Last week as I watched Pope Francis address Congress and our nation a thought dawned on me. Since Pope Francis’ election I have watched as certain groups within the Church and outside of the Church get themselves tied up in knots because of what he says and how he says it. These people are varied in their reasons for displeasure with our Holy Father, and some love a Pontiff who does not exist and who is a product of their own imagination. The latter are those in the mainstream media who love that he blesses and kisses babies and the disabled, but ignore his strong pronouncements on the Church’s moral teaching on abortion and “gay marriage”. There is another group entrenched in the heresy of Americanism that lashes out for what the Pope says about capitalism, without really understanding what the Pope means. Specifically, that a capitalism that uses people as a means to an end is evil; not necessarily capitalism that is rightly ordered. And finally, we have a group within the Church that greatly endangers itself by its irrationality, fall into calumny, and hardening hearts. It is this last group that I want to address in this post.
It is true that at times Pope Francis is not clear in his comments and at times it can be hard to understand precisely what he means. There have been moments early on in his Pontificate when he made comments about those serving in the pro-life movement that hurt many people. I understand. And the manipulation of his words by people inside and outside of the Church has made our mission more difficult at times. The “who am I to judge?” quote, which is taken entirely out of context by so many, has been thrown in most of our faces when it comes to moral issues in the West. I get it, but I want to consider something in light of the Pope’s recent visit to the U.S.
Pope Francis does not need to really worry about those of us who grasp and try to live the Church’s moral teaching. We are sharing that truth in our families, communities, and in social media. By the light of faith and the gift of human reason, we are able to understand why the Church teaches as she does on issues that are counter-cultural. We understand why life is sacred and that every human life is endowed with dignity given by God from conception to natural death. In other words, we are not lost. We have the light of Christ leading us. Pope Francis knows that you and I will go to Scripture, the Catechism, and Church documents in order to understand and defend her truths.
Now, most of our culture is being led astray by Lucifer. They have believed his lies and now live in ignorance and with dying or dead souls. This is even more tragic when baptized Catholics persist in these lies, especially in a public manner. Pope Francis addressed some of these people in Congress and our nation throughout his various speeches. When someone has hardened their heart or grace has left them, as is the case with mortal sin (yes, that’s how serious it is), it is difficult to reach those people. In fact, stating moral law to those people who are either deceived or willfully dissenting can accomplish very little. Why?
The reason is that what these people need is grace. If their soul is dead, then they need grace to enter their lives again. If they have never experienced grace, then they need the supernatural gifts of faith and grace. This first begins in a movement from God, but then the person has to be willing to accept this gift. God does not force us to love or follow Him. He preserves our free will completely. It is true that some people return or enter the faith through learning the moral truths of the Catholic Faith. By and large, however, this is not the case. In order for conversion or reversion to occur, a person must have an encounter with the Living Christ whether it be a slower process like St. Peter or a knocked off the horse experience like St. Paul. No matter how it happens, that encounter must take place first.
With that in mind, what is Pope Francis trying to accomplish? Since he knows the orthodox are well taken care of, he is reaching out to those who have either fallen into error or who have always lived in error. It’s not that he is encouraging sin. Anyone who takes the time to follow the Holy Father’s message in its entirety knows this to be true. Rather, he is sharing the power of Christ with the world. When people see Francis’ life, they wonder where it comes from and that answer is Jesus Christ. Then people can begin to look for Jesus. In coming to know and love Jesus and through Baptism grace pours into the soul and makes it easier to come to the fullness of truth, including the moral law. In fact, it is impossible to come to the Church without faith and grace. What occurs in the supernatural life is not up to us. We are mere messengers. A fact that many seem to forget. Conversion takes time. Real conversion comes with falls along the way and many trips to the Confessional.
It is important for those of us who know the truth to avoid falling into bitterness as the eldest son did in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In fact, let’s take a quick look at that beautiful Parable:
Then he said, “A man had two sons and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”
It is the last part of the this Parable that is most instructive for this particular discussion. The father says to the son: “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” This is really at the heart of Pope Francis’ Papacy. He knows that we are well taken care of. The last few popes have fought the Culture of Death. Whether it agrees or not, much of our culture is aware of what the Catholic Church teaches on these issues. If we solely focus on the “culture war” we run the risk of disengaging our audience because we resort to screeching at high volume to get our point across. Instead, we need to show people to Christ, so that they can come to the truth found in the moral teaching of the Church. We can’t put the cart before the horse. A person who has been steeped in relativism is not going to understand the Church’s teachings without the light of faith and grace.
Pope Francis is not an anti-pope or threatening the Church. He is welcoming the Prodigal. He is showing people to Christ, so that the Church makes sense. We forget that we have grace and faith while the majority of people in our culture do not. The Church is foreign and they look at us with blindness. They can’t see until they see Christ. It is not that Francis is leaving us behind or leaving the faith behind. He is being a Shepherd. He is welcoming the lost into the fold, and telling the Mystical Body to rejoice when people return or join us. Just because Francis doesn’t constantly mention our favorite pet issue, does not mean he is wrong. He is leading in a way we may not fully understand, but we can trust that he is doing his best to reach out to the world and bring people to Christ. That is his job on top of leading the Church. So, let us rejoice that wounded, suffering, and lost people are looking for Christ. Let’s go to the celebration instead of sulking or living in bitterness. Praise be to God for reaching the lost. God bless.