Jesus Is Lord!
For the last few days following the Holy Father's published interview with a number of Jesuit magazines around the world. there has been a plethora of screechy headlines and the shocked -- shocked -- rhetoric in many secular media sources. These theologically twisted reports are very similar to the story I heard last week from a diminutive chicken which was running up my street, plucking (in fluent chickenese), "The sky is falling, the sky is falling."
Clearly, a vast number of secular reporters and editors do not understand that the doctrinal teachings and moral principles of the Catholic Church are not up for grabs, as they would have us believe. The secular press is oftentimes simply ignorant of the facts, sometimes malicious in their distortion of the facts, very often careless about reporting the facts and too often dismissive of the facts and of the proper context and historical sense with which to report a story involving the Church and the Pope. In this instance, the secular press seeks a frothy headline, even if it is entirely misleading and factually incorrect.
If one reads in full that interview with the Pope, one will see that he is merely recalling for us the fundamental message of the Gospel, namely, the love of God for all mankind, as witnessed by the life, death and resurrection of Christ. He is not -- repeat, not -- relaxing the moral standards of issues such as abortion, gay marriage and so forth. He is saying that if we could but comprehend the goodness of God and the power of His love for us, if we had the proper clarity about God's place in our lives, we would be transformed.
Keep in mind that the Pope's customary emphases are on the pastoral aspects of Catholic teaching, but this pastoral side is not being promulgated or achieved at the expense of, nor at the dismissal of, the Church's consistent moral principles. The pastoral standards and the moral standards are like two sides of the same hand. One does not exist without the other. We can emphasize one side at certain times, the other side at other times. Thus, when the Pope emphasizes the pastoral side, he does this not -- not -- at the exclusion of the Church's traditional moral standards. Just as parents sometimes hug their children, yet at other times, chastise them, so also does the Holy Father seek to remind the listening world that beyond the behavioral side of the Church's teachings lies an even deeper, even greater, far more important and energizing reality, i.e., the reality of God's love for us all. That is the first of all realizations which everyone must remember and honor.
Pope Francis is simply reminding us that beneath all the Catholic Church's moral exhortations and all the Church's moral standards of self-restraint lies an even deeper and more fundamental reality, the love of God through Christ for us all. But he does not thereby dismiss the fundamental moral standards which identify Catholic practice. Indeed, just yesterday morning (the day after the release of the interview) he blasted in the strongest possible terms those who promote abortion, and one of his chief Vatican assistants, Cardinal Burke, has renewed his call for Mrs. Pelosi to be denied Holy Communion because of her abortion-promoting behavior.
Thus, the fact that the Pope promotes God's love is not to be taken as a sign that he is a weak-willed, moral pushover with a marshmallow center. This is far from the truth, even if many members of the secular press are unwilling to be factual and, thus, professional and honest in the performance of their vocational responsibilities.
The developing moral standards inherent in the Gospel are real and constant, based on God's love for human beings, directed at elevating human dignity and fiercely aimed at the sacredness of human life itself. Throughout history, these standards have been clarified again and again by the Church as history progresses and we humans struggle to make our way through our lives. These moral standards of the Church are the means by which we, on our side of the relationship, are taught to honor the will of the Father. But even more basic than these moral standards is the fundamental truth -- the most essential fact of the Judeo-Christian lexicon -- of God's love for us.
Thus, the Pope is reminding us time and again, that the deepest truth we must come to accept in life is the existence of our relationship with God, a relationship begun in Creation and eventually cemented and personalized through Christ. It is an intensely personal, two-way relationship founded, first and foremost, on the love God has for us. It is a relationship which, consequently, asks of us certain parallel indications of our own fidelity to the Father. It is a relationship which has its origins in time, is spelled out explicitly in the Gospels and thence carried forward throughout human history by the intervention of Christ and the ensuing clarifications afforded by the very Church which Christ founded on the command of His Father, and ours.
So the Pope is not dismissing the moral voice of the Church. Rather, he is augmenting its authority, identifying its origins and its reminding us of its deepest source of its authenticity, which is rooted in the love of God for all human beings without reserve, and is reinforced by the teachings of Christ and the work of the Church as time proceeds and mankind seeks its Ultimate Source of peace and understanding.
The problem which the Pope is identifying and pointing out to us is the fact that we humans are the ones who introduce reservations into our side of that relationship by our sins and our selfishness and our readiness to harm one another. But the Church stands ready, like a field hospital in a war zone, to remedy and repair and assuage with simple kindness and persistent care the harm we do to that relationship and to one another.
Over all else, underlying all else, above all else, the Pope reminds us, is the love of God. That is what awaits. That is what it is all about. That is why we are.
And, the Pope is saying, if we could only keep in mind the dimensions and the depth of the love God has for us, we would be less and less prone to sin and forgetfulness, less and less prone to remove ourselves from His love, less and less prone to do harm to others, less and less indifferent to our responsibilities to our children born and unborn. We would, rather, be more and more aware of what He offers us, more and more brought to our senses, more and more driven to live in light and grace and peace as children of the Light, more and more concerned to honor one another by example and by risking, more and more bathed by the consoling Light of God's goodness which He offers us all with unceasing regularity.
The fallacious secular media and the breathlessly erroneous press would have you think that the standards by which the Church brings us closer to God are now out the window, that the Church is now cracking at the edges of it moral identity. This is error of the worst sort. The standards are not changing. Indeed, if change is called for, it is we who must change. The Pope reminds us that we have every reason to do so, for it is the love of God which awaits.
Daniel M. Boland, PhD