“Did you read what the Pope said?” That question or something similar was certainly the most popular question of the week. My answer has been, “No, I have not read the whole article yet.” To which the response was, “Its all over the news.” Unfortunately what was “all over the news,” was not the interview of the Holy Father but snippets and commentary based upon a manipulation of those snippets. We owe it to ourselves and to Pope Francis to take the time to read the 13 page interview in its entirety. It is insightful, inspiring and very traditionally Catholic, not a departure from it. The interview can be found by going directly to americamagazine.org/pope-interview.
As a seminarian and as a priest I have been reading what popes have said for over 20 years. In my memory there have not been many, if any, interviews like the one Pope Francis has given in this article. Popes generally speak to us in more formal ways through dogmatic or teaching documents or homilies. This interview was a personal reflection that speaks to the heart of the individual. Early on in the interview, Pope Francis states that he is much more comfortable speaking eye to eye with someone rather then to the masses. This interview has spoken directly to hearts that needed to know the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.
It has also been Pope Francis’ intention, it seems, to motivate the Church forward by an outreach that is an authentically Christ centered option for the poor. He is calling us to never lose site of our mandate to care for, to speak for and to love intimately the poor. Unbelievably and unfortunately, many do not know the Church’s care for the poor. They have not seen it or the message has been obfuscated by media and culture. I found an example of this sad fact this week in the comments section of an online article about the robbery of poor boxes in one of our parishes. In reaction to the arrest of the man charged with the theft , one man wrote:
With all that money that goes into those poor boxes, when is the last time you heard of the church doing anything to help the poor?
When is the last time you heard of the church doing anything to help the poor?????? As John McEnroe used to scream at tennis umpires, “You can’t be serious!” Sadly I am sure this person is serious as are so many others. This is not a matter of poor public relations on our part, it is more critical than that. It is a matter of people not knowing the merciful love of Jesus. If they don’t know the Church, they don’t know Jesus. If they don’t know the merciful love of Christ, they can’t understand that our advocacy for the protection of the unborn is rooted in a passion for all life. They can not understand that our opposition to contraception mandates is rooted in the protection of God given rights to all of humanity of life and liberty. They can not understand that our quest to uphold the sanctity of marriage is rooted in our profound understanding that God calls us to be co-creators with Him inside a marriage covenant of husband and wife because it is the best way for a child to grow in dignity and fullness. Pope Francis desires for the Church to speak to those who do not know Christ, so that they may come forward without fear and be reconciled.
I was not surprised by the Holy Father’s approach in this article because it is very similar to that of every parish priest. As pastors, we spend most of our time dealing with the joys and sorrow of the individual. We speak to the big issues of the sanctity of life, the destructiveness of sin and the necessity of fidelity to God and the sacraments everyday, in the most powerful way — one on one. The Pope speaks in the article as one who knows the struggle of the individual person. He calls himself a sinner and therefore admits his own inability to always live as he should. He is truly a priest and bishop who knows the heart of the sinner and desires to bring it to reconciliation. There is nothing in this interview that says we must rethink and now accept what we have always rejected as not acceptable. Rather it says that we must rethink how the message is communicated. If the world does not see us as authentically merciful; dedicated to the care of the poor among us—they will stop listening to everything else. If they don’t know their priest to be merciful, they will never seek him out.
It seems to me that some of the Holy Father’s thoughts are a reaction to the chastisement he has received for what he has not said. I found it reassuring that he knows what that chastisement feels like. A day does not go by that a pastor does not get a letter, email, phone call or a comment chastising him for what he has not done that day. The Holy Father inspires me to never be satisfied with what has been done but to be confident that what has been done has been done for the glory of God and for the love of His people.