Pope Francis recently gave an interview for publication by the Jesuits. The secular media have labeled him as a liberal and misconstrued his interview in their wishful thinking that he will change Church teaching on human life and sexuality.
Popes are neither liberals nor conservatives on Church teaching, as politicians are often labeled. Also, they are not like politicians who can change policy with changes of administration. Popes are faithful to the constant teaching of the Church. So we need not fear that he will change the Church’s teaching that contraception, abortion and legalized same sex relationships are intrinsically and always evil.
Pope Francis is simply implementing the New Evangelization inaugurated by Blessed John Paul II. He is a Catholic sinner pursuing the Church’s mission with a pastoral, compassionate emphasis on the evangelization of God’s mercy, rather than on teaching faith and morals. He said of himself in his interview, “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.”
There are two elements to the Church’s mission. The first is evangelization, which is the proclamation of the good news that God loves us and that the mercy of Jesus forgives our repented sins so that we may have eternal life and happiness with him. The second element is catechesis, which teaches the faith of what we must believe and the morals of what we must do or not do on our journey towards eternal life with Him.
Unfortunately, many in the Church have overemphasized the second element to people who have never heard of the first element. Not many people come to know the love of God simply through teaching or arguments, because they appeal only to the mind. More people come to know the love of God through evangelization, because it appeals to the heart. Pope Francis is emphasizing the first element without denigrating the second element.
As he said, “A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing.”
The emphasis should be on healing the brokenhearted, rather than the broken headed. As he said, “I see clearly that the thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the Church as 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. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up. The Church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the Church must be ministers of mercy above all.”
This is his dream for the Church. A Church, he says, “that is a mother and shepherdess. The Church’s ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the Good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbor. This is pure Gospel. God is greater than sin. The structural and organizational reforms are secondary—that is, they come afterward. The first reform must be the 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. The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. The bishops, particularly, must be able to support the movements of God among their people with patience, so that no one is left behind.”
“Instead of being just a Church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a Church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent. The ones who quit sometimes do it for reasons that, if properly understood and assessed, can lead to a return.”
Let us pray that many people will respond to Pope Francis’ emphasis on evangelization, his dream for the Church and his fatherly invitation to experience the mercy of God.