Friday, September 20, 2013

Compare and contrast: Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict

In 2006, Pope Emeritus Benedict said these words in an address to Swiss bishops:
We should not allow our faith to be drained by too many discussions of multiple, minor details, but rather, should always keep our eyes in the first place on the greatness of Christianity.

I remember, when I used go to Germany in the 1980s and ’90s, that I was asked to give interviews and I always knew the questions in advance. They concerned the ordination of women, contraception, abortion and other such constantly recurring problems.

If we let ourselves be drawn into these discussions, the Church is then identified with certain commandments or prohibitions; we give the impression that we are moralists with a few somewhat antiquated convictions, and not even a hint of the true greatness of the faith appears. I therefore consider it essential always to highlight the greatness of our faith – a commitment from which we must not allow such situations to divert us. 

In the interview with Pope Francis published yesterday, we read:
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.

Now, when I read these two comments side by side, I see the same exact thing being said: that is, that the world has adopted a view of Catholicism wherein the sole, main, most important, and most controversial teachings involve abortion, contraception, and gay marriage (and we'll add ordination of women since Pope Emeritus Benedict did--interestingly, Pope Francis, for all his conversations about defining the role of women in the Church, has made it clear so far that female ordination isn't even up for discussion.  I call that progress).

And, further, that from the perspective of both popes, it is to the detriment of the message of the Christian Gospel that the only thing the world (especially the media) ever wants us to talk about are these issues.  There are probably people in America who think that Catholics are people who go to church primarily to express their disagreement with abortion, contraception, and gay marriage and that our whole relationship with Jesus Christ is centered around these beliefs.  And any Catholic would agree that that is a travesty of the faith, because if you don't have a real relationship with Jesus Christ including frequent Confession and frequent Masses and the frequent reception of Holy  Communion which is our most radical encounter with the living God possible on this earth, you're not even going to begin to have the ability to ponder why the Church, with the voice of the Holy Spirit, insists that it's wrong to kill small dependent humans or to use sex outside the context of an open-to-life heterosexual marriage that also lasts until the death of one of the spouses--and also wrong to make consumerism and materialism into false gods, to fill our minds and lives with truly worthless or degrading forms of entertainment, to support torture and/or unjust wars, to destroy our family members, friends and neighbors with gossip or unjust judgments against them, to shirk the duties of our states in life, to envy others or, worst of all, to think in our prideful hearts that just because we don't abort, contracept, or commit homosexual or other sexual sins we are saved, and saved by our own goodness.

I think both the pope and the pope emeritus have an important point here.  The sum total of the Gospel can't be summed up by "If you agree that abortion, contraception, and gay marriage are evil and you fight against them, then you are truly saved."  I fight against all these things, yet I plan to hit the Confessional tomorrow (God willing). 

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