If you were to ask me, a Protestant, how best to describe the Pope, and I answered, “He is a sinner,” you might take offense. But, when the interviewer asked him who he is, Pope Francis humbly responded, “I am a sinner.” Then, in Latin, he whispered, “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.”
Pope Francis is a humble man.
This glimpse into the Pope’s heart sheds light on some of his recent comments during an interview conducted in person by Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica. He has drawn some high praise and some strong criticism, but one thing that is plain from reading the interview: he desired neither. He spoke from his heart.
And, except in his traditional Catholic views which differ from my own, his words are hardly controversial. If anything he is seeking to reignite a commitment to the foundational truths of the church found in Scripture.
Church must remain open to all
As a church, whether Catholic or Protestant, he reminds us that the church is not a social club for a select few: “This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.”
Harsh but true. Churches can easily cling to their mediocrity, to their legalistic, rigorist interpretation of Scripture or to their lax, nonchalance toward sin.
Walk with our neighbor
Pope Francis reminds us to walk alongside our neighbor, whether he is homosexual, whether she has had an abortion, or whether he denies God’s existence entirely. He claims that the pastor’s role, and arguably all Christians share this responsibility, is not to judge or condemn them but to walk beside them, offer them all kinds of “healing”, “warm the hearts of the people,” and “walk through the dark night with them.”
Pursue the un-churched
He challenges the church to be audacious in their pursuit of finding new roads into the lives of those who do not attend church, “who have quit or are indifferent”.
Focus on the essentials
One of his most controversial statements came in this context: He said, “I also consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she is now happy and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it. She would like to move forward in her Christian life.”
This leads to his oddly controversial statement, “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.”
He states his point clearly that not all of the teachings of the church are of equal importance. And, it is not the job of pastors to teach lists “of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”
He goes on to say that we have to proclaim the essentials, on the necessary things, the Gospel. If the church tries to maintain a moral stronghold but ignores the Gospel, it is likely to fall like a “house of cards.” Our morality must flow out of the “simple, profound, radiant” Gospel.
Look to the past for courage not methods
“Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists—they have a static and inward-directed view of things.”
God is in every person’s life
“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.”
How can we call these controversial statements? They simply remind us all who God is and what he desires for His church. We must focus on the Gospel. Jesus Christ died on the cross to the penalty of sin for all humankind. Faith in Him is our only hope.