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Friday, September 27, 2013

More Catholic Than the Pope?...

Shaking things up?...
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," begins the Charles Dickens' classic, A Tale of Two Cities, and that may be the way many Catholic faithful are feeling during the past several weeks, as they try to asses recent media reports, suggesting Pope Francis is softening the Church's moral stance on marriage, divorce, sexuality and abortion.

In case you missed it, during an extensive three-meeting interview and consequent ten thousand word essay by Fr. Antonio Spadaro in La Civilta Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal, on Pope Francis the man, the Pontiff was quoted as saying, "We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptives 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."

Then, he added, "We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards."

The press had a field day, "liberal" Catholics, as if there is such a thing, since you're either Catholic and believe in the tenets of the Church or you're not, thought they saw and heard the heavens part and the choir of angels sing, anti-Catholic and secularist groups went into the "Gangnam Style" dance and many devout Roman Catholics, Christians, pro-life and traditional marriage advocates were left scratching their heads.  In fact, some even reacted with harsh criticism, as if to be more Catholic than the pope!

Even among my own men's group at our parish, there were mixed reactions, as an article circulated on whether Francis was our first Episcopalian Pope!  Fr. Alberto Cutie, the former Catholic celebrity priest who was caught making out with his girlfriend on the beach, renounced the priesthood, only to become an Episcopalian, write a book and get a TV talk show deal, must have a huge grin on his face!

However, despite an obvious overzealous attempt by some members of the mainstream media to pit Pope Francis against his predecessor and the Church, and draw a wedge between so called "conservative" and "liberal" Catholics, as if faith was politics, and the celebrations in certain sectors, such as the Nancy Pelosi Catholic Fan Club, I wouldn't start sending out invitations to a "gay wedding," pulling the plug on any anti-abortion rallies or refilling prescriptions to artificial birth control drugs as of yet. 

Nothing the Holy Father said in the interview, or in recent weeks, where he talked about not being the judge of homosexuals who are trying to live their faith, contradicts the Church's teachings in any way.  Although, as well known theologian, Fr. Robert Barron pointed out this week, during a press conference with Cardinal Timothy Dolan outside of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, this may be a "new pastoral strategy."  (see You Tube video)

While, Pope Francis appears to be less measured in what he says than Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who had the experience of serving under Bl. Pope John Paul II in the Church's hierarchy before becoming pope, ever was, which is endearingly refreshing to millions but concerning to some Catholic apologists, who are having to explain what he meant to say to non-believers and critics, this is precisely what it seems to be; a new approach.

In the same interview, the Holy Father says, "I see the church as a field hospital after battle.  It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars!  You have to heal his wounds.  Then we can talk about everything else.  Heal the wounds, heal the wounds... And you have to start from the ground up."

He goes on to say, "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."

To me, that is at the crux of what the Pope is preaching.  He is reminding us of Jesus Christ's love for the poor, the sick, the marginalized and the sinners, which Francis humbly admits to be the best description of himself, "A sinner."  Jesus showed them compassion, drew them in with love and they believed and converted.  Unfortunately, that seems to be a message that some of us, including myself, have forgotten from time to time in our zeal to be loyal to the faith.
So, it is not a revolution in the classic sense, as in Tale of Two Cities, since it is more about focus than substance.  But, it is, as NY Daily News, Michael Coren, points out, about reshaping the Church's conversation with the world and saying yes before it says no.

Although, let's be clear, this was only a newspaper interview on personal perspective and does not reflect any authoritative pronouncement.

Notwithstanding, Francis did make a point to emphasize that he is a son of the Church and, as its Supreme Shepherd, he would never lead God's flock astray.  Nevertheless, he is calling the Church, as the Body of Christ, from the laity all the way up to the Bishops and Cardinals, to rethink the way the faith is lived and proclaimed, and in the Lord's spirit of love, mercy and compassion, to go after those that do...

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