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The Pope’s interview is a challenge to everyone—including me!

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Sep 19, 2013

Let’s face it, Pope Francis thinks outside the box. This is very evident in the long interview by Antonio Spadaro, SJ which has just been published in major Jesuit journals around the world, including the English translation in America magazine. The Holy Father’s remarks are at once insightful, fascinating and challenging. And most of them are outside the box.

By this I mean that Francis is able to unify the best insights of what we might call the conservative and the liberal Catholic into a single vision which draws all of us into a mission of Christian service to the world, a merciful service of truth and goodness to those struggling in the dark. Thus when I read the interview from my background as a self-described “orthodox Catholic intellectual”, I naturally found the Pope’s reflections somewhat challenging. They invited me to set aside some preconceived notions, or at least to minimize certain tendencies, and to integrate my preference for a well-ordered analysis of the Gospel into a more missionary sympathy for those burdened by the messiness and confusion so characteristic of our time.

But at the same time I recognized that someone reading the interview from a more “liberal” or “progressive” point of view would find himself similarly challenged to set aside preconceptions, or at least to minimize certain tendencies, in order to seek to engage that messiness and confusion from the heart of the Church where it can be healed.

To put it another way, Pope Francis has a way of challenging the “conservative” Catholic to be more open to the mission of mercy and the “progressive” Catholic to be more open to the mission of mercy. A mission of mercy implies a deep willingness to share in the struggles of another, from which the “conservative” personality often recoils; and it also implies a deep willingness to resolve those struggles specifically in Christ, from which the “liberal” personality often recoils.

Or to try to express it one more time, both faith without mission and mission without faith are pointless.

Now all of these modes of expression oversimplify to some extent, for each one of us possesses the various human tendencies in greater or lesser degrees. What I am getting at is difficult to express without misunderstanding. But I believe that Pope Francis, in thinking so often outside the Church’s internal polemical box, has a way of challenging all of us to break out of our own personal categories in order to immerse ourselves more fully in the fundamental character of the Church as mission.

Inviting All of Us to Go Deeper

If this is so, then cherry picking individual quotes to “prove” this or that about the pope’s own “prejudices” is especially unfair and unfruitful. Very often we will be startled with the way he expresses something only to realize, on reflection, that we are being called to go deeper based on the totality of what he has tried to express. Accustomed as we are to what we might call the culture wars within the Church, we often allow particular words and phrases to serve as red flags which predetermine our reaction. This is a grave mistake, because Pope Francis simply does not think quite like the rest of us, and he certainly does not express himself like the rest of us.

He doesn’t seem to know the partisan shorthand; he refuses to speak in the secret code.

This presents us with an incomparable chance to deepen both our faith and our life in Christ in new and surprising ways. But I also wonder whether the decision of the Holy Spirit to bring this particular pope to the helm at this particular time means that a sufficient groundwork has been laid by popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI to enable the greater part of the Church once again to come together as a unified community.

My readers know that I think the renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council is finally underway, and that the pace of that renewal in dioceses and parishes is increasing by the day. They also know that I see the mainstream Catholic universities and some mainline religious communities, especially among women in the United States, as major holdouts. But if the thirst for authentic renewal has at least reached critical mass (as I strongly suspect it has), then we will soon have people on all sides moving toward a deeper sense of Catholic mission. Pope Francis may be just the man to serve as a rallying point.

This is at least devoutly to be hoped. And it makes me curious. I am tempted to identify one favorite quote from this interview, not as an exercise in self-serving cherry-picking, but simply to say: “I loved this one because it challenged me to go deeper into what it means to be a Catholic.” Among several possibilities, I at first selected two. But I don’t want to cheat, so I’ll mention only one and let others fill in. Here is my one:

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.

In America’s edition of the interview, you will find these sentences at the end of the paragraph immediately preceding the subheading “Must We Be Optimistic?”.

Now it is your turn! Post your favorite quote in Sound Off!. If it will not fit in the allotted space or you are not a donor, use the Send a comment link at the top of the article. Let’s consider how Pope Francis is calling us to grow deeper, and how different we are in our responses. I hope this will encourage everyone to read the entire interview, and that it will stimulate both thought and prayer. So that we may benefit as a group, I will publish the results.

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Show 19 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: koinonia - Sep. 23, 2013 12:33 AM ET USA

    “Christian hope is not a ghost and it does not deceive. It is a theological virtue and therefore, ultimately, a gift from God that cannot be reduced to optimism...” The "mission of mercy" theme (willing to share in the sufferings of others) is vital today and echoes Catherine of Siena: "But every one is joined to your neighbors' vineyards without any dividing lines...you cannot do good or evil for yourself without doing the same for your neighbors." In places the comments walk a fine line.

  • Posted by: impossible - Sep. 23, 2013 12:32 AM ET USA

    Jeff, your article reminds me very much of politicians massaging and nuancing - spinning. It is obvious that the Pope needs some expert PR assistance. How very odd that Pope Benedict XVI, the most gifted teacher the Church has had in decades, didn't stumble upon or deliberately use the strategy you attribute to Pope Francis. I agree with fwhermann.

  • Posted by: trini - Sep. 21, 2013 5:24 PM ET USA

    My favourite quote: "We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy". But I miss another quote (Mt.28:19,20): "ALL authority is given to me in heaven and on earth. Go ... and make disciples of ALL nations. baptizing them .. teaching them to observe ALL things I commanded you ..I am with you ALL days" [4 times ALL

  • Posted by: meor2day8658 - Sep. 21, 2013 4:55 PM ET USA

    I read the entire interview & I found Pope Francis' message to be convulated.God is not the author of confusion. With the church still reeling from the clergy sex abuse & some abuse still happening, e.g. the priest arrested on Penn State campus with 15 year old, the message in the interview can mislead one to believe at worst immoral sexual behavior has just been given a green light by the Pope at the least muddy up the waters concerning the church's teaching on sexual morality.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Sep. 21, 2013 1:22 PM ET USA

    In his sermon 3 weeks ago commenting on the Epistle for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, our pastor did not quote from Galatians 5:16-24, but rather used 1 Cor 6:9-10, "Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: Neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind ["sodomites," NAB]...shall possess the kingdom of God" (Rheims NT). Check out your nearest FSSP parish for quality Catholic sermons about contraception et al

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Sep. 21, 2013 11:35 AM ET USA

    “To love” is the greatest and most essential priority. The prostitute that washed Jesus’ feet “broke” so many Jewish rules in effect at that time one can hardly count them. But Jesus hardly noticed, He was focused on the woman… and almost as an aside, parried the Pharisees’ objections by how “they” had neglected the finer points of comforting “Him” while “the woman” preformed extravagant acts of ministry, not the least of which was her repentance.

  • Posted by: mleiberton3126 - Sep. 21, 2013 9:54 AM ET USA

    Could the dichotomy of liberal/conservative be expressed as mercy/justice? The danger of both approaches is in their exclusivity. We, His children, might remember that God's continual mercy is not opposed to His justice which comes like a thief in the night. I can only accept the Pope speaking primarily of God's mercy since I trust that God in His time will demonstrate His justice.

  • Posted by: Minnesota Mary - Sep. 20, 2013 6:22 PM ET USA

    I am beginning to wonder if I have been going to a Catholic Church for most of my life. I don't remember hearing anything about contraception ever. Romans 1:18-32 never gets read at Mass. We hear about abortion once or twice a year but never is it in connection with how one should vote. In MN 40 Days for Life will be starting soon. Maybe we should skip the round the clock prayer vigil outside of Planned Parenthood and go evangelize by knocking on doors and handing out Divine Mercy pamphlets.

  • Posted by: Dan - Sep. 20, 2013 1:46 PM ET USA

    The Holy Father's characterization that the Church over-emphasizes the imposition of rules and regulations to the detriment of God's mercy does not correspond with my experience. Those who oppose Church teaching on whatever topic frequently exaggerate that characterization to portray the Church as anachronistic and mean-spirited. I cannot remember even one instance in at least ten years of a priest explaining Church teaching on those "controversial" issues.

  • Posted by: Dlukenbill2151 - Sep. 20, 2013 1:42 PM ET USA

    Agree completely, and that is also my favorite quote, even posted it on the homepage of my apostolate, the Lampstand Foundation.

  • Posted by: paul20105493 - Sep. 20, 2013 12:59 PM ET USA

    I agree with Shrink's comment. I'm confused too. I understand that the Pope did not say anything in conflict with the teachings of the church. But with his new tone and focus, what should we do when homosexuality-promoting groups and services are being instilled in our parishes? What should we do when politicians impose immoral laws on us? Should we still try to correct when people living in sin sacrilege the Eucharist? Does the new balance mean we should react differently than how we have been?

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Sep. 20, 2013 11:45 AM ET USA

    Reading the interview within the context of the whole conveys a radically different meaning than that provided by the media reports. In skimming through the translation in "America," I am still perplexed by why the Pope would worry about "the risk of ideologization of the Vetus Ordo, its exploitation." Are we not Catholic? I have yet to read or hear of an instance where Catholics who worship according to the Vetus Ordo have ceased to be Catholic by ideologizing or exploiting their faith.

  • Posted by: Contrary1995 - Sep. 20, 2013 11:45 AM ET USA

    "but it is also true that I am a bit naïve."

  • Posted by: bservaes4399 - Sep. 20, 2013 11:01 AM ET USA

    I am personally very disappointed. Just when the faithful Catholics in the West are struggling to be heard and tolerated and almost persecuted for their defense of life and marriage, we are hearing from the Pope himself that we are too obsessed with these matters? And we are reminded that mercy is needed, as if we faithful have shown a lack of mercy?? We're did that come from? I feel like I have been punched in the gut.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Sep. 20, 2013 10:23 AM ET USA

    I echo fwhermann's comment here: When is the last time any of us even heard mention of contraception in a sermon? For me, it's been about 20 years. Yet Pope Francis says we talk too much about this (and abortion and homosexuality)!!! I am convinced that our current pope is a public relations disaster for the Church. If PR isn't important, can be safely ignored at all times, then I guess I have nothing to criticize in his behavior.

  • Posted by: jmontine9031 - Sep. 20, 2013 9:48 AM ET USA

    The position of the pope reminds of the interaction between Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. We don't conmdemn as our first priority, but rather we should extend forgiveness and mercy. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that this encounter ends with the command, "Go and sin no more."

  • Posted by: shrink - Sep. 20, 2013 9:32 AM ET USA

    Pope Francis seems to believe that the pro-life movement has impeded the Gospel message. This is the main point of the National Catholic Reporter over the last 40 years. Perhaps we have in these non-authoritative statements by Pope Francis the reincarnation of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, (who, at the critical moment, in the early 1980s attacked the main political arm of the pro-life movement for being anti-Gospel.) I guess I'm confused. Not sure what to believe or do.

  • Posted by: samuel.doucette1787 - Sep. 20, 2013 8:29 AM ET USA

    “The risk in seeking and finding God in all things, then, is the willingness to explain too much, to say with human certainty and arrogance: ‘God is here.’ We will find only a god that fits our measure. The correct attitude is that of St. Augustine: seek God to find him, and find God to keep searching for God forever. Often we seek as if we were blind, as one often reads in the Bible. And this is the experience of the great fathers of the faith, who are our models."

  • Posted by: fwhermann3492 - Sep. 19, 2013 9:08 PM ET USA

    I appreciate what Pope Francis has said. However, I think he may be a bit out of touch with what the average person in the pew believes, not to mention those outside. He said the clergy should avoid talking too much about issues like contraception and homosexuality since the Church's position on those issues is well known. If they were so well known, we wouldn't be in the mess we are in regarding the HHS mandate. The mandate succeeded only because it had the backing of so many Catholics.

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