The Pope’s Big Heart

In a few days you’ll see a long column by yours truly on the pages of about the recent article on the Pope’s interview with the 16 Jesuit journals including America.

But let me make a few brief comments for this audience for now.

Papa Francisco as I am wont to call him is pointing out several things for us all around the themes of mercy and redemption.

It’s not so much that we are sinful, but that we are forgiven. Not so much that we are often awful people, but that God loves awful people anyway and if we just wake up to that fact, we will live much more simply and be satisfied with merely that: God’s love and God’s grace. A very Ignatian idea indeed.

The Pope sees what I have often seen in certain circles of the church. That there is a certain kind of vigilante justice that exists in the Church at times. One of my colleagues once pointed out that he watched members of a parish literally throw a gay man out of a church meeting because of his lifestyle. It prompted him to say:

“It’s amazing how some Catholics can be so un-Christian.”

The Pope seems to think that staying in the conversation in order to bring healing is what is most important.

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

Amen! This is the call of Jesus, the man who ate with sinners. The man who went to places that polite society would not go to or was too afraid to go to. He was the one who did not condemn the woman caught in adultery, but saved her life and shamed those men who had probably been with her and nearly dared to throw their rock in her direction. It is the Jesus who reminds each one of us to pull the plank out of our eye before we remove a speck of sawdust out of someone else’s.

Mercy. Mercy and more Mercy.

What is essential about our faith is not the high morality but rather the fact that we all don’t live up to those high moral teachings often enough. That’s not a lame excuse to sin, but rather a call to humbleness, a call to say “Yes, brother, I have sinned too. But I also know that God’s mercy endures forever. And because of that, I know I am undeserving of God’s mercy and yet it is offered to me anyway.”

This is essential faith. Faith that God could forgive even the worst of us and that this forgiveness and grace can change people who don’t always live the way they ought to live.

Do we believe this? Do we truly believe that all we need are God’s love and God’s grace?

It seems the Pope does. Francis is asking us to believe that too. To not be so concerned about being the arm of the law, but rather be more concerned about being the arm that embraces and shows people a bit of God’s love each day despite what we may think of what they have done or are doing with their lives.

In short, this is a call to not be dismissive of others. The poor, the prostitute, the homosexual, the reviled…they all have access to grace. It is up to us to remind them of God’s grace and not merely of God’s laws…laws that we all have violated from time to time.

“I am a sinner” the Pope says.

“Me too” was my first reaction. My second reaction was “Yep, I REALLY am a sinner.”
And my third reaction to the Pope’s words were: “And God loves me anyway.”

Let’s pray that we can transmit that message. That we can do what Greg Boyle, S.J. has done for gang members. That we can have Dorothy Day’s persistence in working with the poor who tried every bit of her patience. That we can think of sinners as ourselves and not that elusive other that we don’t want to think about, because we have lost hope in them.

Instead let us be content with God grace being not merely for us, but for everyone.

And knowing that God’s love and grace are given should be more than enough for us.

And this should allow us to sing with great joy.

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