Not everything in the world is about sex and politics. That message may take the New York Times a few more homilies and interviews with Pope Francis to understand.
The Catholic Church – or at least those preachers and teachers who are outspoken on matters concerning human sexuality, especially when catechetical discussions are turned into clashes in the public square for political or cultural reasons – is often accused of being obsessed with sex. But the obsession might just be the media’s.
Consider, for instance the wide-ranging interview given by Pope Francis that has just been published in several Jesuit publications, including America magazine here in the United States. It is over 10,000 words. A few paragraphs involve homosexuality and abortion. And yet homosexuality and abortion were what the New York Times chose to lead their news report on the interview with.
The interview is Pope Francis’s first extensive public conversation since becoming pope about his own vocational call to serve God – for example, we are told that Jorge Mario Bergoglio considered joining the Dominicans, and why he needs the discipline of the religious life. He further explains why he as pope has chosen to live at the Vatican’s guest house: His desire for community. (He explains that the papal apartment is not luxurious, but it is isolated.)
The interview gives some context to his daily pleas to the faithful and, as we saw in his letter to the G-20 and four-hour prayer vigil for peace earlier this month, to every man and woman in the world. It is reintroducing what some refer to as the project of the New Evangelization, and with the most inviting, non-jargony language.
Francis talks about the Church as a “field hospital after battle.” He talks about the need for the church “to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful.” He says: “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.”
Many people are interpretating this interview -- along with the interview the pope gave on his plane ride back to Rome from Rio after praying with some three million youth in Brazil -- as the pope hitting “reset.”
The metaphor works.
The Church is always called to renewal; we hit reboot, so to speak, when we pray at night and go to sleep, and wake up to prayer, exercise, coffee, whatever our routine is. We move forward, encountering the circumstances of the hour. The Christian does this with God, aware of his presence. That is what the pope is telling us.
It is often said that the Church is a hospital for sinners. And that’s how Pope Francis describes himself: “I am a sinner.” He’s a sinner loved by God, anointed in this most public way for public service not of his own choosing. Again, this is the life of the Christian, who is called to discern what exactly it is God wants him to do. It may not always be what we’d prefer or what makes complete sense to us. It may, in fact, be a mystery to us, but in our faith, we trust.
When reading his words about homosexuality and abortion – which are drenched in love and mercy as well as justice – it is only fair to read them in the full context of what the pope has to say, representing the Gospel of Christ, the Catechism of the Church, and his own pastoral interaction with men and women living in the world as it is today.
There has been much attention paid to phone calls he has made to men and women who have written to him, hurt and struggling.
He explains one call in this interview, to a young man who “is growing,” who saw in the pope a father. “I cannot say, ‘I do not care.’” So he picks up the phone, open to the needs of a son, as we must be to every one of our sisters and brothers. And while speaking in gratitude for the discipline of religious life and in agreement with what the Church teaches, he also cautions that the church – who he makes clear includes all its people in faithful union with God – must never get locked up “in small things, in small-minded rules.”
The mission is the Gospel of Jesus Christ who became man and suffered humiliation and death for every man and woman. That must always be clear even as Catholics tell the truth about what the Church proposes on specific intimate, contentious issues.
The pope is challenging us all to see what Christ wants for us and our brothers and sisters, each one of them: It’s exactly what he says in the interview is the reason he wound up a Jesuit: He wanted “something more.”
“God is to be encountered in the world of today.” We don’t find God by making him in our own image. Pope Francis calls on Augustine here: “Seek God to find him, and find God to keep searching for God forever.”
So, yes, by all means, let’s have a “reset,” so that God may orientate the life of the Christian and the life of the Church each day. Catholics must live lives of a hope that does not deceive. It’s not a political hope, or, as the pope puts it, mere optimism. It’s a theological virtue. It’s “a gift from God.” It “does not disappoint.”
That’s Gospel truth. And that’s the message. It’s about more than the headlines will ever tell you. It simply has to be encountered. And so the pope pleads that hearts might be open to the alternative lifestyle that has a world leader asking himself daily: “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What should I do for Christ?” These are not only questions for a pope. This is the radical call of Christianity. And that’s the message this son of the Father is preaching as the Holy Father.
Whatever your politics, be careful what you read into this. He’s talking to you. He’s talking to me. He’s reminding himself. The news isn’t that he isn’t “a right-winger,” as he tells us. It’s that he’s a pastor. He’s a priest, not a politician.