Minds are being blown even as we speak. A great new media fervor is starting about how Pope Francis is saying to back off from abortion and homosexual marriage and just talk about Jesus.
It’s important to read his actual words and try to understand where the Spirit is leading us in the Church of Pope Francis. His new interview with America magazine is available here: “A Big Heart Open to God.”
When Pope Francis said “who am I to judge?” with respect to homosexuals in his interview on the plane back from Brazil, headlines cried out that he was changing everything. “By saying this, I said what the catechism says,” he explains in his new interview. Indeed he did.
In his new interview, he suggests that we love people with same-sex attraction and not define them merely by that one characteristic. And he suggests we find an effective way to address abortion in context, which he points out is a cause of suffering for the women involved.
Here is how he put it:
“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.”
To read that and say that the Pope wants to be accepting of abortion and contraception and gay marriage is like reading the story of Jesus and the Woman at the Well and say it shows how accepting Jesus is of adultery.
A key to his approach comes later in the interview:
“Because God is first; God is always first and makes the first move,” he said. “I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else — God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”
Compare Francis’ approach with Christ’s meeting with The Samaritan Woman at the well. In it, Jesus masterfully takes a woman who has led a sinful life from a simple conversation about water to a self-examination of her life to a recognition that Jesus is the Messiah. He does it without ever voicing his clear objections to her sinful life.
First, Christ respects the woman’s freedom. When we say we want to “evangelize” someone, we often mean we want someone to stop being who they are and be who we want them to be. Christ doesn’t treat the woman at the well that way. He recognizes the woman for who she is, but offers her a positive way to become more.
Second, Christ speaks in the woman’s language about a real need the woman feels, in this case for water. Too often, our efforts to tell other people about Christ fail to recognize their interests, while making our interests (their joining our Church) very clear.
Third, Christ doesn’t condemn the woman — rather, he leads her to a place where she can see the error of her own ways. This is crucial. Not only do we frighten people away from us by being judgmental, we deny them the opportunity to truly repent.
The harder way, the respectful way, is the only way that works.
“I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess. The church’s ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbor. This is pure Gospel. God is greater than sin. The structural and organizational reforms are secondary—that is, they come afterward. The first reform must be the attitude. The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost.”
Jesus did things the hard way. It is the hard way that Francis chooses. We should do the same.