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I Am a Son of the Church: A Big Heart Open to God, the Papal Interview Which Confounded the Media
By Deacon Keith Fournier
September 21st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be, more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow. (Pope Francis)
VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - Fr. Antonio Spadaro is one of a growing number of people who have received unexpected phone calls from Pope Francis. He was not in the office so the Jesuit Pope called his cell phone. He told the Jesuit priest that he wanted to give him an exclusive interview.
CiviltÓ Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit Journal edited by Fr. Spadaro, released the 10,000 word interview on September 19, 2013 in sixteen Jesuit Journals and magazines. It is appropriately entitled "A Big Heart Open to God".
The entire interview is available in English (in the United Kingdom) in the Jesuit publication entitled Thinking Faith They also offer it here in PDF format. In the United States, the interview is available in the Jesuit magazine America. However, for reasons I do not understand, they have restricted the use of their translation.
Like most things Francis, this wide ranging, honest and open interview has the Media confounded and abuzz with reporting which ranges from surprise to sincere confusion and some misguided analysis. However, the fact that so many members of the media are truly rife with interest in the message of this Pope and the Church is truly exciting.
I believe he knew this would happen and that is why he gave the interview. He is a missionary Pope with a big pastoral heart. Though there are misinterpretations in the media fueled by political and cultural agendas - just as there were when he gave his interview on the plane coming back from World Youth Day - the numbers are beginning to decline.
The interview must be read in its entirety in order to understand the profundity and simplicity of its message- as well as to experience the soul of the man who gave these responses to some excellent questions posed by Fr Antonio Spadaro.
I invite all readers of Catholic Online to take the time and read this interview for yourself right here. Please, as a Catholic or other Christian reading this article, do not accept the media reports as accurate. Read the interview for yourself!
These responses were given by a very human Pope named Francis. They are warm, lively, honest, pastoral, compassionate, candid, evangelical, big hearted, and faithful to the teaching of the Church and the unbroken, ancient but ever new, Catholic Christian faith.
What the interview confirms to me is that Pope Francis is an evangelical Catholic in the best sense of the adjective, wanting all men and women to come to know Jesus, the Evangel, and to find a home in His Body, the Church. He calls the whole Church, and her Bishops, priests, and deacons, to a proclamation of the Gospel in word and deed, in what he refers to as having a missionary style. How appropriate, given the fact that we are living in a new missionary age.
This Pope has a big heart open to God and open to all of those whom God loves. That means all men and women, at every stage of their journey through life. He is encouraging all of us who bear the name Christian to open our own hearts to God - and to all men and women in the love of God - realizing the magnitude of God's mercy. God always allows us to begin and begin again.
When the interview was released, Fr. Spadaro told the Press it was "one of the most beautiful spiritual experiences of my life." After reading it several times, I can understand why.
For any readers who may worry, perhaps because they have read or heard some media reports which suggested wrongly that Pope Francis is veering away from the truth as taught by the Catholic Faith on major matters of profound moral importance, nothing could be further from the truth.
He is, in his own words, a "son of the Church." He cannot change her teaching and he does not seek to do so. He fully embraces this teaching precisely because he knows it is true. It also informs his compassionate, pastoral outreach to a world in need of hearing its liberating and saving message. As for its practices, some of its disciplines and applications, that may be a different matter.
In a response touching upon this topic of the major moral issues so often discussed when the Catholic Church is discussed, he told Father Spadaro that "when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time."
I have decided that the best thing I can do as Editor in Chief of Catholic Online is to expose our readers to this extraordinary interview in order to pique their interest so that they will go here and read it completely, from beginning to end.
In the excerpts which I offer below I begin about half way through the interview. Pope Francis is speaking of the holiness of ordinary folks. He offers some of his own life experience and insights.
Following that, I offer only two of the questions posed by Fr Antonio Spadaro and the response of this Pope who is so appropriately named after the little poor man of Assisi named Francis.
EXCERPTS FROM THE INTERVIEW WITH POPE FRANCIS
A Big Heart Open to God
I see the holiness," the pope continues, "in the patience of the people of God: a woman who is raising children, a man who works to bring home the bread, the sick, the elderly priests who have so many wounds but have a smile on their faces because they served the Lord, the sisters who work hard and live a hidden sanctity. This is for me the common sanctity.
"I often associate sanctity with patience: not only patience as hypomonÚ [the New Testament Greek word], taking charge of the events and circumstances of life, but also as a constancy in going forward, day by day. This is the sanctity of the militant church also mentioned by St. Ignatius.
This was the sanctity of my parents: my dad, my mom, my grandmother Rosa who loved me so much. In my breviary I have the last will of my grandmother Rosa, and I read it often. For me it is like a prayer. She is a saint who has suffered so much, also spiritually, and yet always went forward with courage.
"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. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity. And the church is Mother; the church is fruitful. It must be.
You see, when I perceive negative behavior in ministers of the church or in consecrated men or women, the first thing that comes to mind is: 'Here's an unfruitful bachelor' or 'Here's a spinster.' They are neither fathers nor mothers, in the sense that they have not been able to give spiritual life. Instead, for example, when I read the life of the Salesian missionaries who went to Patagonia, I read a story of the fullness of life, of fruitfulness.
"Another example from recent days that I saw got the attention of newspapers: the phone call I made to a young man who wrote me a letter. I called him because that letter was so beautiful, so simple. For me this was an act of generativity. I realized that he was a young man who is growing, that he saw in me a father, and that the letter tells something of his life to that father. The father cannot say, 'I do not care.' This type of fruitfulness is so good for me."
Pope Benedict XVI, in announcing his resignation, said that the contemporary world is subject to rapid change and is grappling with issues of great importance for the life of faith. Dealing with these issues requires strength of body and soul, Pope Benedict said. I ask Pope Francis: "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?"
Pope Francis begins by showing great affection and immense respect for his predecessor:
"Pope Benedict has done an act of holiness, greatness, humility. He is a man of God.
"I see clearly," the pope continues, "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 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. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.... And you have to start from the ground up.
"The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all. The confessor, for example, is always in danger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax. Neither is merciful, because neither of them really takes responsibility for the person.
The rigorist washes his hands so that he leaves it to the commandment. The loose minister washes his hands by simply saying, 'This is not a sin' or something like that. In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds.
"How are we treating the people of God? I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherd. The church's ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbor. This is pure Gospel. God is greater than sin. The structural and organizational reforms are secondaryČ - that is, they come afterward.
The first reform must be the attitude. The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people's night, into the darkness, but without getting lost.
The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. The bishops, particularly, must be able to support the movements of God among their people with patience, so that no one is left behind. But they must also be able to accompany the flock that has a flair for finding new paths.
"Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent. The ones who quit sometimes do it for reasons that, if properly understood and assessed, can lead to a return. But that takes audacity and courage."
I mention to Pope Francis that there are Christians who live in situations that are irregular for the church or in complex situations that represent open wounds. I mention the divorced and remarried, same-sex couples and other difficult situations. What kind of pastoral work can we do in these cases? What kinds of tools can we use?
"We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner," the pope says, "preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound. In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are 'socially wounded' because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this.
During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.
"A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: '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.
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. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.
"This is also the great benefit of confession as a sacrament: evaluating case by case and discerning what is the best thing to do for a person who seeks God and grace. The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord's mercy motivates us to do better.
I also consider the situation of a woman with a failed marriage in her past and who also had an abortion. Then this woman remarries, and she is now happy and has five children. That abortion in her past weighs heavily on her conscience and she sincerely regrets it. She would like to move forward in her Christian life. What is the confessor to do?
"We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.
"The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church's pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.
Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.
The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.
"I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation.
Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence.
But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing.
The homily is the touchstone to measure the pastor's proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent. The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ."
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