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The most interesting thing about Pope Francis’ interview with America magazine is not the interview itself (although that is fascinating reading); it’s the fact that everyone in the press is talking/writing about it.
If you ever believed any of those claims that the Church is irrelevant, I offer you the CBS/NBC/ABC/NEWYORKTIMES/HUFFINGTONPOST/ETC/ETC/ETC reaction to every little word that comes out of Pope Francis’ mouth.
Make no mistake about it folks, the Catholic Church matters. Why?
Because, whether they will admit it or not, even those
who deny its power,
who try to re-write history to obliterate its influence,
who talk about how it is “dying” (in the face of all objective evidence to the contrary)
who flat-out hate the Church
– even those people –
know that the Catholic Church is the one great unified moral voice in the world today.
The Catholic Church is not dying. It is growing. The Catholic Church is not irrelevant.
In fact, it is so relevant that even its most dedicated opponents talk about it all the time.
Who else on this planet can give an interview and have it quoted and misquoted to “prove” this or that point in every major news venue? Who else’s interview would rise to the level that major news outlets will pull quotes out of context to “prove” that their position is supported, as if that proof constituted an essential moral underpinning for their viewpoint?
Who else, but the Pope?
The answer is no one.
There’s a reason newscasters wrote as if the Holy Father gave an interview about abortion and homosexuality, when he only mentioned these things in a few sentences. They — not the Pope — are obsessed with these things. They want his blessing for what they do. They want — they crave — the absolution of the Holy Father for their sins.
More to the point, they want a moral fiat telling them that their sins are not sins.
The problem with that is that no matter how much they take things out of context to try to make it seem so, that won’t happen. Pope Francis, when he was speaking in this interview about confessors, said that there are two ways a confessor can be wrong.
One is to be so harsh that the only thing the penitent gets from the confessor is a cold encounter with the commandments. I suppose that this would be similar to what St Paul was talking about when he referenced, “the law.” The other is to be so namby-pamby that the confessor tells the penitent that their sins are not sins. I think this latter way is what the many people who are making rash mis-interpretations of what the Pope said are after.
But the important thing for us to understand is that the Holy Father said quite clearly that both these approaches are wrong. The confessor, and through him the Church, is to show the mercy of Christ without lying to people and telling them that their sins are not sins.
We have a Pope who wants to remind people that the love of Christ is greater than their sins. He is a pastoral pope who has walked with the people enough to know how miserable and lost they are.
I don’t recall if I’ve written about it here, but I’ve often seen that much of the anger that people direct at the Church is not so much anger at God as it is their rage at feeling rejected by God. There are a lot of people who feel unloved by God, who think that God hates them.
How did they get this idea? They got it from Christians who told them that God hates them.
We tend to focus today on homosexuals in this regard. But I think that is a huge mistake. I represent thousands of people who love God but feel separated from the institutional Church because they don’t see a place for themselves inside it. I deal every day with people who are hungry for God, but feel alienated from Him because they are ignored by Christians.
I am not talking here about the politically active drivers of public opinion in various movements. I don’t mean the gay rights activists or the pro abortion people. I mean ordinary people who are impoverished and living on the margins of society and barely hanging on with their fingernails to life itself. These, and not homosexual activists and abortionists, are the forgotten ones.
I believe these are the people Pope Francis is wanting to reach.
In this interview, Pope Francis compared the Church to a hospital. In some ways, what he was describing sounded like an emergency room. When someone is drowning in their sins, when they are in despair and misery, it is a cruelty to hit them with a laundry list of their various wrong-doings and then top that off with condemnation.
I know. I was once Ms Pro Abortion for Oklahoma. I was denounced and attacked and reviled by Christians.
None of this — none of it — moved me to change. Not one name I was called, not one lie that was told about me, not one ugly thing that was done to me in the name of Christ by misguided Christians made me want to change my ways. In fact, it hardened me in them.
It took a direct, personal, encounter with God Himself to get through to me. And then I was so overwhelmed by the love He poured down on me that even today I have no words for it. The interesting thing is that God did not address abortion with me until almost a year and a half after I had turned to Him. He showed me my sins, but at first, it was the little stuff. Even when the Holy Spirit finally began to teach me about my sins with abortion, it was gentle.
This was not because God favored abortion. It was because He loved me.
Protestants sing an old hymn called “Just as I am.” The title says the message of that hymn.
I think that this is the message that Pope Francis is trying to give to lost and hurting people all over the world: God loves you, just as you are. You don’t have to get righteous to come to God. All you have to do is trust Him and let Him love you from death into life.
If that message is not true, then I am not a Christian. Because it is how God dealt with me. The person I am today is the grace and the miracle of that divine love.
Read the interview for yourself here.
Pope Francis gave an extensive interview to America Magazine, which you can find here.
The New York Times did an extensive re-write of this interview, which you can find here.
Just for the record, the Holy Father did not say what the New York Times is claiming. The Times took quotes out of context, and re-interpreted them along the lines of the secular gospel. What the Pope said is simple, clear and obvious Christian teaching that the Church has proclaimed for 2,000 years.
Here’s what the Holy Father said, and what, in Sunday School parlance, it means.
What the Pope said:
“We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner,” the pope says, “preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound. In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a 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.
What it means in Sunday School:
Love the sinner. Hate the sin.
What the Pope said:
“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.
What it means in Sunday School:
God’s mercy is greater than any sin you can commit and it is available in confession. Abortion and birth control are not the only sins. God has mercy for post abortive men and women. I am a shepherd of souls, including those who commit sins other than abortion and contraception.
What the Pope said:
“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.
What it means in Sunday School:
We can not earn salvation by picking out one or two sins and condemning them. That only makes us bitter and self-righteous. We must focus first on loving Jesus. Then, Jesus will change us and we will want to follow Him with our lives. The Church must preach Christ.
There is a lot more to this interview. It is long and, as always with Pope Francis, completely candid. I suggest you go to the link I gave you and read it for yourself.
Every year at the beginning of session, I find a note on my desk on the House floor from someone I don’t know. “I am (name)” it says, “I will pray for you every day.”
I keep these notes and treasure them. When the votes get tough and the debate gets nasty, I pull them out of my desk drawer and look at them.
I went through a bad patch in my work as a legislator a few years back in which I felt isolated and alone, at odds with the other Democrats. It was a chore just to make myself get in the car and drive to work.
I had a thing I went through while I was driving to work. I put aside all my thoughts of my life outside that capitol building. I shut down my softer emotions and focused on the job ahead of me that day. When I stepped out of my car in the parking lot, I was Representative Hamilton, or more exactly, I was District 89 and its people.
I left the rest of me to pick up later on the drive home.
All during this time, people prayed for me. Many of them I don’t know, since it was a sort of informal prayer chain. But I made speeches from time to time and often a woman — it was almost always a woman — would come up to me afterwards and said, “I heard about you, and I want you to know that I pray for you.”
I believe I felt their prayers. I know absolutely that there were times when I sent a text to one of my prayer warriors and asked for prayers and then felt peace come over me like a calming hand not long afterwards.
Prayer is a force. It plugs us into the engine that drives the universe. The help it gives extends far beyond what the person who prays sees.
Pope Francis gave a homily at morning mass yesterday that every elected official should hear. He described exactly what servant leadership is for a politician. It is not about the elected official at all. It is about the people they serve. It is about trusting God enough to jump off those political cliffs and cast the hard votes that get you clawed up and attacked simply because you know that this is what the Gospels require of you.
Politics is a lion’s den of sorts, and politicians who follow Christ have to go into it with the spirit of Daniel. They need the courage of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego before the fiery furnace when they said “Our God will deliver us, and even if He does not deliver us, we still will not bow down to false gods.”
This takes, not ego, but humility. It is a humbling thing to love someone else who does not truly love you back to the point of true service to them. It is a humility of the soul to trust God rather than yourself and do what everyone, including you, knows is the stupid thing in order to follow Him.
The smart thing for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would have been to bow down to those idols with their fingers crossed and then ask for God’s forgiveness later. After all, they might have told themselves, being bound and tossed into a fiery furnace would just make us burnt ash, and we would be of no use to God like that. It is better that we live to serve Him another day.
But if they had made this obvious and smart compromise, they would have weakened the buckling faith of all God’s followers, everywhere. By taking the stand they did, they became a source of hope and strength.
I am sure they had no thoughts of all this at the time. I imagine that for them it was a moment of deepest humility. They laid their lives before God, “even if He does not save us,” and they took their chances.
That is what everyone who follows Christ in this life must do. It is required of elected officials that they do it over and over in a public arena where the arrows of hatred hit them from every direction.
They need our prayers. And we need to pray for them.
It is impossible to pray for someone diligently and continuously without at some level taking on their pain. It isn’t something you try to do or even want. It is a natural outcome of the grace of prayer. Praying for someone stills the demons that attack your own soul. You may not approve of the wrongs the people you pray for do, but you will not be able to hate them. Prayer shifts the whole scenario, turns the wheel, so that it is no longer about you vs this other person. It is about doing God’s will.
Praying for someone is a mercy, and like all mercy, it is, as Shakespeare said, twice blessed. It blesses the one who is prayed for, and perhaps even more profoundly, it blesses the one who prays.
Pray for our elected officials, including and most especially the ones that make you the maddest. Pray and don’t stop praying. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this life, it is that you will never come to the end of the surprises about what God can do with a human soul.
Mention of the devil offends people.
They don’t like to hear about him, any more than they want to hear about hell. The devil and hell are not a real entity and a real place we are told. They are the boogeyman and the boogeyplace that we Christians use to scare people into conversion.
Many Christians also dismiss the devil and hell. Back when I was a protestant, I was often corrected by my various pastors about my belief in both a literal hell and a literal devil. “Hell is separation from Christ,” I was told. “It is, simply the grave with no resurrection.”
“The devil is not an actual personality,” I heard another time. “There is no such thing.”
But the truth is, Jesus spoke often and graphically about both hell and the devil. There is no indication in any of His words that hell is a state of mind or that the devil was a figment of religious imagination. On the contrary, Jesus gave us our most clear portrait of both these realities.
Pope Francis, far from being politically correct, goes against this modern tide and speaks often of the devil and his works in our lives.
Maybe because, as a pastor of souls, he has met the devil many times. I’ve said before that it is a scalding, life-changing thing to look into another person’s eyes and see the devil looking back at you. Perhaps Pope Francis has had this experience. If he has, it would explain a lot.
Here is my (totally pew-sitting laity) opinion of how bishops should deal with their differences of opinion with the Pope.
In his homily at morning mass, Pope Francis described the Church this way: The Church is a widow, seeking her bridegroom. He went on to say some beautiful things about our mother and how we should seek her,
European pro life people have successfully gathered the 1 million signatures needed for a petition to protect life. This is only the second time in history that any group has achieved this.
The video below gives details.