Rule-hobbled mercy-A A +A
Saturday, September 28, 2013
Pope Francis’s call to reach beyond small-minded rules and minister to “the lapsed, wounded and banished” is “more important than an encyclical,” an Inquirer editorial said. Half a world away, the Washington Post asserted that Francis’s call “amounted to a sort of extemporaneous encyclical.”
“Heal the wounds and seek those fallen away,”, the 265th successor to Peter the Fisherman stressed in a La Civica Cattolica interview. Or the church’s moral structure will lose the “Gospel’s fragrance...and fall like a house of cards."
Time magazine distills this message into four themes. (a) The church must have a pastor’s heart. (b) Faith puts people over issues. (c) Stop constricting Christ’s message to abortion, gays and contraception.
The Gospel is not to be “reduced to aspects that, although relevant, do not show the heart of Christ’s message,” and (d) “Develop a profound theology of women.”
“This pope is not shattering traditional doctrine,” Vatican correspondent John Allen writes. He quotes Francis: The “teaching of the church…is clear and I am a son of the church...But it is not necessary to talk about gays, contraceptives, abortions all the time.
It is not possible.”
Instead, this pope is trying shift emphasis away from condemnation to mercy and craft the church “as a force for tolerance.”
Benedict XVI called for a smaller church of orthodox followers. Francis says the 1.2-billion-member church should be “home for all.”
Indeed, “casual observers (forget that) during three years of wandering, Jesus offended just about every cleric,” Washington Post wrote. He called them “whitewashed tombs,” “brood of vipers.”
True religion, is not found in obedience to letter of the law. It is an affair of the heart. And this friendship with God often comes easier to the simple, powerless and outcast—children, sinners, women, gentiles and the poor.
It was a message calculated to offend legalists in every generation. Ethical religion without love is arid and misleading.
Relationships—with God and your neighbor—come first. Ethics arise from a grateful and transformed heart.
“Over the millennia, this strain of impatience with legalism provided Christianity with an advantage. When the church becomes ossified, legalistic and hypocritical—as all institutions periodically do—it is the radical reformers who carry on its most authentic tradition.”
Francis prioritizes the Church’s mission. When someone injured arrives in “a field hospital after battle, you don’t treat his high cholesterol. You heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.”
There is a Catholic theological term for this: the “hierarchy of truths.” Not every truth has equal weight or urgency.
This Pope’s insight on the priority of the person is among the most radical implications of Christian faith. To God, human beings are equal and completely loved. They can’t be reduced to ethical object lessons. Their dignity runs deeper than their failures.
So Francis observed: “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person.”
This teaching was disorienting from the beginning. The outsiders get invited to the party. The prodigal is given the place of honor. The pious complain about their shocking treatment. The gatekeepers find the gate shut to them.
It is subversive to all respectable religious order--which is precisely the point. With Francis, the argument gains a new hearing.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 29, 2013.