Lessons Learned: A Pope Not Just for Catholics

E-mail Father Jonathan

September 21, 2006

Yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI wasn't acting much like a head-of-state whose life had been threatened just days before. His open-air “popemobile” weaved slowly through St. Peter's Square and allowed him to reach out and touch many of the 40,000 pilgrims who had gathered to hear his weekly address. The day felt eerily like another balmy day in Rome in 1981 when Pope John Paul II was shot by the Turkish gunman, Mehmet Ali Agca.

“Viva il Papa!” The multinational crowd knew its boisterous well-wishes for a long life meant more today than ever before.

As I looked upon the faces of the eager crowd and back up again at the meek-mannered, white-robed pontiff, it hit me. This is no longer a pope just for Catholics.

Perhaps, I was thinking of the hundreds of messages I had received from non-Catholic and non-Christian readers who wished to express their solidarity with the pope's September 12 discourse at the University of Regensburg and at his ulterior clarifications.

Carol from Alabama put it like this:

“Here's my toast — from an anti-catholic Southern Baptist — to Pope Benedict XVI. We are with you and need you! Stand strong.”

And from up north, Mr. Bloom had this to add:

“As a reform Jew, the pope's courage in speaking out against religious violence is enough to make me want to be Catholic.”

The dust in Rome has settled, but we know the big story is not over. There are many who prefer to throw stones without explaining why. They know name-calling and effigy burning is easier and less committing than entering the realm of ideas.

A reader from Colorado proves Muslims don't hold a monopoly on irrational spurts:

“Nice try, but the guy is still an out-of-touch idiot who hasn't a clue as to what is really going on in the world. And a low-life bigot to boot!

Pope Benedict has drawn a line in the sand, but it does not separate Muslims and Christians. It is an invitation to get on the side of reason, which, according to the pope, will lead open minds to the true nature of God — Logos (reason) and Agape (love).

Before the world turns its attention on another story, let's recall the lesson in rationality Pope Benedict delivered.

1. Human reason is capable of apprehending the truth about God and man, even if in an imperfect manner. Reason and faith are not at odds.
2. God himself is bound by truth and goodness. Theology that insists on God's absolute “transcendence” or “otherness” sets the stage for sophistry, where zealots can make him say or do whatever they want.
3. If we divorce faith from reason (as some philosophers of the “Enlightenment” tried to do) or reason from faith (fundamentalism of all types), there is no foundation for intercultural dialogue.
4. Excluding religion and morality from intellectual discourse and public life (as Europe has done and America is imitating) is seen by other cultures (Islam) as “an attack on their most profound convictions” In other words, when Muslims see Western immorality and decadence it is easier for them to “justify” irrational behavior.

Does that sound like a bigot? Not to me. It sounds like a Pope who, anymore, is not just for Catholics.

God bless, Father Jonathan

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