He joins a growing list of people (who represent millions more), hitherto disaffected from the Church, who find they trust and admire him and are revisiting what the gospel has to say because of him.
Meanwhile, it is the mark of the madness of our age that the Greatest Catholics of All Time see this as an indictment of the Pope and not as an opportunity to evangelize.
When I made the remark on FB that the admiration of an Elton John for the pope represents an evangelistic opportunity, not a problem, for the Church, a depressing percentage of Catholics responded in ways best summed up by one reader: “Evangelism is Protestant, not Catholic.”
Everything that is wrong with the Church today is summed up in those words. Everything.
Catholics who think this way are in open and naked dissent from the fundamental mission of the Church, which exists to evangelize. It used to be Progessive Dissenters who rejected the Church’s missionary mandate because it was supposedly “imperialist” and “imposing our values on others.”
But these days I am astonished to see self-proclaimed “Faithful Conservative Catholics”, in amazing numbers, react to the news that Pope Francis inspires trust in unbelievers, not with the cry, “Great news! Let’s use this opportunity to tell the world about Jesus!” but with “This shows how “humble” Pope Francis is all about trying to be a celebrity and ingratiate himself with the world. The fact that gays and ex-Catholics and the media adore him just goes to show you that he is a heretic compromising the Faith and is a danger to the Church! He must be stopped before he destroys it!”
Folly. Such people don’t want the gospel. They want a little system of order that keeps them safe from the radical demands of love Christ lays upon us. They want to keep people out of the Church and it does not even occur to them to see such a cultural moment as an opportunity. It is entirely a threat to them.
There is no other word to say to such people than “Repent!” It is entirely possible that the millions of hitherto disaffected people warming to the Faith because a little flame of trust is being kindled in their hearts by their affection for Francis will enter the kingdom ahead of you if you don’t. Our task is not to keep out the riff raff and repel boarders. It is to go out into the highways and byways and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame so that the wedding feast will be full.
Will those attracted to Francis’ beautiful witness and obvious holiness need to repent of things? Of course. Don’t we all? But here’s the thing (and the point Francis tried to make last year in his America interview): You don’t start a life of discipleship with a set of moral precepts. You start it by an encounter with a person. The *real* magnetic force in Francis’ life is Jesus Christ. It is for us to introduce a person like Elton John (or whoever) to Jesus so that they can begin to grapple with his astonishing person. The changes in lifestyle *flow* from that encounter. They do not *precede* that encounter. If you march up to somebody and start demanding that they reorder their entire life because Sez You, you will have no success. If they have an encounter with Jesus, realize who he is and what he has done for them and the universe-shattering implications of that: they are the ones who conclude “I have to re-order my entire life.”
This is why the culture war approach to the gospel is such a massive betrayal and such a fruitless failure–and why Francis is so very obviously a model for how we *should* be thinking about evangelism.