I would submit that the most misunderstood person in the world today is Christ's representative and the head of the Catholic Church, our Holy Father, Pope Francis. This papacy could easily be labeled, "The Litmus Papacy". Listening to people talk about Pope Francis doesn't really give one as much insight into Pope Francis as it does into the person speaking about Pope Francis.
THE INTERVIEW (and if you don't know what I'm referring to, it can only be because you were either in a coma for the last couple of weeks or on another planet) is a prime example of how the world sees Pope Francis through their own individual ideas and prejudices. The Pope covered many topics in this interview, but the one that almost everyone picked up on was the following statement:
We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible.NARAL got so excited over this remark that they posted the following on their Facebook page:
Chris Rock, hardly a conservative Christian, tweeted, "I might be crazy but I got this weird feeling that the new pope might be the greatest man alive." On the opposite end of the spectrum, many conservative Catholics felt the Holy Father was going off the rails, just another example of the destruction wrought by Vatican II.
The truth is that Pope Francis was not saying anything new in this interview but merely echoing the words of Our Lord from 2000 years ago. Pope Francis said we should not be concentrating on people's individual sins but more on their spiritual healing and bringing them to Christ. In making this statement, he was merely following the lead of his Boss, Jesus Christ.
|Our Lord with the woman caught in adultery|
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”“No one, sir,” she said.“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”While certainly acknowledging that the woman taken in adultery was a sinner, Jesus did not condemn her but instead showed compassion and mercy. His only acknowledgement of her sin was to tell her to sin no more. Our Lord did not see a sinner when he looked at this woman. He saw a human being in need of healing. There was no obvious sign of repentance from the woman, no indication that she intended to change her life, but that did not prevent Him from extending His Love and Forgiveness. Pope Francis echoes our Lord's words and actions with these words:
A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.Matthew 9 relates the story of our Lord having dinner at the apostle Matthew's house, which was attended by many tax collectors and sinners. Not only was he having dinner and socializing with these known sinners, I can assure you he was also not telling them that they were sinners and headed to hell. He was a charming and entertaining guest who made them feel very comfortable and accepted.
When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, summed up this sentiment exactly with these words:
“I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. 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.”
IT’S about time. The leader of the Roman Catholic Church has surveyed the haughty scolds in its ranks, noted their fixation on matters of sexual morality above all others and said enough is enough. I’m not being cheeky with this one-word response. Hallelujah.
But it wasn’t the particulars of Pope Francis’ groundbreaking message in an interview published last week that stopped me in my tracks, gave fresh hope to many embittered Catholics and caused hardened commentators to perk up.
It was the sweetness in his timbre, the meekness of his posture. It was the revelation that a man can wear the loftiest of miters without having his head swell to fit it, and can hold an office to which the term “infallible” is often attached without forgetting his failings. In the interview, Francis called himself naïve, worried that he’d been rash in the past and made clear that the flock harbored as much wisdom as the shepherds. Instead of commanding people to follow him, he invited them to join him. And did so gently, in what felt like a whisper.
What a surprising portrait of modesty in a church that had lost touch with it.This is exactly what Pope Francis is talking about. As I stated in a previous post, we live in a world in which people have completely lost their way. Like the people of Nineveh in the Book of Jonah, the world today does not know their left hand from their right. They are the walking wounded, lost in darkness and not even aware of it. They feel something is not right, and in their moments of solitude and silence - which they try to avoid as much as possible - they keenly feel this sense of loss. They are not in need of our condemnation but like the woman taken in adultery, they need compassion and love to bring them to the only One who can heal them.
Mr. Bruni notes how different is the tone of Pope Francis compared with the rest of the world:
And what a refreshing example of humility in a world with too little of it.
That’s what stayed with me, not the olive branch he extended to gay people or the way he brushed aside the contraception wars but his personification of a virtue whose deficit in American life hit me full force when I spotted it here, in his disarming words. Reading and then rereading the interview, I felt like a bird-watcher who had just stumbled upon a dodo.
I’m hardly the first to flag this pope’s apparent humility or the fact that it extends beyond his preference for simple dress over regal costumes, for a Ford Focus over a papal chariot, for modest quarters over a monarch’s suite. Less than two months ago, when he answered a question about gay priests with a question of his own — “Who am I to judge?”— the self-effacement in that phrase was widely and rightly celebrated. Was a pope really acting and talking like this?
But Francis’ tone so far is interesting not just as a departure for the church but as a counterpoint to the prevailing sensibility in our country, where humility is endangered if not quite extinct. It’s out of sync with all the relentless self-promotion, which has been deemed the very oxygen of success. It sits oddly with the cult of self-esteem.Mr. Bruni continues to contrast Pope Francis with the ways of our contemporary world, and how deeply impressed he is with the humility and sincerity of the Holy Father. Mr. Bruni doesn't realize it, but what he is really seeing is the difference between the ways of the world and the ways of Jesus Christ:
Humility has little place in the realm of social media, which is governed by a look-at-me ethos, by listen-to-me come-ons, by me, me, me. And humility is quaintly irrelevant to the defining entertainment genre of our time, reality television, which insists that every life is mesmerizing, if only in the manner of a train wreck, and that anyone is a latent star: the housewife, the hoarder, the teen mom, the tuna fisher. Just preen enough to catch an audience’s eye. Just beckon the cameras close.
Politics is most depressing of all. It rewards braggarts and bullies, who muscle their way onto center stage with the crazy certainty that they and only they are right, while we in the electorate and the news media lack the fortitude to shut them up or shoo them away. They disgust but divert us, or at a minimum wear us down. Maybe we get the showboats we deserve.
FOR a textbook case of humility gone missing, consider right-wing Republicans’ efforts to derail Obamacare by whatever crude and disruptive means necessary. The health care law has its flaws, some of them profound, but it was legitimately passed, in accordance with the rules, and to stray outside them in order to make it go away is to believe that they don’t apply to you, that your viewpoint trumps the process itself. It’s the summit of arrogance.
Humility doesn’t work in the cross-fire of our political combat. Certainty and single-mindedness are better fuels.This is exactly what Pope Francis talked about in his interview when he told us we must always leave room for self doubt: "Yes, in this quest to seek and find God in all things there is still an area of uncertainty. There must be. If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself."
Mr. Bruni then contrasts Pope Francis with the liberal icon of our age, Barack Obama:
How exactly does President Obama fit in? While his Syria reversals may well have diminished him, they had a sort of humility to them, reflected a willingness to yield to the strong feelings of others and deserve some acknowledgment along those lines. Leadership, more art than science, should be a mix of rallying people to your cause and recognizing when you stand too far away from them.
But in Obama there’s a recurrent deflection of criticism and a refusal to abide certain political customs and efficiencies — the stroking, the rewarding, the mantra-style repetition of a simplified argument for a distracted populace — that work against his success and smack of excessive pride. He could take a page from this pope.
I never expected to write that. For too many years I watched the chieftains of the church wrap themselves in lavish pageantry and prioritize the protection of fellow clergy members over the welfare of parishioners. They allowed priests who sexually abused children to evade accountability and, in many cases, to abuse again. That cover-up was the very antithesis of humility, driven by the belief that shielding the church from public scandal mattered more than anything else.
For too many years I also watched and listened to imperious men around the pope hurl thunderbolts of judgment from the Olympus of Vatican City. But in his recent interview, Francis made a plea for quieter, calmer weather, suggesting that church leaders in Rome spend less energy on denunciations and censorship.
He cast himself as a struggling pastor determined to work in a collaborative fashion. He characterized himself as a sinner. “It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre,” he clarified. “I am a sinner.”In his final paragraphs, Mr. Bruni makes it clear that he is not ready to convert, but he is ready to listen, and that is a huge step. Mr. Bruni, unlike too many Catholics, understands that the Pope is not going to change the teachings of the Church. However, he does see Pope Francis as someone who has something to give to the world, and he is open to this message:
He didn’t right past wrongs. Let’s be clear about that. Didn’t call for substantive change to church teachings and traditions that indeed demand re-examination, including the belief that homosexual acts themselves are sinful. Didn’t challenge the all-male, celibate priesthood. Didn’t speak as progressively — and fairly — about women’s roles in the church as he should.
But he also didn’t present himself as someone with all the answers. No, he stepped forward — shuffled forward, really — as someone willing to guide fellow questioners. In doing so he recognized that authority can come from a mix of sincerity and humility as much as from any blazing, blinding conviction, and that stature is a respect you earn, not a pedestal you grab. That’s a useful lesson in this grabby age of ours.The message of Jesus Christ has mercy and forgiveness at its core, as shown above in the quote from Matthew 9. Our job is not to condemn the world but to bring to it the healing message of Jesus Christ. That is exactly what Pope Francis has done, and Frank Bruni of The New York Times got this message loud and clear. My prayer is that those who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ will hear this message as well.