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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pope Francis, the Church and the Radio Host…

The new shepherd; Pope Francis... 
As I rushed to pick up my son at baseball practice after work last Wednesday, after the historic, and for me, emotional, selection and introduction of the first Latin American, first Jesuit and first non-European pontiff in over 1200 years in Roman Catholic Church history (not to mention, first Francis), I turned on the radio, and before getting a chance to catch my breath and reflect on the magnitude of the day’s developments, all the peace and joy in my heart was quickly dashed. (By the way, who would have thunk it? A humble Argentinean! It’s a joke don’t get bent out of shape.)

To my chagrin, I heard the host nonchalantly say, "Some people were hoping for a transformational pope; a progressive pope. And, what I mean by progressive is someone that would possibly change the Church's stance on issues such as marriage, women ordination and contraceptives, etc. Well, that's not expected with this pope."

If I hadn't given up swearing for Lent, I would have screamed expletives at the radio!  Are you kidding?  That wouldn't be expected with any pope! (By the way, I didn’t really give up swearing for Lent but am not inclined to, outside of an occasional Cuban ño!, that comes from the depths of my soul!)

Anyway, I always find it interesting how some people, including this host, who recently boasted that he tries to attend daily Mass, but unfortunately, maybe, through no fault of his own, lacks a sound catechetical formation, try to argue about Church matters from a secular perspective.

And, let me just say that I write from experience since, before I ever knew anything about my faith, I occasionally found myself arguing about the Catholic Church from a secular point of view as well.  Maybe, it has to do with the human longing for God: even when we don't recognize it.  I think it makes us try to understand God and therefore try to justify what we believe (or lack of belief), regardless of our understanding.       

In any case, ever since Pope Benedict announced his resignation, I’ve been hearing and reading media stories speculating on where the new pope would lead the Church in these “critical and trying times.” As if they are any more critical and trying then when Catholics were being fed to lions, drawn and quartered, beheaded, buried alive or during the Protestant Reformation.

The Church has survived over two millenniums and witnessed the rise and fall of countless of kingdoms and governments, not so much because of its great human leadership, although there have been many great leaders, but in spite of it. 

Moreover, do they really expect the Church to, all of a sudden, toss two thousand years of teachings (that, by the way, Catholics believe were passed directly from the Apostles to the bishops they appointed and down from generation to generation until today), out the window and change course?

Thursday morning, CNN had a banner that stated, “Pope Won’t Change on Sex Issues; Expected to maintain stance on gay marriages and contraceptives” and they invited guests on either side to the debate the topic.  

It’s as if truth was dependent on public opinion or what society and the culture accept.  Then again, that seems to be a prevalent thought today, considering we are constantly being told in everything from books, to movies, TV shows and commercials, that it's all about looking out for ourselves; our needs, our fulfillment and our happiness.

In fact, it may be why many people want to shape and mold God into what they want Him to be, instead of wanting to shape and mold themselves into what God wants them to be.

The flock...
On Sunday morning, I heard a local political pundit, who happens to have attended the same Sacred Heart school that my wife went to, say on NBC's Meet the Press, that as Catholics, "We don't really have to agree with the Pope on everything.  We just need to know that he's coming from the right place."

Really?  We don't have to agree with the Pope on everything?  Is that what Catholicism means?  Do we get to choose what we agree and disagree with like if we were ordering from a Morrison's Cafeteria line?

The answer of course, is that, although we may not have to agree on his favorite soccer team or color, when it comes to faith and morals, either we are Catholic and believe in the authority given to the Church and, specifically, the power of the keys given to St. Peter by Christ or we believe in our self; our own authority. 

As a matter of fact, the tendency to want to be our own authority is actually rooted in  original sin; also known as pride.  Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit because they wanted their eyes to be opened and be like God, so as to decide good and evil and right and wrong on their own.

Many of us are so consumed with our notion of freedom and Democracy, where political debates are usually centered on liberalism versus conservatism, that we think it applies to God, His Kingdom and the truth (by the way, the last time I checked, kingdoms were all hierarchical!). 

It's what Pope Benedict XVI often called the "dictatorship of relativism," where morality is relative to who is claiming it.

However, the reality is that there is only one truth and, contrary to popular beliefs, it doesn't change.  It was the same in the time of Jesus.  It is the same today and it will be the same tomorrow.

I once had a discussion with a friend, who, while arguing this same issue, suggested as evidence that, at one time, people believed the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth.  Yet, this doesn't prove that truth changes.  It only proves that our understanding of truth changes.    

In other words, the world was always round and the earth always revolved around the sun.  It was our understanding that actually changed, not the truth.

Furthermore, as Christians, we believe that God is unchanging and, since Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life," and is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, then we must conclude that truth is also unchanging.

Taking it a step further, since St. Paul points out the Church is the Body of Christ, then the truth of Jesus is the same truth of His Body; the Church, which He entrusted to make disciples of all nations and teach them to "obey everything" that He commanded, which brings us back to Pope Francis and the radio host.

A true servant of servants...
In his Apostolic Constitution at the beginning of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Bl. Pope John Paul II wrote, "Guarding the deposit of faith is the mission which the Lord entrusted to His Church, and which she fulfils in every age."

Therefore, regardless of who the pope may be, the truths that have been passed down through the ages can't ever change, despite what polls, CNN, women's rights activists, Sacred Heart political pundits or radio show hosts may say.  As a matter of fact, no pope even has the authority to overturn the teachings of a previous pope or of the Church as a whole. 

So, it is safe to say that, in some circles, the Church is never going to win any popularity contest and fortunately, it doesn't have to.  Christ promised His Apostles  they would be hated on His account and He wasn't kidding.  Still, He also told them the key is endurance and promised them the Holy Spirit to guide them to all the truth. 

Consequently, we who believe in the Church, as the living and visible Kingdom of God on earth, can be confident that it will continue to endure and maintain its Christ-given mission, despite its many critics, detractors and continuous attacks, both internally and externally, until the end of time.

Now, getting back to the humble Argentinean joke, maybe God is using the same approach that Victor Hugo took when writing the priest character, Bishop Myriel, in Les Miserables.  He is said to have wanted the character to serve as an example to, let's just say, the less humble priests and clergymen living in France during his time. 

We can only hope to see more humility and modesty used by the Argentinean soccer team during the next World Cup...

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