I was sitting at my desk when my secretary knocked on the door. I could see she was excited and breathless. “I have the Pope on the phone for you!”
“Your Holiness, this is unexpected!”
“I would like you to have a dialogue with you. However, since you are in the United States I would like this interview to take place in your mind. This is a chance for you, as one of my priests, to ask me questions.”
“Your Holiness, I am honored.” The interview began.
The room I sat in was simply furnished. There was a chair, a desk and a religious picture on the wall. I had a glass of water.
In my mind the Pope entered the room. He was dressed in white.
Holiness, allow me first of all to thank you for the honor of conducting an interview with me. I am, after all, only a convert, and one of your humble priests. My first question to you is about the importance of the New Evangelization. How shall we convince a new generation of the love of Christ and convert them to the Catholic faith?
Proselytism is solemn nonsense. It makes no sense. I recently had an interview with the Italian atheist Alfredo Sauce and I assured him that I did not want to convert him.
I see. You will forgive me as I am a convert from the Protestant tradition, and when I was in Sunday School I learned the story of Jesus Christ calling his apostles to be fishers of men. I also recall the Lord’s words, “Go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Holy Father, how shall we understand the command of the Lord to his apostles if proselytism is nonsense? But then, perhaps I have misunderstood your words and there is a deeper meaning?
I repeat it here. Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.”
I see. So perhaps it is not so important to convert people to the Catholic faith? What then is our mission? Simply to make the world a better place?
“Yes, that is the purpose of our mission: to identify the material and immaterial needs of the people and try to meet them as we can. Do you know what agape is?”
Yes, I know.
“It is love of others, as our Lord preached. It is not proselytizing, it is love. Love for one’s neighbor, that leavening that serves the common good.”
Perhaps the translation from Italian was faulty, but am I to understand that as a Catholic priest then, you would advise me to simply love people and make the world a better place and not seek to convert anyone?
The Son of God became incarnate in the souls of men to instill the feeling of brotherhood. All are brothers and all children of God. Abba, as he called the Father. I will show you the way, he said. Follow me and you will find the Father and you will all be his children and he will take delight in you.
What a beautiful thought. I am sure something is being lost in translation, but it seems theologically imprecise to speak of “the Son of God becoming incarnate in the souls of men” How does one “become incarnate” in the soul? So the important thing is for people to have a feeling of brotherhood. I can see why non-believers are pleased with this message because it is something with which they can agree!
Please forgive me Holy Father for being obtuse and simplistic, but I am reminded of the Lord’s conversation with Nicodemus in the third chapter of John’s gospel. The Lord said to Nicodemus that it was necessary for a person to be born again of water and the spirit in order to enter the kingdom of God. He went on to say that through his coming death on the cross–when he would be lifted up– all who believe in him would be saved. He then says in verse 18 that those who do not believe are already condemned. I have always understood that the default setting of all human beings is that they are condemned unless they believe in Christ, and the church therefore has the imperative from Christ himself to preach the gospel and call men and women to repentance and faith. Was this not the primary mission of Peter the Apostle, and is it not therefore your primary mission as his successor? But perhaps I have misunderstood.
I believe Tielhard deChardin was a Jesuit also was he not? Holiness allow me to ask you a question concerning your earlier words, you said that Jesus said, “I will show you the way.” Perhaps it is lost in translation and I have misunderstood the Scriptures, or perhaps I am being too picky, but I believe Jesus said not that he would “show us the way” but that he IS the way. This would seem to be an existential claim which places him above all other teachers or mentors who merely claim to show the way. Have I misunderstood your teaching here?
Agape, the love of each one of us for the other, from the closest to the furthest, is in fact the only way that Jesus has given us to find the way of salvation and of the Beatitudes.
Those are beautiful sentiments, and as St Paul teaches “the greatest of these is love”. However, I have always understood that Jesus Christ is “the Way, the Truth and the Life and that no one comes to the Father except through him” This indicates something different than simply loving our neighbor as ourself or following the path of a wise religious teacher. There is first of all an existential encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. In your other interviews and homilies you have spoken of the importance of that primary encounter with the living Jesus Christ, so perhaps I have misunderstood what you are saying here. Surely you are not telling me as one of your priests that all I need to do is be kind and loving to others?
“there is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor,Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good.”
The conscience is a valuable guide, but as Chief Pastor isn’t it your responsibility to help form the consciences of your flock with clear moral teaching?
I repeat it here. Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them.
I must continue to listen and learn from you Holiness. I understand that your recent conversation with an atheist should not be understood as definitive church teaching. It was no more than a personal conversation.
I am grateful for your interviews with atheists, but I must admit to being confused by many of your answers. What I have gathered from this most recent interview is that all people will be saved in the end, and that it is good enough for everyone to simply follow their conscience and be loving to others.
My final question is this – if you really are saying that following one’s conscience is good enough and one does not need to be converted, that belief in Jesus Christ is optional and that in the end all will be saved–then why should I continue be ing a Catholic priest? Indeed why should I continue to be a Catholic?
Transcendence remains because that light, all in everything, transcends the universe and the species it inhabits at that stage. But back to the present. We have made a step forward in our dialogue. We have observed that in society and the world in which we live selfishness has increased more than love for others, and that men of good will must work, each with his own strengths and expertise, to ensure that love for others increases until it is equal and possibly exceeds love for oneself.”
Thank you for meeting with me Holy Father. I want to continue to learn from you, but may I leave you with a simple question? As you continue to meet with atheists and unbelievers will you also take time to meet with those of your flock who find your personal views difficult to understand?
Many of us are ordinary Christians who love Jesus Christ and believe the plain words of Scripture. When we read what you are saying some of it seems to contradict the words of Jesus himself. I hope you will take time to explain them for us and help us to understand.