He’s addressing a sort of latter day Jansenism that wants to keep as many people as possible from approaching the sacraments.

I really am open to learn from the Pope, and have come to better understand him, with writings like yours being very helpful.

Thanks again!

Thanks! God bless you!

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