September 26, 2013
Is the Pope Catholic?
By Rebecca Ryskind Teti *

By Rebecca Ryskind Teti *

I confess to being impatient with the impassioned reactions to Pope Francis’ recent interview with Jesuit journals. To my mind Pope Francis breaks no ground if you’ve been following his homilies since his election.

Moreover, as a Benedict XVI groupie, Francis’ insistence that the Church’s first job is to present the Gospel and not get stuck in either the “gotcha” questions the press likes to ask or the finer points of doctrine seems of a piece with Benedict, not a break.

Who said this?

“Faith is above all faith in God. In Christianity it is not a matter of an enormous bundle of different things; all that the Creed says and the development of faith has achieved exists only to make our perception of the Face of God clearer. He exists and he is alive; we believe in him; we live before him, in his sight, in being with him and from him. And in Jesus Christ, he is, as it were, with us bodily.

To my mind, this centrality of God must appear in a completely new light in all our thoughts and actions. …this is what enlivens activities which… can easily lapse into activism and become empty.”

Surprise! That was Benedict XVI, back in 2006.

Pope Francis says:

 “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”

To me that seems like more of the same – with Benedict even more radical than Francis. Francis only said the Church’s moral teaching is secondary to proclaiming Christ, not the elements of the Creed!

What I find disheartening is not so much that the Press gets the story wrong (the press is trying to get the story wrong, as this piece illustrates), but that seemingly many faithful Catholics are quick to believe the Holy Father has betrayed them.

As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio led the fight against gay marriage in Argentina. He’s the first Pope to attend a March for Life. In the same week this controversial interview was released, the Pope preached that Catholics must engage the political order even if they ruffle feathers; that the unborn bears the face of Christ and mustn’t be thrown away; and he excommunicated an Australian priest for supporting women priests and gay marriage.

Is it probable, or even remotely plausible, that such a man intends to diminish the Church’s radiant defense of human dignity or the family as bedrock of society?

To what then is Pope Francis referring?  Here’s one idea. For close to twenty-five years I’ve helped with marriage preparation at the retreat center where I work. Not to brag, but our program rocks. We’ve invested a lot of time listening to the couples who come to us and adjusting the content --not to soft-sell Church teaching, but to present it so our clients can hear it.

Most every month, approximately 25 couples – typically living together, lightly Churched, ignorant of basic teaching—come to us. By the end of four days, the vast majority of them go to Confession for the first time in years, commit to be chaste until marriage, see Church teaching as beautiful – and local pastors tell us that people who come through our program go back to their parishes Catholic, ready to be active parishioners.

This is delightful. There is no joy in the world that approaches that of seeing a face light up with the joy of meeting Jesus –really meeting him.

Yet also most every month, there will be one couple who comes to us already well-educated in the faith, living chastely, doing everything “right.” Typically this couple will be reserved, unable to mingle with their more worldly classmates, evaluating us rather than taking the message to heart. They always chastise us for not dwelling on MORTAL SIN.

I assure we cover mortal sin – but we emphasize the love of Jesus, the power of grace to conquer sin, and how virtue makes for healthy relationships. Sadly, in my experience the educated Catholics often aren’t capable of rejoicing in the conversions all around them. They just look for us to beat people up for their sins.

I’m at a loss to explain that reaction, but to me Pope Francis seems to have his finger on the pulse. He’s not trying to undercut the many kind and holy people already at work in the fields of the Lord. He is trying to heal a popular Catholic culture that gets stuck in didactic mode and puts a sour face on the Lord.

Rebecca Teti is a wife and mother who writes for Catholic Digest and other publications.
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