By now, I am sure many of you have heard of and perhaps have read what is being called “the Interview.” This is the extended conversation
our Holy Father Francis had with the editor of the Italian Jesuit monthly magazine La Civilta Catolica.
In this article I would like to address some of the issues that the secular media presented and then editorialized about in a way that puts our Holy Father and his words in a seeming position of opposition to the rest of the Catholic Church. Nothing could be further from the truth. (Read the full interview here
The structure of “the Interview” was a series of questions asked of the Holy Father and his responses. The editor did a good job in framing the questions that had been gathered from other Jesuits from around the world who are editors of their own more local magazines. The first six questions were of a personal nature relating to Pope Francis and his background, the development of his priestly vocation, the Jesuits in general, and his being a Jesuit, an archbishop and now the pope. His answers are not only interesting, but also very instructive for all of us, especially for any man who is discerning a possible vocation to the priesthood.
The Church is for everyone
The pope, being a true son of Saint Ignatius, is a tremendous gift to the Church just as Saint Ignatius was a gift to the Church in the sixteenth century. He is thoroughly imbued with the Ignatian spirit and a love for the Catholic Church, and he expressed this beautifully when he was asked what it means to “think with the Church,” a notion St. Ignatius wrote about in the Spiritual Exercises.
Clearly the Holy Father repeats what he has been saying since his election: That the Church is the people of God, just as the Second Vatican Council repeated so often (LG 12). He is very clear that the Catholic Church, as the people of God, is for all peoples
and not just for a few. He says that the faith of the Church is lived by clergy, religious and laity as the “experience of ‘holy mother the hierarchical church,’ as St. Ignatius called it, the church as the people of God, pastors and people together. The church is the totality of God’s people.” Correctly, Our Holy Father reminds all of us who we are in Christ. The Church is neither only the clergy
nor is it only the laity
As he said: “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…And the church is Mother; the church is fruitful. It must be.” These statements of the Holy Father were reported in the secular media as if he was saying that the Church is a populist kind of institution. However, he is saying just the opposite; it is the holy people of God and this means that it includes and is open to all peoples. He is simply stating a fact of the doctrine of the Church concerning its four marks – one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Not new and certainly not very radical!
The first proclamation: Jesus has saved you
The answer that the Pope gave to the next questions received the most attention from the secular media, which did not make an effort to report his answer fully but instead misled readers by sensationalizing just one part of his answer, as if it was all that the Pope had to say.
Pope Francis was asked: “What does the church need most at this historic moment? Do we need reforms? What are your wishes for the church in the coming years? What kind of church do you dream of?” The substance of his answer is a masterful use of a familiar image. 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 persona 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…And you have to start from the ground up.”
This idea of “starting from the ground up” is where our Holy Father places all that the Church believes and does as the Church. He described what he meant this way: “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.” This must come first. Then, as Pope Francis said, the other moral and religious imperatives follow from this first proclamation. He is absolutely correct.
Having first directed our attention to the heart of the Church, the preaching of the Gospel, and Jesus Christ as Our Lord and Savior, the Holy Father’s remarks about a few of the moral issues of the day were completely misrepresented by the secular media. The secular media latched on to the following statement
: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible.” This was interpreted by the secular media as a break with the Church’s constant moral teaching on these matters or as at least a changing of the Church’s position. Again, not true at all.
All that Pope Francis said is based on that first proclamation. As soon as I read his answer, I was so grateful for it because he put the matter in its proper order in the very same way that Jesus did in His life among us. What came to mind for me was the moment in John’s Gospel when the woman caught in the act of adultery was dragged to Jesus for Him to respond to the ill will of the Pharisees. Read that passage in John 8 and you will understand why the Holy Father answered the way he did and what he means. Jesus showed mercy by first healing and then addressing her sin. That is the same order he wants for the Church. Thus, he did not change anything, but urges the Church’s ministers to “be ministers of mercy above all.”
The Holy Father is absolutely correct when he said that if the Church does not keep the right order of the first proclamation, we could become “obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines.” He said that the first proclamation (which is missionary in nature) focuses on the essentials and will always be a cause for joy and healing; it will forever be attractive and fresh. “The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.” Again, the Holy Father is only putting in more familiar terms what the Church has always believed and tried to live in the world in every age (sometimes more successfully than at other times). But what he said throughout “the Interview” is not new.
If you have the opportunity to read our Holy Father’s conversation, I urge you to do so. Do not rely on the secular media for your information. While he had much to say on various topics, I have confined my remarks to just a few of his answers. It is worth your time to read “the Interview” in its entirety
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