Everybody is talking about the Pope this week. All over the world, the interview he gave to some Jesuit journalists has been the constant subject of headlines, talk shows, editorials and conversation.
But in our media culture, we have to watch out that we’re not relying too much on secular sources for our news about the Pope and the Church. That’s why the Catholic media is so vital in our day.
Unfortunately, most mainstream reporting on Pope Francis has not been really accurate. The reporters – and the people they turn to for “expert” analysis – are good people. But they don’t always seem to be trying to understand the Pope. Instead they seem to be trying to present him in their own image, reflecting their own desires and hopes for the Church.
The reporting on the Pope’s latest interview was predictable. The interview takes up almost 20 pages in a magazine. But the media reporting focused only on the four paragraphs where the Holy Father talked about abortion, birth control and homosexuality.
That’s too bad. I urge you to read this interview for yourselves. It’s a window into our Holy Father’s soul and his vision for the Church.
The world looks different from inside the confessional. And when I read this interview, I hear the attitude of a man who has spent a lot of time in the confessional — on both sides of the box.
The Pope starts with a simple confession: “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon. … I always felt my motto, Miserando atque Eligendo [By having mercy and by choosing him], was very true for me.”
Pope Francis knows that our faith journey begins in the encounter with God’s mercy – when the Lord looks upon us in mercy and calls us to follow him.
It’s striking how much the Pope talks about confession in this interview – and also the priest’s ministry. That’s because this is the great need for the people of our time – a new encounter with God’s mercy.
God’s mercy doesn’t replace God’s justice. God’s mercy doesn’t blur the lines between right and wrong or good and evil. The mercy we find in the confessional brings all the darkness, all the shadows in our lives, into the light of God’s saving love.
As Pope Francis knows, the priest is above all the minister of God’s mercy.
The priest understands, in ways no one else can, that every human life we meet is a mystery. That every human life is complicated. Relationships can become tangled, desires can be disordered. Every case is different and so is the advice for the one who seeks God and his grace. The confessional is not a place of condemnation. It is the mercy seat.
“The confessional is … the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better,” the Pope says.
Our Holy Father’s vision for the human person is beautiful and open to hope.
He says: “I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. … Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else. ... 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.”
Clearly, our Holy Father is concerned about a tendency toward “rigorism” that would reduce the greatness of the Gospel to a collection of “rules.” The Church, he believes, should be “the home of all … not only a small group of selected people … a nest protecting our mediocrity.”
These are the strong words that a confessor might use to get us to examine our conscience.
But despite what we hear in the media, the Pope isn’t talking about changing any Church teachings. In fact, he criticizes those who wrongly think that mercy means being “too lax … the loose minister [who] washes his hands by simply saying, ‘This is not a sin.’”
Pope Francis knows that the morality and teaching we find in the Catechism is rooted in something deeper, something “prior.” What matters most is Jesus Christ and our personal relationship with him.
“The most important thing,” our Holy Father says, “is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.”
The Pope knows that when we draw close to Christ, it leads to conversion. We want to change our lives to be more like him. This is the “context” that the Pope is talking about. Once we know God’s saving love in our lives, then we understand the meaning of the Church’s moral teachings.
There is so much in this interview that is worth praying over and reflecting on.
Our Holy Father wants us all to have greater simplicity and humility — and a greater sense of our responsibility for others.
He is calling us all to accompany others with mercy, to heal them and warm their hearts with the light of the Gospel. He is calling us to help our neighbors to find God in their lives. He says we need to find “new roads” to reach those who have left the Church or have given up on God.
The mercy of God is the heart of the message of Christ. That’s why the encounter with Christ is so urgent for every person. That’s the mission that Pope Francis sets before the Church — and before each one of us.
Let’s keep praying for one another this week. Let’s pray for our Pope!
And let’s ask our Blessed Mother Mary to teach us to love like Jesus and to open our hearts to follow him more closely.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.