September 25, 2015

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Listening to the pope’s words of wisdom and hearing Jesus speak

Cynthia DewesWhen Pope Francis speaks, people listen. And not only Catholics, but the entire world. I think that’s because he speaks with the authority of Christ behind him. Not the authority of an administrative hierarchy, but of Jesus the teacher.

For example, when the pope was asked about his attitude toward homosexuals, he replied, “A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will—well, who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says one must not marginalize these persons, they must be integrated into society. The problem isn’t this [homosexual] orientation—we must be like brothers and sisters.” He was saying what I believe Jesus would’ve said. He was reinforcing the Church’s teaching that all of us deserve respect because we are made in the image of God.

The pope was not talking about homosexual behavior, which is, and has always been, wrong. That is a matter of human choice, of human conscience, and not of intrinsic human value. The pope knew that, and the Church has always taught it, but it seems many of us were clueless, including Catholics who should know better.

Then we have Pope Francis saying that women who’ve had abortions may be forgiven, and are not automatically excommunicated from the Church if they repent and seek absolution in the sacrament of confession. Again, he is reinforcing the Church’s teaching that God will forgive us anything, except willful defiance of his will. Women who go to the sacrament of reconciliation who have had an abortion with sincere remorse will be forgiven. Period.

Similarly, the rulings about annulments follow Church law. If the Church permits the annulment of an invalid marriage, why should the process be made harder for those trying to correct it?

It seems to me that the pope has copied Jesus in other ways as well. Just as Jesus drove the moneychangers from the temple, so the pope has made efforts to remove corrupt officials from the curia and other Vatican agencies. And he has demanded responsibility for true Christian service to the faithful from Church leaders.

He has simplified his clothing, owns an old car, and lives in a modest apartment. That sounds more like something Jesus would do. He took the name “Francis” to honor and to emulate the gentle St. Francis of Assisi. Like this great saint, he is respectful of the natural environment and the welfare of ordinary people.

Some folks fear that the pope is going too far, and that he is threatening traditional Catholic belief and practice with his public remarks. But as a friend of mine pointed out, whatever he says is usually taken out of context in order to make a sensational news story. But when we examine what he said, we find that he is repeating what the Church has always taught.

Which brings me to the fact that many Catholics have been so poorly instructed that they really don’t know what the Church does teach. I have heard horror stories from “cradle Catholic” friends about things they were taught years ago in Catholic grade schools like: non-Catholics having absolutely no chance for salvation, confusion about mortal versus venial sin, and the fostering of an “us versus them” attitude toward non-Catholics, which sometimes caused serious fractures in families.

The generation which grew up during and soon after Vatican II was often given poor instruction as well. It seemed there was mass confusion about Church teachings without the strict requirements of previous instruction. Sometimes, the baby of truth was threatened to be tossed out with the bath water of unnecessary mandates.

Fortunately, God promised to protect the Church from error, which as a result has always preached the truths of human existence. The pope is in our country now, speaking those truths as Jesus did. The world will be listening, and we hope Americans are, too.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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