.- In a new wide-ranging interview, Pope Francis called for Christians to “heal wounds” in society by sharing the entirety of the Church’s message, offering the proper context for its spiritual and moral teaching.
The Holy Father explained that “the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives.”
Proclamation of salvation must come first, followed by catechesis, and then the moral consequences that flow from this teaching, he said, warning that if this does not happen, there is a risk of reducing the Church’s message to aspects that “on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.”
Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor in chief of the Jesuit-run Italian newspaper La Civiltà Cattolica, conducted the interview with Pope Francis in August. The U.S. Jesuit magazine America published an exclusive English-language translation of the interview Sept. 19.
In the interview, Pope Francis highlighted the need to proclaim moral truths in the full context of the Church’s Gospel message rather than as isolated requirements to be imposed.
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible,” he said, explaining that this would not be the fullness of the Gospel, but instead a “disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”
Observing that some people have criticized him for not speaking more frequently about these moral matters, he clarified his agreement with Catholic teaching on these issues, explaining, “The teaching of the Church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the Church.”
However, he maintained that “when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context.”
He urged a missionary-type proclamation of the Gospel that focuses on the “essentials,” on “what fascinates and attracts” and on “what makes the heart burn.”
“The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow,” he explained.
Without this proper balance, he cautioned, the moral teachings of the Church will lose “the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”
Pope Francis said the Church should “go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent.” The Church most needs “the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful.”
He compared the Church to “a field hospital after battle.”
“It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.”
In addition, the Holy Father cautioned against temptations to seek God in the past or in a possible future, saying that “God is to be encountered in the world of today” and that the Lord is present in every person’s life, no matter what their circumstances.
The interview also touched on the Pope’s personal preferences in books, movies and music, as well as his prayer life and spiritual journey to join the Jesuit order, which attracted him with its missionary spirit, community and discipline.
Reflecting on the Ignatian spirituality’s emphasis on discernment, he encouraged a mindset that is constantly seeking God, while remaining alert because we do not know where we may encounter him.
Asked to describe himself, Pope Francis said he is “a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon,” both “a bit astute” and “a bit naive.” He recounted mistakes he made as a Jesuit provincial superior, especially his “authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions.”
The Pontiff also reflected on the nature of the Church, stressing that it is “the people of God, pastors and people together.”
“No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community. God enters into this dynamic, this participation in the web of human relationships.”
He commented that Pope Benedict’s decision to allow the wider celebration of the Tridentine Mass was a “prudent” move to help those sensitive to the old Mass, but voiced worry of a possible “exploitation” and “ideologization” of the old rite.
On the topic of church reform, he said structural reforms are “secondary” to a change in attitude.
“The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost,” he said. “The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials.”
In addition, the Holy Father emphasized the essential role of women in the Church.
“Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops,” he said, adding that women’s “feminine genius” is needed for important decisions.
The Church must “work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman,” he said, while also noting that he is “wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man.”