Old, Good News

Usually, when Huffington Post, The New York Times, and The Daily Beast are giddy with excitement over something the Pope said about abortion, gay-marriage, or contraception, there’s either been a serious misunderstanding or the eschaton is near.

For those who haven’t yet heard, America Magazine (and several other Jesuit publications worldwide) has just published a lengthy interview of Pope Francis in which the Holy Father says some things that are making lots of faithful Catholics deeply uneasy.

They shouldn’t be.

Before we get into some of the things Pope Francis said in his interview, it is worth recalling something Pope Benedict XVI wrote Deus Caritas Est, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

Being a Christian is not, first and foremost, about ideas and rules. That is not to say our faith does not engage our minds or demand obedience (it obviously does both); it is simply to observe—and this is fundamental—that faith does not begin there. Everything Pope Francis says in his interview should be understood in this light. As you read Pope Francis’ words (and please do read the interview) it won’t be hard to keep this in mind because Pope Francis makes this same point, repeatedly.

Pope Benedict

“That’s what I told ‘em.”

The Church’s moral teachings flow from the Gospel. The Church’s moral teachings are a consequence, not the cause, of Christian faith. They are rooted in Him and lead us back to Him. The moral teachings of the Church are important precisely because (and ONLY because!) they are rooted in the Truth about man, revealed in Jesus Christ, Son of the Father, who sends His Holy Spirit upon His bride the Church.

“We have to find a new balance,” Pope Francis says in the interview, “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.”

Outside of this “context,” Christian morality makes little sense and all our evangelical efforts hit a dead end. Thus, as Pope Francis says, “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 challenge for the Church, as the Pope seems to see it, is not that people are unaware that the Church considers, for example, abortion, contraception, and homosexual acts to be sinful (everyone knows this); the problem is that they don’t understand why the Church teaches what it does. The Church’s moral teachings are known, but because they are taken out of context, (or presented without context) they are seen as arbitrary, ad hoc, and unreasonable—as Pope Francis put it, as “a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”

Can anyone deny that this is a fair description of how the world (and many Catholics, for that matter) perceives the Church’s moral doctrines?

There must be “balance,” as the Pope puts it, in how the Church addresses the world. In the proper context, it’s clear that Pope Francis isn’t “playing down” the Church’s moral teachings. He isn’t undermining the sanctity of life or the intrinsic meaning of human sexuality. He’s calling upon the Church to reinforce the foundations upon which those moral doctrines rest and upon which their coherence depends.

One final point. There are real risks that come with the way Pope Francis is talking about these things. He will be misunderstood—sometime through ignorance, sometimes through malice—and those who want to use his words to undermine the Church’s long-standing teaching will be given the opportunity to do so. One might ask, Is it worth risking all these confusions and pitfalls to say something (“Jesus, not the moral law, is the heart of the Faith”) that is not really news? Perhaps the simple answer is: Old news it may be, but it is very Good News, too.

61 thoughts on “Old, Good News

  1. Heather says:

    I speculate how come you labeled this particular
    post, “Old, Good News | CatholicVote.org”. In
    any event . I appreciated the blog!Regards,Francisca

  2. Ron says:

    When are you going to pursue publically excomunicating self proclaimed catholics Nancy Pelosi ,Joe Biden and all other Congresspeople who are for abortion (killing babies ) and for same sex marriage ? With 24 % of the U.S. population , catholics can easily swing elections.

  3. [...] You’ve probably heard the news: the Pope is changing some major Catholic teachings that have been a point of contingency with the general public for a long time. Welp, you heard wrong. Let’s hear things correctly, shall we? [...]

  4. Paul says:

    Are you people serious?! Have you read the article? Are you seriously this upset with our Holy Father.

    My goodness how fickle! Faith is believing things not known and things not yet realized.

    As soon as the Pope says something we don’t understand, or don’t agree with, we want him replaced!! My goodness, it sounds like we all need to spend some more time in prayer and considered the confessional.

    These are times for discernment. This is what the our Holy Father is calling us to. Discernment.

    If we don’t like what he is saying perhaps this is the Holy Spirit working on us. Perhaps this is exactly why we need to listen.

    I am an Orthodox Catholic, not a Cafeteria Catholic. I do not run from the Church because it says something I don’t like or understand. I listen and I pray!

    Thank you Holy Father for challenging me. I choose to listen, pray, and believe in the power of the Holy Spirit…not condemn.

  5. I am 65 years old and a cradle Catholic. When Papa Francis speaks to the press, I always scratch my head. However, Christ’s Church will stand no matter who is the Pope, so I just chalk it up to maybe the Pope shouldn’t give extemporaneous interviews and I go on studying the Bible and my Faith and getting closer to Jesus.

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