Sep 26, 2013

Pope Francis - How to be Catholic

All the buzz in the secular and Catholic press has been in reference to Pope Francis’ ground breaking interview with a fellow Jesuit,  Father Antonio Spadaro, an Italian Jesuit last August.  The interview was published here in America in the Jesuit journal entitled America Magazine.

In that interview the Pope seems somewhat a master at one liners or sound bites as they are referred to these days. But it impresses me that beneath these "sound bites" are profound implications about how we are Catholic and not about minimizing the teeth in Christian morality and the present day social issues.

In response to the hot button social/moral issues of the Church’s concern, gay marriage, abortion, and artificial birth control, the Pope states: “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.” Which does not mean that we never speak of such crucial moral issues but it does mean that Catholicism and Christianity is about more - much more in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Among a variety of images of the Church as “The People of God on the journey through history.” He comments further:  “I see the church as a field hospital after battle.”

He speaks of Discernment as a guide for his decision making, of the need to look beyond a constant drumbeat of particular issues to the greater vision of who we are and what Christ has called his Church to become – the true mission of mercy, forgiveness, healing and compassion. Yet, the teaching on those issues remains crystal clear.  

He comments on the infallibility of the Church and its members.  Many might have the impression that he has singled out only the layity but it is clear that he envisions all the people of God (Pope, Bishops, Priests are people too): "We must be very careful not to think that this 'infallibilitas' of all the faithful I am talking about in the light of Vatican II is a form of populism. No; it is the experience of 'holy mother the hierarchical church,' as St. Ignatius called it, the church as the people of God, pastors and people together."

Woman in the life of the Church are of particular concern to Pope Francis.  “Because a woman has a different makeup than a man," he said. "The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity."

It strikes me that if the Church is a chess board, social and moral issues are the squares, and we are the pieces who live this ancient faith, then this Pope is simply rearranging those pieces on that board. On what squares we stand and what the next move should be is essential to winning the game. The fundamentals remain the same, the Church is eternal until Jesus' return, but the priorities which are markers for our Catholic faith, what we speak about and their power and priority are being moved around in powerful ways. How we are to be Catholic and Christian is being explained in a simple, fresh, pastoral way by the successor of St. Peter in the spirit of the Vatican II Council - which the Pope clearly feels is under guidance of the Holy Spirit.

This is not to be read like a magazine article being taken only on face value for the Pope’s comments imply far more than what they may sound like immediately.  In the true spirit of continuity with previous Pope’s in teaching, the Holy Father speaks as a Pastor and Shepherd.  It is his style of leadership by example that may seem to some “un-Pope like” but to many it seems refreshing.  There is no dismissal of previous Popes such as John Paul II or Benedict XVI but a decidedly new image of the Papacy that Francis has presented. 

Take the time to read the interview in its entirety but also pray over it and reflect on what the Holy Father is implying for us – a shift every ancient and new at the same time.

Below is a link to a good summary of the interview’s highlights or click on the picture of Pope Francis above for the entire interview. 

May God’s most Holy Spirit continue to guide and reveal to us his deepest mystery of mercy and healing for all: