Many of you will have read the lengthy interview which Pope Francis gave to the Jesuit periodicals. Or you may have seen the substantial reports in the Catholic Herald and the Tablet. I have no intention of repeating these here but I am allowing myself the indulgence of looking at a couple of points which attracted my eye.
I am struck by his suggestion that the Church must achieve a new balance. Its most characteristic and important work is be found not in our contemplation of doctrine – either faith or morals – but in discharging our faith in action. He speaks about ‘frontiers’ — those areas where we must express our Christian love in the actual circumstances of the world.
Much of that work is with the poor. But I think it is a mistake to think of the poor as only those who lack the fundamental resources of food and shelter. We meet the poor in all of those who have deep needs. The teenager who is struggling with interior conflicts is poor; the married person whose relationship is under strain is poor; the unmarried mother who cannot face the prospect of her child being born is poor; your next door neighbour who is old and lonely is poor; the homosexual who lacks self esteem is poor; your friend who is depressed and anxious is poor. Come to think of it – if we reflect on our own lives we may find periods when we too have been poor, because our need has been deep. I know this to be so because several of our friends on this Blog have generously shared with us instances of their own poverty.
Some eyebrows have been raised at Pope Francis‘s reference to abortion, gay marriage and contraception. He accepts the Church’s position on these questions but he suggests that such issues take up too much of our time and our concern. It is easy to see how this focus has come about. Their shared characteristic is that they are specific actions and easily recognised. You have either used contraception or you have not, you have either shared in homosexual activities or you have not. Sin or no sin. And such sins are further distinguished by being rated as intrinsically evil; nothing can excuse them. It is much harder to get a grasp on whether, for instance, we have behaved with full justice to another, or whether we have neglected an opportunity to show our love on occasion. Such measurements are woolly and hard to pin down.
There are worse sins than contraception, there are worse sins than giving way to a deep instinct for homosexual love. There is even a worse sin than abortion. And that is the sin of condemning out of hand someone who has had an abortion.
If I read Francis aright, and you must tell me if you disagree, we must put on the love of Christ in our prayer and in our actions and then we can largely let sin look after itself. Why pay so much attention to the Devil when he’s not worth it? Has Francis let us off the hook? On the contrary, he seeks to nail us to the Cross.
[A good link to the interview is at http://www.thinkingfaith.org/articles/20130919_1.htm%5D