What the Holy Father Said

Well, since everybody else is talking about it, I guess I should.

I’m speaking about, of course, the Holy Father’s remarks to the journalists on the plane returning from World Youth Days in Brazil.

Since I finally got to read the whole text of his conversation, it’s a good time to weigh in with a half-dozen or so of my own observations.

For one, the Pope was visibly “on a high” from his first international pastoral visit in Rio.  Understandably so.  Because I was there with him, I can verify that the superlatives being used — “oceanic” crowds, “frenzied” welcomes, “inspirational, heartfelt” words — are not exaggerations at all.

After the conclave, one of my brother cardinals predicted to me that, as Pope John Paul II “won back” the formerly communist controlled “Eastern bloc” countries, Pope Francis would revive the Church on his home continent of Latin America.  From what we saw in Brazil, he’s sure off to a great start.

In Rio, he was so positive, upbeat, forward looking, realistic, and challenging.  Look at his heartfelt pleas for “a Church that is poor and for the poor” as he visited hovels in the favela; his rejection of a “throwaway culture” that marginalizes elders, youth, babies, weak, handicapped, and refugees; his embrace of a “youthful, energetic faith,” with 3,000,000 young people giving the lie to the stereotype of a withered, listless, moribund Church; and his ringing chant that “lasting hope and joy comes from our faith in Jesus, from a God who enjoys surprising us.”

Two, mercy is the word that seems to summarize Francis’ talks:  both God’s tender mercy for us, and the mercy He wants us to have for one another.  I recalled his first Angelus in Rome after the white smoke, when he spoke of God’s lavish mercy, and his homily at his inaugural Mass on St. Joseph’s Day, when he asked us to be tender.

This mercy flows, not instead of or in spite of the Church, but through her!  This pastor reminds us that Jesus Christ and His Church are one.

Mercy, he claims, is not just for those who show-up.  No, says the world’s parish priest, “We shouldn’t just wait for the wounded to come to us; we go out and reach for them.”

Three, mercy was not just the theme of those radiant World Youth Days in Rio, but also of his now renowned hour-and-twenty minute comfortable conversation with the press on the plane.

So, his brief remarks on homosexuality were about mercy:  everyone has a welcome home in the Church; the Church considers unjust discrimination against any homosexual a sin;  and homosexual acts, which are contrary to Revelation — as are heterosexual acts outside of lifelong, life-giving, faithful marriage between one man and one woman — can always be healed by God’s mercy.  And when God’s mercy is sought, it is always given, the sin wiped away and forgotten; because of this, nobody — not the Pope, not a bishop, not a priest — can judge another!  Actions?  Yes; the heart? No.  No change in Church teaching here . . . or no intended “correction” to a more “dour” approach by his predecessors.  After all, it was under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger that the Catechism was composed, which reminded us that people with same sex attraction were as much God’s children, deserving dignity and respect, as anybody else.

Four, his comments on the alleged “gay lobby” in the Vatican were perceptive.  What bothers him is any lobby.  There can be only one agenda in the Church:  that of Jesus Christ, His Gospel, His Church.  He even praised the favorite “whipping boy” of all of us — bishops included — the Curia, which is made up, he insisted, of a vast majority of selfless, generous, virtuous priests and people, with, okay, a few lemons.

Then, five, there’s his reaffirmation of the need for a “theology of women,” who hardly need a Roman collar to lead and serve in the Church.  After all, Pope Francis reminds us, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, “is the most important of all the apostles.”

A few final words.

One wonders if the Holy Father is frustrated by all this attention to his interview.  For six days he spoke powerfully about lofty issues such as friendship, service, trust, joy, hope, love for the poor, humility, discipleship, faith, and simplicity.  Those words got a bit of coverage.  The “hot button” issues such as women’s ordination, contraception, divorce and remarriage, abortion, homosexuality, or celibacy, as I noted in my blog Monday, did not seem of any concern to the three million youth, or to their beloved Pope Francis.

But, as usual, the press predictably brought these weary issues up, and have given them more ink than any of the other noble themes that rang through Copacabana Beach.  It’s not the Church that is obsessed with those topics, but the media!

And haunting all of the coverage is the hint that we now finally have a Pope who will change the Church’s ageless teaching.  Of course, Catholics know that the Pope, like all of us, is a servant of the truth of the Gospel, not a crafter.  Doctrine is a given; it is settled, inherited, faithfully passed on.  That’s his duty, and he’s sure doing it well.  As Gayle King commented during our interview on CBS This Morning yesterday, “This really seems a change in style rather than substance.”  Bingo!  And the change I find refreshing!

Then the very event of a Pope comfortably, glibly, confidently visiting and dialoguing with the press!  That in itself, as more than one journalist remarked to me here in New York, is what’s really “revolutionary.”

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11 Responses to “What the Holy Father Said”

  1. Julia Brandimarte says:

    The “hot button” issues such as women’s ordination, contraception, divorce and remarriage, abortion, homosexuality, or celibacy, as I noted in my blog Monday, did not seem of any concern to the three million youth, or to their beloved Pope Francis.

    My dear father, judging by the above remark and Monday’s blog post, you seem highly relieved that the above issues were not addressed. Instead you focused, once again, on your good feelings and your clothes. The souls of many are being lost to the sins of contraception, abortion, and homosexual acts, yet you seem to think (based on your writing) that these “hot button issues” will just go away in time.

    Jesus was born in a stable to an unwed mother ostracized by her family, and had a feed trough for His first bed. He was whipped and spat upon, forced to carry His heavy cross before being nailed to it. Jesus laid down his life for us sinners. He didn’t spend his time on earth basking in the admiration of His followers, wishing that everyone’s problems would just go away.

    With my prayers,

  2. Irene says:

    The Pope will not change Church teaching, but he is doing a wonderful job helping us interpret it. I think he is a terrific model for bishops the world over.

  3. Siemens says:

    Liked the post!

  4. Marc says:

    Very well said Julia, the tone of this post reads like someone speaking to you in a buffet line, while eyeballing a tantalizing plate of hot wings. these very hot button issues are bashed on in the media becasue he and the vast majority of our clergy say nothing about them ever. we go to mass on sunday and listen to some vague feelin fine homily then go back to our usual routine of living like pagans till next weeks routine starts it over again. dear cardinal please start a healthy regimen of fasting on bread and water at least twice a week and keep a prayer schedule that you will adhere too. pray to our lady for guidance and seek wisdom in every matter. you are a prince of the church so please shine with virtue and not with the radiance of barney the dinosaur. Our Lady Queen of Peace, Pray for us!!

  5. Paul Heney says:

    How sad this post makes me. I am a lifelong Catholic. I was gay before I knew what the word meant; God created me this way. It becomes more and more apparent to me with each passing year that my relationship with the church is an abusive one. The Catholic Church leadership tells me that I’m not good enough, that I’m lesser than others, but IT is the only one who can love me; I don’t deserve happiness. The Church’s teaching here is repugnant—soft bigotry is still bigotry, no matter how you try to fluff it up with flowery language.

  6. George says:

    I agree with Julia. The clergy should be calling people to holiness. God through His Church calls people to be holy. Who are some of the role models for youth? Lady Gaga
    and Madonna(both of them born and raised Catholic)? Rap music? Anthony Weiner?
    The approach to Mr Weiner and others who by their lifestyles give bad example is
    that while we should pray for them, what they are doing is gravely sinful. Young
    people are paying attention.

    From Kathleen Parker (Washington Post)-I paraphrase:
    The exhibitionist compulsion… was once considered not de riguer but repugnent.
    Showing ones (private parts) to a random collection of “friends” was…inconceivable to any but the occasional pervert who was recognized as such. What is Mr Weiner but a flasher who, in a saner world, wuld be arrested for indecent exposure?
    What’s the difference between what (what Mr Weiner did) and exposing himself to a stranger on the street? Not much except for our acceptance of deviant behavior.”

    Young people should be getting their teaching and example from the Church and
    its leadership and not from the likes of politicians and pop stars.

    On other issues:
    On abortion and same-sex marriage, the Left can point to significant victories and “progress”.
    (Not so the Right)

    In all to many cases, it’s CATHOLICS who are the major actors, movers and deciders on these issues-
    Governor Cuomo, Nancy Pelosi, Justices Kennedy and Sotomayer etc. I don’t care if my ox is being gored but it really hurts when Catholics are doing it.

    Shouldn’t we be calling Catholics (and others) to conversion?

    Poll after poll has shown that most of the Catholics in the pews survey Sunday and weekday
    are the most Traditionalist and conservative(They voted for Mr. Romney 20+ points over Mr Obama) They conribute the most money, they attend adoration the most, they pray the rosary and regularly practice other devotions. They are (after the Holy Eucharist) the lifeblood of the Church. Sure, you can spur them to get out of the pews and do more, but
    without them, where would we be?

  7. Jessica says:

    I am shocked at the ugliness of some of the supposedly “Catholic” commentators above. You people totally miss the point of “mercy.” May God forgive you for giving in to the temptation to bash one of His bishops.

    Paul – I will pray that you find mercy and healing in the Catholic Church. Even though she cannot condone certain actions, she really is how Our Lord designed for His precious children to come home to Him. You are definitley one that is precious to Him.

  8. Irene says:

    Jessica & Paul: Most of these extreme comments are from people not part of the Archdiocese. They are a small cadre of angry people from around the country who weigh in disproportionately on Catholic blogs. They spend endless hours attacking groups like CRS, they question the orthodoxy of fellow Catholics, they wage letter campaigns pretending they have a religious motivation, but they’re really just promoting fringe politics.

    It will be a relief when, in a few months Cardinal Dolan is no longer heading the USCCB. When that happens, these people angry won’t go away, but at least they’ll go somewhere else.

    So until then, keep the faith!

  9. Marc says:

    Jessica i am not sure if you are refering to my comment or not, but i have here in front of me the spiritual works of mercy and two that stand out in your regard are 1)teach the ignorant and 2)correct sinners. if you have not noticed the crisis of faith we have in our church then you are walking around with blinders on. To be “nice” is to be ignorant and stupid and just smile. This is not catholic we need to know our faith well enough to live it and spread it. To remain quite is a heresy and to do nothing is aiding the enemy of our souls. I don’t see here any bashing of the cardinal we love him and the entire clergy, but Jesus pronounced the greatest woe’s to the religous because their leadership and example was hindering many from coming to the truth. we have that now their is nary a true desciple to be found. Also just to be clear mercy is not tolorance.

  10. Theresa says:

    For some reason, I keep seeing pictures of Christian rock bands while reading all of this. You know thekind that dresses in secular message rendering clothes, usually black and sport tats and face metal. If you are not familiar with the lyrics, you would swear they are screaming obscentities. Yet, they believe they have been called by God to spread the message to young people. What I am trying to say is that when we seek to make over the gospel, we are making a tragic mistake. God dies not need a makeover by the church or by anyone who thinks He needs to fit into their lifestyle to be appealing. I am tired of Christian self help books, rock music disguised as Christian and church members who rely on others to “interpret” the word of God. Jesus Christ does not need to be modernized, nor do we need to capitulate to progressive thinkers in order to feel good about ourselves. The Bible and its instructions have not changed and Christians should not be swayed by media driven popularity contests. We are not to be of this world. Seems to be the hardest lesson for us to learn

  11. Miguel says:

    Sorry Paul but I’d have to dissagree with you. i dont respect your actions or your chosen lifestyle but I respect you as a person.i hope you keep going to mass and keep practicing your faith because at the end of the day its not the parishioners who will judge you but Christ Jesus.