Our Pop Pope: What Does It Mean?

What does it mean when the Holy Father is Man of the Year for both Time Magazine and the nation’s number one gay publication?

What, pray tell, is the significance of a pope on the cover of Rolling Stone?

Two Things:

1. The Catholic Church is not irrelevant.

2. The Pope is showing us how to evangelize through love.

This adulation from the press won’t go on forever, of course. Sooner or later the media will figure out just how tough and immovable Jorge Bergoglio is when it comes to the Church and her teachings.

I think we should just roll with it and enjoy our Pop Pope’s popularity while it lasts.

And, in what is probably the most sincere of the bunch, the Holy Father has achieved super hero status in graffiti land.

Oklahoma Fails the Test and I Am Proud Of It!

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This is one test I wanted to fail.

In fact, this is one test that I have expended considerable political, social and emotional capital in an effort to fail.

NARAL’s so-called Women’s Reproductive Report Card is out, and Oklahoma got an F. Unfortunately, we’re not the best state in the Union in which to be an unborn child. North Dakota won that one.

But still … Oklahoma did “fail” the pro-abortion test, and I am proud to tell you that one of the pro life bills that Oklahoma passed last year to earn this failing grade was passed by me.

In fact, I went through the list of Oklahoma’s pro life regulations that NARAL dislikes, and I authored the bills that made quite a number of them law.

Now that I’ve told you how “proud” I am of this, I need to back off and back down and admit that I also, back in the years before my conversion, killed most of the same legislation that I have since helped pass.

Back when I was pro choice, I never heard a kind word from pro life people. In fact, they were pretty ugly to me. Fortunately for me, that was not true of a good many pro life legislators. It was their Christian witness of being able to love me just as I was (oftentimes while being excoriated for doing it by a few members of the pro life community) that softened me up.

This softening up played a big part in my ability to turn to Jesus and ask for forgiveness. But even then, I didn’t ask forgiveness for what I had done about abortion. That came later, after the Holy Spirit convicted me of the wrong I had committed. Christ Himself accepted me, as the hymn goes, just as I was; warts, sins and all. He forgave me for things I didn’t realize at that point that I needed to be forgiven for.

I think we need to take a page from His book in dealing with lost people.

That does not mean that I am advising you to tell people that their sins are not, in fact, sins. That would be a grave injustice to them. I am saying that none of us is as bad as the worst thing we’ve done and that none of us — and that means you and me, my friend — is fit to stand before God based on his or her own righteousness.

Our salvation is found at the foot of the cross. It is an unearned and unearnable grace; a free gift of love from the God Who made us.

Do not go around banning people from the Kingdom because they fall short of your idea of personal righteousness. Your standing in the order of things is that of the created, not the Creator. You do not get to ban anybody from the Kingdom. That is not your place in the order of creation. You are not the Judge. You are the judged.

Every single one of us should be grateful that God loves us and accepts us. That is what I believe the Holy Father has been trying to tell us this past year. We need to remind people that there is a remedy for their anomie and misery, and that remedy is the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

We live in a devolving, falling-apart culture that has gotten so turned on its head that evil is preached as good and good is preached as evil from every venue. It is maddening, I know, to see and hear people demand that Christians validate sin by denying the sinfulness of what is in truth moral depravity. We can not and must not do that.

It is even more maddening to have people who do not believe in Jesus and who actively mock Him, mis-use Christ’s clear commandment that we should not judge to mean that we are called to ignore the equally clear teachings of morality and purity. I understand the anger this provokes. I’ve felt it. I feel it many times when I encounter this smug sophistry.

But, I know that Jesus calls you and me to more than righteous anger. I know that righteous anger, if it is nursed and allowed to go on, destroys our relationship with Jesus. When we become anger and rage — and at least a few of the people who comment on this blog seem to have fallen into this trap — then we are not and cannot be following God who is love.

Never equate the person with their sin. If Christ looked at you like that, where would you be? I know where I would be. I know what I deserve.

Is there one person reading this who would not go straight to hell, if God judged us as harshly as we judge one another?

Sin is wrong. But the person who sins is a child of God who can be loved from death to life. It is not our job to play God and condemn them to hell. Our job is to show them the Way. Part of that, certainly, is an insistence on the truth of God’s teachings about personal morality. But the hardest part of it is an honest and forthright attempt to live those truths in our lives.

We are all prey to the world. I certainly am. If I do not fall into the sins of active behavior — which is almost impossible not to do — then I will fall into the sins of thinking that my righteousness is sufficient and that I can judge and condemn those who I see failing in ways that I do not.

The thing that saves me is the grace of God that keeps reminding me that I am only saved from eternal hell by unmerited love.

Pray without ceasing for the poor, sad people who are trying to live without Christ. Never stop praying for them or give up on them. Make the best witness that you can by living out your Christian commitment without flinching back from it.

Do it because it is what Jesus asked you to do.

Look to the Sermon on the Mount, the Ten Commandments and the Catechism of the Church for your guides on how to live. Do not pay attention to various gurus who would add to or take away from those things.

If an honest attempt to follow the Sermon on the Mount, the Ten Commandments and the Catechism doesn’t teach you humility, then re-read them and compare yourself to the requirements found there with a bit more honesty.

Stop comparing your personal edited and flattering version of yourself to the sins you witness other people committing. That’s the wrong way to look at it. It can cost you your soul. Look instead to Jesus. If you compare your righteousness to Jesus, hanging on the cross, it will bring you down to your knees, and on your knees is where you — and me, and all of us — belong.

My sins were and are great. I owe a debt that I can never repay.

The fact that God let me be the person who passed a few pro life bills was and is a measure of forgiveness that I did not and do not deserve.

What do you owe?

What, honestly, do you owe your Creator?

If it’s not more than you can repay, then you are not truly human.

Do not engage in attacks against people. Focus instead on the issues at hand, filtered through the Truth of God. Remember that we are all of us dust, and that we will each stand before God much sooner than we imagine.

Do not throw away your soul on the sad satisfactions of judging and unforgiving. That is a preposterous waste of the free gift of eternal life.

Billy Graham’s Last Sermon

Billy Graham has written what he says is his last sermon. I think it’s worth pondering as we look ahead to the New Year in front of us.

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2013 Favs: You Belong to Me

A few weeks ago, my pastor preached a homily based on what is a simple but absolute fact of all our lives.

We will die.

You are going to die.

I am going to die.

It may be in a car wreck this afternoon as you go to the store to buy milk. It may be years from now as you sleep in your bed at 85. But you and I will die.

My pastor told us that when we die, someone will say to us, You belong to me. The question is, who will be saying this to us? Will it be Jesus, welcoming us Home. Or will it be someone else?

We are the ones who decide who will tell us You belong to me on that day. We decide, not so much by the things we say, but by what we do. Who do you serve with your life? Whose teachings do you follow?

Do you follow the troubling teachings of the Gospels as elucidated to us by the Holy Father, Pope Francis? Or do you follow the serpent who whispers in all of our ears, Take. Eat. God is a liar. You will not die?

As with all really successful lies, this one was part truth. When the serpent whispered You will not die in Eve’s ear, it was true. All the serpent had to do was add one word to make it absolutely true. That word was today.

You will not die today. 

Take. Eat. And you will be like God, knowing right from wrong. And you will not die today. 

There are many serpents in our world today, and each one of them speaks to us in the peculiar language of our own hearts. They tell us that what we want to do is right and the Church which tells us otherwise is wrong, cruel, hard-hearted and mean to tell us it is not.

It doesn’t matter if it’s your sexuality, your politics, the way you treat your family or some secret sin you keep to yourself. You have your own serpent to whisper in your ear and tell you, God/the Pope/the Gospels are all liars. Do this and you will be free of those binding appeals to lying morality.

And, of course, you will not die. 

But it’s all a lie from the father of lies. The Gospel this Sunday talks about judgement day, when Jesus told us that one will be taken and another left behind. Many preachers concentrate their preaching about this on some final Judgement Day for all humankind that recedes in front of us like the horizon as we live our lives.

But I think that there are two judgement days and the one we need to concern ourselves with is our own personal Judgement Day that is coming at all of us faster than any of us wants to believe. On that day, someone will say to us You belong to me. 

One of the primary purposes of this blog is to encourage Christians to take a stand for Jesus in a post Christian world. Since I am myself a politician, I am calling you from the depths of my experience to cast off the false gods of political claptrap and follow the Gospels of Christ without compromise.

Do not follow false teachers who are the political serpents whispering in all our ears and who edit the Gospels of Christ to serve their political masters. Do not bow down before the elephant or the donkey. Do not do it.

When we die and someone says to us, You belong to me, we are the ones who will have determined which voice we hear saying it. We are choosing now as we choose who we serve, who we follow and who we believe.

Follow Christ.

Follow His Vicar who was chosen by the Holy Spirit and who cannot teach us that which is contrary to the Gospels of Christ.

Stop trying to lead, and follow. And stop quibbling about it.

I have learned from my own disastrous failures at doing it my way and I am telling you now from the bottom of my heart: There is no other Way.

 

2013 Favs: Christian Persecution: Are We the ‘New Jews’?

Yesterday’s news of fresh scandal and rumors of scandal in the Church left me feeling like the little girl in Poltergeist. Her family had suffered a harrowing attack by demonic forces. As fresh attacks started, she turned to the camera and said, “No more.”

… no more

That’s exactly how I felt when Deacon Greg Kandra posted that another of our Church leaders has been accused of sexual misconduct. This came at the tag end of a day in which the Vatican issued a denial that the Holy Father’s resignation was in any way a response to what sounded like a cabal of homosexual cardinals within the Vatican and Cardinal Mahony loaded on with another of his weird, cardinal-from-space blog posts.

My reaction was exhaustion and depression and sadness, all rolled into a sigh. No more, indeed.

This is especially sad, coming as it does at a pivot point in history. The Catholic Church is the only unified Christian voice in the world today. Christianity is under attack as it has not been for 17 centuries, with Christians in many places quite literally under the gun. Even the Muslim invasion of Christian lands and the subsequent subjugation of entire Christian populations that took place in the Middle Ages did not have the universal, multi-faceted breadth of the challenges Christians face today.

What a terrible time for our leaders to become disgraceful, not for their fealty to Christ, which would inspire and edify all of us, but for their overweening self-absorption.

Before I went to bed last night, I read a remarkable post by one of my colleagues here at Patheos, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, who blogs at The Velvet Kippah. In this post, Rabbi Adlerstein asks Are Christians the New Jews?  He says:

“If you want to understand us, study our story, learn of our pain.” That is what Jews told Christians who wanted to build new bridges of respect after the Holocaust. Ironically, when Christians begin listening to the story of the Jews, they are finding reflections of themselves.

Christians who listened learned of a Jewish history written in blood from ancient to modern times. When they thought of Christian martyrdom, on the other hand, they had to turn for the most part to antiquity, to early Christianity under the thumb of Roman emperors.

That has all changed. While Jews feel threatened by the massive explosion of global anti-Semitism in the last years, coupled with Iranian and Islamist calls for the genocidal destruction of all Jews, very few Jews in 2013 are dying because of their faith or their roots. Christians, on the other hand, have become the New Jews. (Read more here.

The violent persecution of Christians in the Middle East, which is what Rabbi Adlerstein is describing, is part — but only a part — of the tsunami of persecution that is heading toward Christianity and Christians today. In truth, violent persecution of Christians has spread over a good bit of the world. Christians are burnt, beaten, beheaded, kidnapped, raped, tortured and imprisoned with impunity in much of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and various Pacific nations.

At the same time, hate speech against Christians and Christianity has long been tolerated in the so-called Christian West. It is not only tolerated, but actively encouraged on many of our university campuses. Christians are increasingly faced with the choice of losing their jobs or following their faith throughout what has been for many centuries the stronghold of Christian faith.

We need leaders, and, fortunately, we have them. Our bishops have provided courageous leadership this past year against the overt government attack on religious freedom that the HHS Mandate represents. I am proud of them for this. They have my complete support and gratitude for doing it.

We are, as I said, at a pivot point. If we are going to turn back this tide of Christian-bashing bigotry, we must do it now, before it gets stronger. It is a great sadness that we keep getting battered by scandals at the highest levels in our Church in this perilous time.

I know that God makes all things, even bad things, work to the good. Good will come of these scandals. One good that I think we will see is a more authentic and committed priesthood. I am not one to criticize our priests. Based on my experience, I think they do their very best, and that this best is quite good. However, tough times are ahead. We are going to need priests who are committed to Christ to the death. The day is coming when we will need priests who can lead us through the fire.

I believe that these repeated scandals are the result of the Holy Spirit, cleaning things out. I don’t have any more insight into this than anyone else, but it seems to me that God just got enough. These abuses had to stop, and, even though the cure is quite painful, I believe that the scandals and the misery they bring to all of us will stop them.

So it is with the revelations of scandal from yesterday. These things have to be exposed because the Church cannot fail. The gates of hell will not prevail against this Church. There are times when things must be laid open because sunlight and air purify and heal. I think we are going through such a time in Church history today.

This brings me to something Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in 1969, decades before he became Pope Benedict XVI. I am going to quote it in its entirety because I think it is pertinent to what we face today. Read it prayerfully, and remember that St Paul told us, “The one who endures to the end will be saved.”

Do not let the sins of other people, including the sins of our religious leaders, lead you away from Christ or His Church. Do not throw away your salvation because someone else has sinned. Trust Jesus and endure to the end.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s comments in 1969 say in part:

The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.

It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek . . . The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain . . . But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes . . . she will lose many of her social privileges. . . As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members….

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.

2013 Favs: The Church has Gay Priests? Duhhhhh

Pope francis

Is there any adult Catholic who attends mass regularly who is unaware that many of our priests are homosexual?

I have a response for this not-so-startling reality.

Big deal.

Pope Francis recently gave a brief press conference during which he took a couple of hard-ball questions about gay priests. He answered them with what you would expect: Honesty.

I’m going to paraphrase rather than quote because I don’t have what I think are good quotes to use. The various permutations of what he said are spread all over the internet. You can find them and be confused by them there.

Basically, if I understand it, he was replying to questions about a specific priest whom he’s appointed to a high position and who may have fallen off the chastity wagon in his past. This particular priest is rumored to be a homosexual.

If what I read is mostly accurate, the Holy Father said that:

1. If a priest is truly seeking to follow Christ, and,

2. He is keeping his vows of chastity now,

3. Then, who is anyone, including the Pope, to cast him out?

When asked about rumors of this particular priest’s scandalous past, he seemed to be saying that these were sins of the past that have been repented and which are not happening now.

All this is in keeping with the Catholic Church I know and love.

The Catholic Church is the most forgiving, most loving place any sin-shamed person can go. I have sins in my past that are not only really bad ones, but that were extremely public. I can tell you from personal experience that forgiveness is not to be found just anywhere. I was not forgiven, ever, by some people. They basically cast me out of the Christian universe over things I had done 20 or 30 years before.

I didn’t come to the Catholic Church seeking forgiveness. I came because Christ in the Eucharist called me with an insistent call. But one of the things I found is the first genuine forgiveness I had ever encountered.

So for me it’s a simple equation. If I can be forgiven, then some homosexual priest who fell off the chastity wagon once upon a time, deserves forgiveness, as well.

Not, notice, my forgiveness. This hypothetical priest hasn’t done anything to me. I don’t need to forgive him. He and I are square. He deserves forgiveness from the same place where we all go for it: The wounded and loving Heart of Jesus. The blood that flowed from Jesus’ side fell on homosexuals, just as it did everyone else.

There is no sin so dark that He can’t forgive it. There is no hurt so deep that He can’t heal it. And there is no person so broken that He can’t use them to build His Kingdom.

What I ask of a priest is sincerity and authenticity of purpose. I want priests who are all in for Jesus and who have what it takes to lead us through the challenges that are coming as part of this post-Christian world in which we now live.

That means I want priests who stand for holy matrimony, who stand for life, who will not back down and run away when the Church is attacked by secular forces. The priesthood is a leadership position. I want priests who will lead God’s people through the morass, who can hold their little flocks together in the storm and deliver them safely to heaven.

Those are big things I’m asking. They are far beyond the ability of any human being, gay or straight. Only priests who are, as I said, all in for Jesus can do them, because they are possible only if they are attempted with heavy doses of heavenly grace.

We need priests who give themselves to Jesus through Our Lady in such a profound way that they can, in obedience to their bishops, be the leaders God needs for these times.

I don’t care if a priest is gay. Doesn’t bother me a bit.

What I want is true priests, holy priests, who are for-real followers of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

2013 Favs: The Gospel in Six Words

During the next couple of weeks, I’m going to review my favorite things we’ve done in 2013.

This is my absolute favorite You Tube.

God bless this young man and his conversion from gansta to Christian rap. His talent is incredible.

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Christianity Helps Women Rise Out of Poverty, Domestic Violence

Jesus Christ is the world’s greatest revolutionary.

People who believe Him and follow His teachings are empowered on every level of their existence. It is impossible to be a true follower of Christ and not realize that you are worth something, no matter what the larger world has to say to the contrary.

This revolutionary aspect of Christianity is most evident in its impact on marginalized people, including women.

The women who are part of the “untouchable” or “Dalit” class in India are currently experiencing and demonstrating this powerful revolutionizing effect of Jesus Christ. It begins, as Christian revolution always does, with one individual who says “yes” to Jesus. This “yes” starts this person on the life-long walk with Christ that slowly changes who they see themselves to be and what they want to do.

Jesus doesn’t change what you do. He changes what you want to do. And by changing that, He works through you to change the world.

This power of conversion is what is so sadly lacking in the hearts and minds of tepid Christians here in the West. The rich-kids Catholic school in Seattle that I wrote about earlier today is an example. These people are salt that has lost is savor and is no longer of any use in the work of Kingdom building.

On the other hand, the Spirit is moving and empowering the “untouchables” of India to be more than their society has allowed them to be. That is the power of Jesus Christ. He levels the mighty and elevates the cast-offs.

Perhaps no one is more cast off and marginalized than the women of the bottom tier of a caste society. India is a caste society where women are so far down the scale that baby girls are routinely murdered both before and after birth simply because they are girls. A Dalit woman occupies the bottom of the bottom in that world; the place from which there is no arising.

Yet, by the grace of God and the leavening influence of Jesus Christ, these women are rising. They are seeking education, buying homes and reporting domestic abuse. They are exercising their freedom as full human beings made in the image and likeness of the living God.

That is the revolutionary force of Christianity when we live it as it is given to us instead of trying to shape it to fit the society in which we reside. We each face a choice every day of our lives as to who or Whom we will follow. We chose. And we make this choice one day, one moment, at a time every day of our lives.

In course of living out our choices, we become what we do. You can not turn your back on God when it is socially convenient and use Him for your puny purposes when you need a dose of feel good. That is an illusory Christianity, a “cheap grace” as Bonnhoeffer called it, that avails nothing.

From CNA/EWTN News:

From CNA/EWTN News:Rome, Italy, Dec 20, 2013 / 05:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A researcher at Washington D.C.’s Georgetown University has found that impoverished women in India are more likely to improve their economic circumstances after converting to Christianity.

“Conversion actually helps launch women on a virtuous circle.”…  said Rebecca Samuel Shah, research fellow at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.

Shah presented her initial findings of a pilot study looking at “patterns and directions where conversion had an impact” on Dalit women in Bangalore, India at a conference on “Christianity and Freedom” held in Rome on Dec. 13-14.

Dalits are considered the “outcasts” of or “pariahs” of society in India.

“One is actually born a Dalit, you cannot leave a Dalit status. You’re born and you live and you die a Dalit,” Shah explained. “Dalits are employed in the some of the worst jobs…they scavenge, they sweep, they’re tanners. They do the smelliest, dirtiest work, and therefore they ‘polute’… they’re ‘untouchables.’”

… Shah’s study yielded some surprising results about the impact of Christian conversion on the lives of Dalit women in “a very violent urban slum.”

The majority of Hindu, Muslim and Christian Dalit women interviewed were illiterate. Many belong to a microfinance program which gives them access to loans which they then use towards their children’s education or to run a small business.

The first “unexpected pattern” Shah encountered was in housing. “The converts converted their loans to purchasing houses, and turned dead capital into resources to generate additional capital.”

…  The impact of home ownership is crucial, since “by being able to own a house, these poor women were able to get bank loans, commercial loans, which they didn’t have access to before that. When you have a house you can get a loan at 3 percent, instead of from a money lender at 18 percent.  So having a house is a very important investment in your future, so you can have access to very affordable credit.”
The second “dramatic” finding in Shah’s study concerned domestic violence.

A national family health survey in India in 2005-2006 indicated that 86 percent of the women interviewed nationally had never told anyone that they had been abused.

According to Shah, this large scale study indicated that a woman’s religion was an important indicator of whether or not she would seek help. “Only 24 percent of Hindu women sought help, and 22 percent of Muslim women, but 32 percent of Christian women sought help,” she noted.

Shah’s own study “echoed” the national health data, in that “57 percent of women – a very large number of women – actually tell their pastor” about domestic violence.

…  “It was a unique finding. We were not looking for this,” added Shah.

The Georgetown researcher then pointed to the underlying factors that accompany an improvement in circumstances after conversion.

“Conversion activates in the converts a powerful new concept of value and initiative,” she explained.

It offers “a radically different way of seeing themselves: seeing themselves as a new creation, a new identity, made in the image of God, seeking a better life for themselves.”

“Poverty is inherently depressing. It’s discouraging. It’s debilitating. It breeds hopelessness: ‘why bother?’” she reflected.

Yet with a new Christian vision, “The future is not terrifying. It can be achieved. Because God is with them, they can invest in the future. It’s not something to ignore, not something to be terrified of.”

Pope Francis is Person of the Year and It Doesn’t Mean a Thing

Time Magazine named Pope Francis their ‘Person of the Year’ for 2013.

This honor, which is usually a signal event in the lives of most of its recipients, was probably more of a bemusement to the Holy Father.

He walks in the shoes of the fisherman.

I have always loved the power of that first call to Peter. It is an incredible story. Here it is, in all its stark simplicity.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. Come, follow me, Jesus said, and I will send you out to fish for people. At once they left their nets and followed him.

Think about this story for a moment. Simon and his brother Andrew are going about their daily work as fishermen. They are casting their nets into the lake. Then this stranger comes up and says, Follow me … and I will send you out to fish for people. 

What would you do?

I’ve dealt with a lot of crazy people in my time in public office. Many of them have pulled me aside to share their delusions. I’ve always handled it as gently as I could. But I never considered dropping everything and following them off to Mars or wherever they thought they were going.

You can tell when someone is delusional. It’s not difficult at all.

But this carpenter’s son was different, and those who, as He said, had the eyes to see, picked up on it immediately. Simon and his brother dropped their nets, left their livelihood, and followed Him.

Why? What did they have the eyes to see?

I think it was more of an intuition and an instinctive response to the presence of God than knowledge and understanding. The Gospels make it clear that all the Apostles, including Peter, (who was called Simon until Jesus changed his name) slowly and often reluctantly came to an understanding of Who Jesus was and what His call meant. They were still quarreling among themselves as to their position in what they thought was going to be an earthly kingdom a few days before the crucifixion.

But the same Jesus Who others humiliated and murdered without fear for themselves or their immortal souls, was, for those who had the eyes to see, a transcendent figure from the first.

The seeds of His crucifixion were sown early in His ministry among those who were offended by His teaching. This was not a simple miracle man. He challenged the jots and tittles of the weighty interpretations of the law that the priests had layered on the people. He laid bare the priests’ pretensions while opening His arms to the displaced and despised.

They accused Him repeatedly — and accurately — of healing on the Sabbath. They “grieved and angered” Jesus with “their hardness of heart.”

Is it better to save a life or end it? he asked them, and they responded by plotting to kill him.

He could have quibbled and shuffled his feet and obfuscated His way out of the danger. He could have watered down the Gospel so that it fit the teachings of these fallen priests.

But He didn’t. Instead, He went right in their faces with his challenge to their mis-use of the law to control and weigh people down. The son of man is lord of the Sabbath He told them. The Sabbath was made for people. People were not made for the Sabbath, He said.

And they killed Him for it.

The crowds loved Him. They followed Him everywhere, even going so far as to knock a hole in the roof of Peter’s house to lower a crippled man for Him to heal. Less than a week before they yelled “Crucify Him!” the crowds shouted Hosanna! and laid palm branches in the road in front of Him.

Pope Francis is the Vicar of Christ. When he — or anyone — speaks out for the Gospels, he will be dealt with in a manner similar to what Jesus Himself experienced from human hands.

Is the servant greater than the master? Jesus asked his disciples. If they persecute me, they will persecute you. 

Today, as 2,000 years ago, high profile followers of Christ are subjected to the same push-pull of adulation that is placed on them instead of Him as well as the attacks and smears that are also placed on them instead of Him. In truth, both the love and the hate are focused on Jesus.

These high-profile followers of Christ are just the temporal targets through which people express their feelings about Jesus and their understanding of the Gospels. Pope Francis, as the Vicar of Christ, get this treatment, raised to powers of ten.

On the one hand, he is named Person of the Year. On the other hand, he is attacked as a heretic and compared — with absolutely no basis in fact — with the most corrupt popes of history.

Why? Because he says that Jesus came to seek the lost, that we must not walk past Lazarus, that the prostitutes and drug dealers and homosexuals will enter the Kingdom of Heaven before the pharisees of our time.

He is accused of being a sell-out because known sinners are attracted to him. He is called outrageous names because he says blessed are the poor.

This honor of being named Person of the Year will almost certainly further inflame those who are so bitterly angry with him. After all, the honor — in all its temporal nothingness — comes from public sinners.

Who is Pope Francis to tell sinners that Jesus loves them? Who does he think he is, insisting that Christ the Lord meant what He said?

Maybe, he thinks he’s the Pope. Perhaps the Holy Spirit had a thing or two to do with his election. It’s possible that he was put in this position because what he’s telling us is what we need to hear.

I wrote a post declaring my loyalty to this good man.

I ended up deleting a number of disturbing comments on this post. The comments came from people who wanted to rage at  the Holy Father — and at me, for standing with him.

They came from Catholics whose Catholicism has devolved down to a Gospel according to them as explicated by some false internet pope they are slavishly following. They repeatedly cited this or that cult-leader of a fallen priest or political guru to explain why the Pope is a heretic, a fool, or worse.

They chided me for following the Pope instead of their fallen priest or political guru. They explained to me why there is no responsibility for Catholics to follow the teachings of the Holy Father when it conflicts with the teachings of these internet tin gods.

Each of these rageful, bitter people appeared to be convinced — absolutely, foaming at the mouth I’d like to kill you for disagreeing with me convinced — that the teachings of their fallen priest/political guru trumped that of the Pope. They were, in a word, demented. They were, in a phrase, in the grip of a virulent form of self-deluding, self-righteous evil.

This is all First Century stuff. It is the same old story, re-told with living actors who don’t seem to know they are playing a part. I know that the chock-full-o-nuts attacks on the Holy Father for being named Man of the Year will arrive soon. I’ve read enough attacks claiming that the Pope is a heretic because public sinners are attracted to what he’s saying to know they’re coming.

For those of you who are interested, here’s my take on the Person of the Year deal: It doesn’t mean a thing.

Those same people who are so in love with Pope Francis today can turn like they were on ice and begin attacking him tomorrow.

What does matter — and is of eternal consequence — is whether or not those who hear his message will be convicted by it to turn to Jesus. The Pope is in the business of saving souls, not gathering honors.

He’s the Pope. He stands in the shoes of the fisherman. Which makes him a fisher of people.

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Conversion Story: Jesus Came to Heal the Broken Hearted, and I Had a Broken Heart

This is a beautiful testimony of conversion to Jesus. In a way, it’s a rescue story.

Notice this young man’s discussion of his friends who led him to Christ by their example, witness and loving invitation. That is a potent form of evangelization. It is what Pope Francis is trying to teach us. The question is, do we have the ears to hear?

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