January 22, 2016

Worship and Evangelization Outreach / Ken Ogorek

Mere orthodoxy and Pope Francis

Not too long ago, Catholic journalist John Allen essentially coined the phrase “affirmative orthodoxy.” I find affirmative orthodoxy a helpful distinction in contrast to a begrudging sort of orthodoxy that essentially says in a negative and exasperated way about any basic doctrinal or moral teaching of the Church, “Well, I have to accept that it’s true,” almost as if it were an admission of defeat.

Affirmative orthodoxy, on the other hand, asserts that each basic teaching of our Church is not only true but also good, beautiful and helpful.

God loves you so much that he reveals himself to you and offers you guidance for a healthy, happy, peaceful life insofar as morality and conscience go. In short, God is holy, and he helps you be holy (read happy, peaceful, ease-of-conscience, etc.) through the teaching of his Church. That’s awesome!

An erroneous reading of the signs of our times, coupled with a misguided reference to the so-called spirit of this council or that synod, leads some folks to believe that orthodoxy can somehow undergo a fundamental change—that a pope, for example, can declare a 180-degree reversal of a basic moral or doctrinal teaching.

Anecdotally, I’ve even heard people say that recent worldwide synods of bishops on the family will lead to Pope Francis to say things like “Get married and divorced as often as you want. It’s really none of the Church’s business,” or “Artificial contraception? Go for it!”

Certainly, it’s true that different popes at various times have focused on different aspects of Church teaching. But popes don’t change basic doctrinal or moral teaching—timeless truths that are trustworthy not just because popes share them, but mainly because Jesus gives them to us in sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition. Within a diversity of emphasis among popes, we see a unity of foundational guidance for our life of faith.

What, then, is Pope Francis’s unique contribution to the teaching ministry of God’s holy, Catholic Church? How is our Holy Father showing diversity?

One special trait of Pope Francis is that under the umbrella of orthodoxy, he often calls attention to and encourages compassion. Pope Francis has declared a Holy Year of Mercy—from Dec. 8, 2015, to Nov. 20, 2016.

God’s mercy and compassion are to be drawn out of our lived experience of faith. We are to bask in the mercy that God showers upon us continually.

We are to show mercy in new and deeper ways to our fellow children of God—not new in contradicting what God has revealed as morally and doctrinally accurate, but rather new in acknowledging more deeply that we all carry a heavy burden. We all suffer. We all fall short of God’s plan. We all need mercy from our Lord—and from each other.

Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Mt 11:28-30).

The vicar of Christ on Earth, our Holy Father Pope Francis, is challenging us to live out one of our Church’s most basic teachings, one of God’s most basic attributes: mercy. Sounds pretty orthodox to me.

(Ken Ogorek is catechetical director within the archdiocesan Secretariat for Worship and Evangelization. He can be reached at kogorek@archindy.org.)

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