I have needed a few days before collecting my thoughts and sharing them with you about Pope Francis’ amazing interview with the Jesuit publications which was made public last week. First, I wanted to read the interview twice. When that occasional movie comes along which stirs my imagination and my thought process, I often return a second time when I learn how much I missed on the first viewing. The same was true of the interview in America magazine. Secondly, at just over 30,000 words, it is only two thousand words short of being half the size of Hemingway’s classic, The Old Man and the Sea which I also enjoyed. But now I think I understand the papal interview better and I certainly love it more.
Readers of this blog since its inception should know by this time that one of the recurrent themes which I return to often is that everyone in the world knows what our Church is against, especially in the last decade in the United States, but few know and even less appreciate what we are for. While we need to speak prophetically from time to time against the great moral dangers of our age, we also need to speak mercifully of those who disagree, fail to understand or feel wounded or hurt by Church teaching. Quite frankly we are losing membership not because of the presence of the truth but because of the absence of mercy. For the rest of my days on earth, I will be grateful to Pope Francis for this exquisite and dead on observation: “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, heal the wounds….And you have to start from the ground up.”
The Church largely abandoned the vision set forth in the Second Vatican Council documents of “Lumen Gentium” and “Gaudium et Spes” paying it lip service at times at best and began to worry more about what the Council seemed to have unleashed than about what the Spirit may have been saying. There is no place for the blame game in my heart, only a restless desire for years to get back to the task of renewing, reinvigorating, reimaging which was the true outcome of the Council. So what was left on the battlefield as the Pope might see it: a church where young women feel neglected and/or alienated; a church where when parents are coming to accept and love their gay and lesbian children, they feel with those same children that the Church does not love them or worse, we teach by the sheer force of our rhetoric that God does not love them; a Church that seems to have lost the notion that Jesus spent more of his time with sinners, the poor, blind, and the lame and with outcasts than with those who might have had the influence to help him spread his message the most.
I have heard reliably that when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Archbishop Jorge Bergolio was happiest when he was with his priests willing to toil daily in the poorest of the barrios and ministering to the poorest of the poor. As Pope, in this interview and in his daily homilies, he has constantly reminded us of the forgiveness, mercy and love of God for all people, regardless of their failings, regardless of their sins. He shows us that one does not have to change doctrines to change hearts but one does have to change one’s rhetoric to be more inclusive. Let me pause and mention the issue of abortion. Many in the media and elsewhere read the Pope’s words in the interview as in some way going soft on “abortion” and suggesting the Church might wish to step back from its long stance of pointing out the insanity of taking the lives of pre-born children. The next day when the Holy Father in speaking to a gathering of Catholic obstetricions/gynecologists pleaded with them to never be involved in aborting pre-born children and to see the face of Jesus in all whom they bring into the world, the more casual media and some others seemed to have thought he was taking back what he had said in the interview. I personally read both statements as a seamless thread from calling for more applications of tender mercy for women who feel they have no other option while at the same time being mindful of exactly what is involved. Let me repeat the Lynch mantra that in Pope Francis we have a man who will lead the church by continuity with church teaching, calling for a greater application of compassion, mercy and forgiveness, and reminding all of us of the need for simplicity in our lives.
I served a church when its episcopal leadership were pastors, before their ordination as bishops and after as well. They envisioned the Church as sharing common ground with many others, advocating a seamless garment in promoting the life issues, ardent advocates for social justice for all people, prophets for peace, worshipping in our common language and with a greater simplicity and passionate but not strident. Somewhere along the line, we lost this vision. Now, in this amazing interview, Pope Francis is once again raising the specter of hope that what has begun fifty years ago this month will continue over time. The pendulum has begun to shift back and how long it will continue to do so, well that is up to the Holy Spirit. For the moment, I find all this absolutely amazing.
Read the interview by clicking here.