Not just tragically, but in some respects dangerously, the major media outlets such as CNN, BBC, CBC, respectively in the US, Great Britain, Canada, lift from serious, thoughtful, interviews such as the one given by Pope Francis, those snippets designed not to inform in depth, but rather to garner viewers who perhaps will buy more of the toothpaste or other products being shilled between the brief ‘news’ segments.
Everyone, in particular both practicing and non-practicing Catholics, should read, reflectively, the entire interview.
If that is done then what is revealed is the progressive deepening of Gospel life which has been unfolding since the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council began the document on the Church in the modern world with these Christocentric, and therefore person focused words: “The joy and hope, the grief and anguish….are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well….”, indeed the entire document bears a meditative re-reading.
Pope Paul VI took us deeper anew into the Gospel in his encyclicals and homilies as did Bl. John Paul, look for example towards the end of his encyclical The Gospel of Life, where in paragraph 99.3 the Holy Father speaks directly, compassionately, encouragingly, with the gift of hope to women who have had an abortion. Pope Emeritus Benedict continued this long progress deeper into Gospel life through his teachings and now Pope Francis, who nowhere in the interview deviates from Catholic teaching, is taking us deeper still into having for each other, for every human being, the mind and heart of Christ.
All this the media have missed!
For example, when asked to define himself Pope Francis declares: “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition.”
It is the answer, indeed the prime answer, every person should speak as truth.
Even JD Salinger famous for Catcher in the Rye, in Fanny and Zooey references the Jesus Prayer, a prayer recited by many monastics and laity in particular in the Orthodox tradition, but among Roman Catholics as well, containing the truth-speaking cry: have mercy on me a sinner.
When asked about what the Church needs today Pope Francis stresses “…the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful….” Stressing: “…I see the Church as a field hospital after battle…”
Spiritual warfare, unlike the battlefield horrors of Syria where the devastating wounds are raw and visible, at first glance may not appear to inflict such visible damage.
Seen with the eyes of Christ the broken lives are all around us, people devastated by anxiety, loss of hope, rejection, abandonment, loneliness, sometimes with the external signs of divorce, homelessness, sickness, loss of home and job.
No wonder Pope Francis cries out in the interview both as a plea and a command: “….Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.”
This is the teaching of Jesus straight from the parable of the Good Samaritan.
In a world which, to borrow a phrase from Pope Pius IX, has “lost a sense of sin”, we see in the teachings of Pope Pius XII, particularly in the aftermath of WWII, the effort to re-educate humanity about the sacredness of the human person, about fundamental morality and there follows, from Bl. John XXII to Benedict XVI, in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, articulate, clear re-stressing, rooted in Scripture, Sacred Tradition, the teachings over the millennia the depository of dogma and moral doctrine which is clear, secure, accessible.
Pope Francis is not changing in this interview as the pundits suggest, indeed cannot, change any of that.
No pope can.
What Pope Francis is trying to do, and this I am sure makes some, perhaps many Catholics and others uncomfortable, is the very thing Jesus did when He challenged the religious leaders to move from over emphasis on “the Law”, which people knew and heard about every time they went to Temple, and to place the emphasis on love and mercy.
I grew up when perhaps the most pernicious of all heresies and distortions of authentic Catholic faith, rooted in the 17th century, still held sway in much of the Church, certainly at the parochial school and parish level.
Briefly put it sustained an atmosphere of clericalism, disdain not only for the human body but even a suspicion about personhood and conveyed the message that God was harsh, mean, so much so many Catholics were fearful of God.
This is the journey out of bondage St. Pius X started us on, that made St. Therese, the Little Flower so popular because she reminded us God IS love, and now Pope Francis is seeking to take us all deeper NOT by changing the truth about abortion, for example, but, as Bl. John Paul did, calling us to Christ-like love and compassion for one another.
When in the interview, naturally the media skipped this part, Pope Francis states: “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you……the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives….” he is echoing the Council’s document on the Church, which begins with the words: “Christ is the light of humanity.”, and the words of Bl. John Paul in his first encyclical the Redeemer of Man: “The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history.”
The interview is long, deep, should be read meditatively for Pope Francis is revealing his passion for Jesus, his love for Jesus, his passion for every human being, his love for every human being and his clear understanding and trust in the deposit of faith from which flows the moral teaching, but Pope Francis is reminding us of the Heart of Jesus, the essence of the Gospel which is merciful love, the love which is such that the Father sent His only-begotten Son into the world not to condemn us but to save us.
Finally when asked about prayer and Pope Francis states how for him prayer is “…always a prayer of memory…” well is not [my words here not the Pope’s] the critical ‘remembering’ to do in prayer that I am, that is I exist because I am beloved, yes a sinner but a beloved sinner?
So beloved that Jesus died for me, for everyone.
The challenge is to remember after I pray to do what Jesus asks of me: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
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