Friday, September 20, 2013

The wisdom of Pope Francis

I'll defer to Michael J. Bayly and his "The Wild Reed" when it comes to selecting a notable quote from Pope Francis's recent interview with Antonio Spadaro, S.J., in the Jesuit journal "La Civilta Cattolica" (an English translation is available here in "America: The National Catholic Review.")

"This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity. . . . If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists­ — they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies. I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else — God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. 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."

Bayly, among progressive Catholics in the Twin Cities who in defiance of the church hierarchy helped lead the recent drive to bring marriage equality to Minnesota, could have selected one of Francis's conciliatory quotes regarding gay people to feature, but opted for the more general as "quote of the day."

It's early days in the new pope's tenure, but Francis seems to be trying to turn the great ship of faith he leads away from the arrogance of its recent guns-blazing course and toward a more universal and inclusive pastoral role on many fronts, a shift American bishops seem still to be struggling with.

None of this means that positions of the church on the hot-button topics that have preoccupied it lately --- LGBT issues (especially marriage equality), women in the church, women's right to choose, contraception --- are likely to change any time soon. But I'm guessing a majority of American Catholics, at least, are feeling more hopeful these days.

Leaders of the various Protestant sects who thought they had found an ally in Francis's predecessor, Benedict, would do well to pay attention if they hope to avoid irrelevance, too.

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