November 15, 2013

Catholic Evangelization Outreach / Ken Ogorek

Diversity, continuity and consistency: Pope Francis and a Catholic life

Legitimate diversity. Informational continuity. Helpful consistency. These are hallmarks of a Catholic life. Pope Francis’ communications—both formal, as in his encyclical “Light of Faith,” and informal, as in his interviews with the media—shed light on these concepts and energize us for outreach and invitation.

Legitimate diversity

Nothing in Pope Francis’ speaking and writing communicates or even implies a reversal of any basic Catholic doctrinal or moral teaching. His style of communicating, though, is a good example of the legitimate diversity that thrives within our holy, Catholic Church.

A Catholic life embraces and celebrates everything about being human so long as it aligns with the truth that God lovingly reveals about what it means to be truly human—most fully revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, true God and true man.

Our Catholic schools, catechetical and youth ministry programs teach us that loving and respecting each person is not optional for disciples of Jesus. Far more than tolerance, Catholic education emphasizes Christian charity that honors the unearned dignity each person possesses simply by being human. Pope Francis challenges us to show God’s mercy to all his children while not compromising the deposit of faith.

Informational continuity

Our Holy Father is not only the vicar of Christ on Earth, he is also the successor of Peter, occupying the chair of St. Peter as his predecessors have throughout the centuries.

This calls to mind a distinction I once heard between tradition and traditionalism: Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition is the living faith of the dead.

When Pope Francis articulates his teaching, he not only takes into account his own thoughts, feelings and prayerful reflection, but also that of countless women and men throughout the ages—faithful and faith-filled disciples of Jesus who heard the voice of their shepherd, and shared the teaching of Christ for their contemporaries’ benefit as well as ours.

It’s not surprising that Francis’ words, at times challenging or controversial, represent the continuous albeit developing doctrinal and moral teaching characteristic of our holy, Catholic Church.

Helpful consistency

Ralph Waldo Emerson once called a “foolish consistency … the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Consistency for the sake of consistency is a foolish hobgoblin. A healthy consistency, though, is part of what makes a symphony orchestra sound beautiful or a Church audacious enough to teach in the name of Jesus—and mean it.

Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. His core teaching doesn’t reverse itself based on focus groups and opinion polls. His vicar on Earth, Pope Francis, challenges us to love the sinner while hating sin, to judge actions without judging the inner disposition—the greater or lesser guilt—of those whose sinful behavior shouldn’t be presumed to reflect personal, mortal sin in all cases.

This advice is consistent with Jesus’ words and his Church’s teaching. They help us listen to others before we share our witness to the beauty of a Catholic life.

A Catholic life isn’t always one without sin. Helpful consistency, informational continuity and legitimate diversity can help us invite and reach out to our fellow sinners, an effort that Pope Francis models for us nearly every time he speaks.

(Ken Ogorek is archdiocesan director of catechesis.)

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