by Father Anthony Churchill, STL
++++ Do a search on ‘Anthony’ for ALL his other posts and comments (—>>).
There are quite a few, including June 14, 2013 on ‘Thoughts on the new Holy Father‘
and the April 4, 2013 ‘Reflections on the Conclave‘.
Homily for 25th Sunday.
Two days ago the media reported an interview given by Pope Francis to the editor of an important Jesuit periodical. Father Antonio Spadara spent a total of six hours with the Pope over three days. The interview runs to some 12000 words. The Pope had the opportunity to read the final Italian text and to approve it. A team of five Jesuits translated it into English. So we are not talking about an “off the cuff” conversation, but a carefully prepared discussion of a wide range of subjects. The interview clearly expresses what the Pope wanted to say, and how he wanted to say it.
I am talking about this today because some Media commentary seems to be missing the point or even distorting it. The Pope is not setting out to change the teaching of the Church, but we need to understand what we mean when we speak about “the teaching of the Church”. There are certain truths that are fundamental and unchanging. The Mystery of the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, to name just three. The Pope and the Bishops are called to be servants of God’s Word. As priests in communion with the Pope and the worldwide Church, we are sent to teach the Catholic Faith in its fullness. The Church has a long history, 20 centuries experience of living the Gospel. We today can draw on the wisdom of so many who have gone before us in the Faith. We are not called to re-invent the Faith, but to live the Faith in the world of today. In doing so we draw on the witness of the Saints, and the teaching of the Church down the ages.
In his interview Pope Francis made the point that not everything is of equal importance. He said that he has been criticised for not speaking enough about moral issues such as abortion or contraception or gay marriage. He said that the Church’s teaching on these things is well known and does not need constant repetition by the Pope. Rather he wants to bring us back to the fundamental truths of the Faith. Above all he wants to focus our thoughts on God’s love for us and his mercy.
What Pope Francis is bringing to us is not new teaching, but certainly a new emphasis. He is taking up a theme that Pope Benedict also spoke about more than once. Our Faith is not just a set of doctrines, a series of things to be believed or a set of moral teachings, a series of “do’s and don’t’s”. The Faith is about a living relationship with God through Jesus.
As Pope Francis sees it, our world is full of people who have been wounded in one way or another. People’s lives are often complex. Very often we cannot see with any clarity what to do. We make choices, and sometimes we get things wrong. We are wounded people. The Church is called to be in Francis’ words ” a field hospital ” where the first duty is to apply the healing medicine of mercy. If you are dealing with someone badly wounded in battle you don’t immediately ask him about his blood sugar levels. You treat the gaping wound instead. Similarly when we meet a brother or sister turning to The Lord for help you don’t start off by asking him “are you gay?” Or “are you divorced?”. These are things to talk about on another day. What matters now is that he or she knows that they are loved by God and called to live through love each day in God’s presence.
The Holy Father is concerned that the Church is in danger of becoming obsessed with a handful of moral issues and ignoring the larger picture. It is not that these are not important issues, but they must not be seen as the central message of the Gospel.
It is very important to make a distinction between what is objectively right or wrong and the guilt or otherwise of any individual.
The hope that we hold out to people is not an illusion. We all of us do things that are not right or at least we fail to what we ought to do. In Christian thinking only God can judge our motives. There are many factors that can limit our guilt or indeed remove it altogether. As Pope Francis has been teaching, each human person will be judged by God in so far as they have tried to follow their conscience. We believe that it is God’s will to save all men and women. There is really nothing new in this. As I see it, the Pope is leaving it to the individual pastors to help people in making their moral choices. This has always been the way of the Church at its best. As a teacher the Church must set before people the highest ideals, clear and uncompromising. As a mother the Church must temper the wind to the shorn lamb. Every good mother knows that she has to inspire her children to seek for the best, but at the same time she must accept them as they are, and help to make what progress they can towards the ideal. We believe that we shall be judged by a loving God in so far as we are trying to do good and avoid evil. We cannot all reach the top of the mountain.
We are all called by God to live lives of generous and unselfish love. The Church has the duty of helping us to discern what love demands in practice. This is what we mean by the moral life, but we cannot begin to make sense of all that until we have discovered how much we are loved by God, and until we experience for ourselves the infinite mercy of God.