This is the first of a two-part series on the controversial statements made by Pope Francis in an interview published in America Magazine. Today we look at the upside of his approach. Tomorrow we look at the risks.
A lot of faithful Catholics are upset about some of his words. However, I think the real source of angst is not what the Holy Father actually said, but rather the spin introduced by the media. Looking at what he really said, there’s nothing controversial at all.
As Father Z points out, when Francis spoke of healing the wounded, he immediately went into the topic of homosexuality. Then, as he kept talking about homosexual persons and their woundedness, he transitioned into Confession, where he also brought up abortion and contraception. So clearly, when his statements are taken in context, he’s speaking of homosexual behaviour, abortion and contraception in the context of sin that needs healing.
Then comes the most “controversial” paragraph that got mangled in the newspapers. Here’s a quote from Fr. Z’s blog (his comments in red):
“We cannot insist only [only] on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. [In other words, we cannot a) limit ourselves to talking just about these burning issues and b) just talk about the sins and messes people get themselves into.] This is not possible. [We have a lot of things to talk about, in addition to those issues. For example, the flipside of the issues, such as the joy of healing and returning to grace and life in God.] I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. [Right. Some people want to hear more from Francis about these burning issues on which the Church’s voice is being snuffed out.] But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. [YES! In a context. The context is that we are all sinners. The context was established by Jesus: He told the woman taken in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” (John 8:11) He did NOT approve of the sin. He called the sin what it is: SIN. At the same time He did not condemn the woman. How is this difficult? That is exactly the Church’s position on homosexuals and homosexual acts which are sins.] 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. [That, folks, is the take-away.] (Source)
Did you get that last sentence? Read it again:
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.
He didn’t say to never speak of it or be silent about it. But we mustn’t overdo it.
Let’s be brutally frank. If we go through the Catholic blogosphere, we find way too much bandwidth dedicated to condemning the sins of others, from bishops to politicians and everyone in between. There’s often (although not always) lots of negativity and anger. Have you ever wondered how neophytes perceive that language and the verbal war between the “liberal” and “conservative” groups in the Church? Do you think we win any converts with that tone? Granted, many blogs do not have evangelization as their primary goal, but they still project an image and a tone to would-be Catholics surfing the web who might doubt whether they’ll be comfortable sharing a pew with somebody who seems to be raging with fury.
The Pope is big on evangelization and he realizes that this requires a return to the good news of the Gospel, namely that we’re loved by an infinitely merciful God that offers us eternal communion and joy with Him. Now that’s a message that can win converts. When people convert, they’ll eventually be presented the Church’s moral teaching, which flows directly from the Gospel. As Pope Francis said in the same interview:
The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.
As Stephen White of Catholic Vote puts it:
The challenge for the Church, as the Pope seems to see it, is not that people are unaware that the Church considers, for example, abortion, contraception, and homosexual acts to be sinful (everyone knows this); the problem is that they don’t understand why the Church teaches what it does. The Church’s moral teachings are known, but because they are taken out of context, (or presented without context) they are seen as arbitrary, ad hoc, and unreasonable—as Pope Francis put it, as “a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.” (Source)
This point is not new. Pope Benedict said the same thing back in 2006, albeit with words that were less prone to misinterpretation:
So often the Church’s counter-cultural witness is misunderstood as something backward and negative in today’s society. That is why it is important to emphasize the Good News, the life-giving and life-enhancing message of the Gospel (cf. Jn 10:10). Even though it is necessary to speak out strongly against the evils that threaten us, we must correct the idea that Catholicism is merely “a collection of prohibitions”. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Address to Irish Bishops; VATICAN CITY, OCT. 29, 2006
That’s what Pope Francis is trying to do. Right now, I’m not sure that faithful Catholics are doing a good job at this. As Mark Mallet wrote:
Had Jesus entered towns preaching Heaven and Hell rather than healing, souls would have walked away. The Good Shepherd knew that, first of all, He had to bind the wounds of the lost sheep and place them on His shoulders, and then they would listen. He entered towns healing the sick, casting out demons, opening the eyes of the blind. And then He would share with them the Gospel, including the moral consequences of not heeding it. In this way, Jesus became a refuge for sinners. So too, the Church must be recognized again as a home for the hurting (…)
Pope Francis is not moving the Church away from the battle lines of the cultural war. Rather, he is now calling us to pick up different weapons: the weapons of modesty, poverty, simplicity, authenticity. By these means, presenting Jesus to the world with an authentic face of love, healing and reconciliation has a chance to begin. The world may or may not receive us. Likely, tIhey will crucify us… but it was then, after Jesus breathed His last, that the centurion finally believed. (Source)
Listen, I’ll be the first to confess that I’ve written more articles driven by anger than by any other motive. Christians in Canada have many good reasons to be angry. We’ve had it rough, both inside and outside the Church. The causes we have taken up were undoubtedly grave and required remedy. Just ask LifeSiteNews, being sued by a Catholic priest, or Bill Whatcott, Linda Gibbons, Stephen Boissoin, Ruth Lobo, Cy Winters and Donald Bruneau. Think of the Catholic school boards gone haywire, parishes marching in Pride parades, the Ted Kennedy funeral fiasco, the Development and Peace blood money, dissident theologians given a free pass, the CCCB paying for employees’ birth control, etc, etc, etc. And not to forget all the ordinary Christians who get snarled at daily and endure mockery of their beliefs in the movies and other media. I could go on all day. It reads like a verse from Billy Joel’s We didn’t start the fire.
We’ve suffered a lot of wear and tear. It’s very easy to get angry. In some sense, the Holy Father’s call will push us to a higher level of holiness, by making us become more Christ-like in patiently enduring suffering. There will still be a time to speak out against dissent, but we need more balance. If we write blog posts only when there’s something bad to decry, we have a problem. We need a more positive message, not merely as a PR strategy, but because the Gospel is indeed very good news. This, in turn, will require conversion on our part because we can’t convince anybody that Christianity is good news if we ourselves are frequently grumpy at work our at home, complaining about all things big and small, as if we had no good news in our lives.
There’s a world of hurt out there. People are starving for a genuine message of authentic love. The Holy Father hears Jesus’ call to heal the wounded. We need to rally behind both of them and proclaim the Good News.
It’s time to stop playing defense and start playing offense.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at the risks of the Holy Father’s approach.