Pope Francis in The Interview: facing a pastoral emergency

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 25, 2013

One more thought—and it probably won’t be my last—about that papal interview: Just before the passage that has drawn so much critical attention, the Pope made this arresting observation: “I see the Church as a field hospital after battle.”

In the Pope’s view, the Church is dealing with emergencies. He continues:

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.

In comparing our society to a gravely wounded soldier, Pope Francis is saying something that runs directly counter to the message of popular self-help books. I am not OK; you are not OK. Our society is full of seriously injured people, and it would be foolhardy to assume that we ourselves are not among them. We and our neighbors are hurting. We’re wounded. We’re losing blood. We need help, stat!

In an emergency one sets aside niceties, and so the Pope warns against a preoccupation with “small-minded rules.” First things first: stop the bleeding. The Holy Father translates that urgent message into pastoral terms: “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.”

From that point, it’s revealing that the Pope launches directly into a discussion of Confession. He criticizes the “rigorist” confessor who stresses prohibitions, but he is equally scornful of the “loose minister” who “washes his hands by simply saying, ‘This is not a sin,’ or something like that.” We must recognize the need to be saved; we must recognize our own sin. Then, as repentant sinners, we can experience the enormous healing power of the truth that Jesus saves us.

The world is full of people who, like you and me, are bleeding from interior wounds: self-inflicted wounds, the consequences of our sins. (A bit later in the interview he refers to irregular marital situations as “open wounds.”) So the Church is a busy field hospital, with priests constantly doing meatball surgery in the confessionals. It’s a vivid image of an extreme situation.

But the worst thing of all is that many people don’t even know they’re injured. You might say that they’re in the spiritual equivalent of shock. They’re hurting—we’re all hurting—but they don’t know why. They aren’t listening to our suggestions about the path to spiritual health; they aren’t interested in our rules for a happy life. We aren’t reaching them.

”The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant,” Pope Francis says. “It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.” Get the wounded soldiers into the emergency room. Stop the bleeding; start the IV. “Then we can talk about everything else.”

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: KL Flannery - Dec. 03, 2017 7:42 AM ET USA

    There is a difference between Pius XII and Francis. Pius XII maintained his silence throughout his pontificate; Francis spoke out as soon as he was outside of Myanmar.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Sep. 28, 2013 6:51 PM ET USA

    It would seem to me that personal ministry and evangelism are being confused with legitimate Church discipline and reasonable social protest. If you compare those two things I think the Holy Father has the edge. Yes, of course there must be legitimate discipline and social protest, but definitely not at the expense of things like confession, one to one counseling, and evangelization, that is bringing a soul to Christ and back into the safety of the Church. I strongly support this Pope. JP

  • Posted by: shrink - Sep. 25, 2013 5:50 PM ET USA

    Phil, I am not as optimistic as you on some of the dicier points made in Pope Francis's interview (btw: which a read all the way through.) Perhaps it has to do with my four years of training under the St Louis province Jesuits, and sensing that Francis’s post-V2 “inner Jesuit” was breaking through. Nevertheless, I must say that your metaphor on spiritual "shock" --a metaphor not used by Francis--is brilliant. I shall use it in my practice.