WHEN MEDIA SCARE THE CHURCH WITH THE POPE FRANCIS
In one of homilies, Archbishop said that there are attempts in Poland to scare the Church with the pope Francis. As I remember, it became a subject of criticism from many ‘progressive’ media. In the last edition of ‘Niedziela’ we had an occasion to read the whole long interview of the Holy Father, given to the Jesuit periodical magazine ‘La Civilta Cattolica’. I would like to ask for reflections on this ‘scaring’ with the Pope.
Fr. Zbigniew Suchy
ARCHBISHOP JÓZEF MICHALIK
I am very glad that there appeared a long interview with the pope Francis, which present us both the person and spirituality of the Holy Father, as well as his teaching, being a testimony of faith and evangelical authenticity. Denunciations and ‘discoveries’ of some editors, reveal either their ignorance or a bad will, whenever they distort the words and thoughts of the pope Francis. It often happens through quoting sentences and words take out of the context.
A sinner at whom Lord looked
Returning to the question addressed to me, it is worth paying attention to a few distorted sentences of the Holy Father, revealing a kind of ‘concern’ of some commentators of the pope. In the first sentences of the interview the pope Francis gives an extremely attracting and beautiful ‘auto-definition’ of his person, saying that he feels ‘ a sinner at whom Lord looked’. This sentence is a key to the spirituality of our Pope. Next, he describes his path of priesthood and fascination with Ignatian spirituality and says important words concerning the sense of identity with the Church as a community of believers: ‘The people is a subject, and the Church is God’s people going in a pilgrimage through history, with joys and sadness. (…) The community of believers is reliable in faith (…) through the supernatural sense of faith of the all people in the pilgrimage. It is what I understand today as ‘keeping with the Church’, about which St. Ignatius speaks. When a dialogue among the people, bishops and the pope is going along this path and is faithful, it is being led by the Holy Spirit then. So, it is not keeping with the Church only in relation to theologians. It is like with Mary: if we want to know who she is, we must ask theologians; if we want to know how to love Her, we must ask the people about it. On the other hand, Mary loved Jesus with the heart of the ordinary people, as we read in the ‘Magnificat’. So, we should not think that the way of understanding of ‘keeping with the Church’ is connected only with keeping with the hierarchical part. (…)
I see holiness in the God’ people, their daily holiness. It is ‘the middle class of holiness’, whose part we all can be. (…). I see holiness in the patient people of God: a woman who brings up children, a man who works in order to bring bread home, ill, elderly priests who have many wounds, but they smile, because they served to Lord, nuns, who work hard and live their concealed holiness. (…) ‘The Church with which we are supposed to keep, is home for everybody, not only a small chapel, which can contain a small group of the chosen people. We should not limit the bosom of the universal Church to a nest protecting our mediocrity. The Church is the Mother, the Church is prolific and must be so’.
A window through which the light falls in
Internet portals somehow ‘sensed’ that the Pope diminishes the tragedy of abortion and the importance of marriage ethics. Nothing more deceiving. During the welcome in Brazil he said important words which move the burden from a negative look at life – onto perception of its value and miracle: ‘It is a universal thing for you that parents say: Children are the pupil in our eye. How beautiful is this expression of the Brazilian wisdom which applies a picture of the pupil of the eye in reference to young people – a window through which the light falls into us. (…).
The youth is a window through which the future is coming to the world. It is a window, so it gives us great challenges. Our generation will meet the promise which is in every young man, when it is possible to provide him with space. It means: taking care of material and spiritual conditions for a full development : giving him strong fundaments, on which he will be able to build his life; guaranteeing it safety and education, so that he would become what he can be’.
It is worth accenting the words: ‘taking care’. Nobody more than the Church shows this caring about life. Efforts of priests and growing consciousness of people of belonging to a community, which I mentioned earlier, led to giving a possibility for births of many children through the amendment of the law about allowing abortion and there are still efforts going on to widespread this care. The ‘windows of life’ fought by some ideologists, save life of children, whose parents did not want or could not accept them for some reasons. And these are just the ‘windows’ which are criticized and initiatives of their liquidation appeared.
Voices of warning and the truth about the fact that abortion is the evil and a sin, are also an expression of this concern, indeed a father is bad if he does not scold his children – the Holy Scripture teaches. In his strong words and concern, St. Paul also pointed to the consequences of the bad deed which people experience when they use their sexuality in a bad way: ‘Do not delude yourselves! Neither a lecher nor adulterer, neither idolaters nor the licentious, neither men having sex with each other, nor thieves, neither the greedy nor drunks, neither slanderers nor robbers will inherit the Divine Kingdom. And some you were these people. But you were cleansed, sanctified and justified in the name of Lord our Jesus Christ and through the Spirit of Our God. (…) Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you and whom you have from God and you do not belong to yourselves any longer? (1 Corinthians 6.9-10; 18-19).
We condemn a sin, not a sinner
St. Paul sees the evil, warns us against it, but he also encourages us, adds hope, reminds about salvation and points to Jesus as a point of support towards conversion.
In the context of St. Paul’s teaching, we should look also at the problem of disorders of sexual life, defined as sexual deviations. In an interview with journalists, when asked about homosexuality, the Pope said that he was not going to condemn anybody for the state in which the person is, and that he was not a judge of anybody. It was recognized as a kind of novelty, although the Church has been saying it for ages. It is worth looking at the text of the Catholic Church Catechism (no 2358), in order to say and also find an encouragement to keep chastity. None of homosexuals nor a heterosexuals goes away from a confessional without absolution as long as he shows his willingness to improve his behaviour and regrets his sins. The problem starts in both cases when there is no will to improve one’s behavior, and life situation points to the fact that there may be other committed sins. In the social life, people of different sexual orientation have functioned for a long time and the Church has never discriminated them, but encouraged them to keep Divine Commandments, as well as it has never rejected any sinner, stigmatizing only bad outer or inner deeds. A definite opposition concerns the situation in which they show their otherness in an exhibitionistic way and demand special privileges for this phenomenon, sentencing others to embarrassment and humiliation. In further perspective it can even lead to relativism of the natural and God’s law and stigmatizing heterosexual people.
We face a similar allegation in relation to divorced spouses. In this case, priests are connected with the regulations of the canonic law – despite sincere sympathy, and even great sympathy to people, who did not succeed in their sacramental marriages, cannot give absolution to those who started a new common life without the sacrament of marriage. However, it does not mean that such people are left on the margin of the Church. God knows the human heart and we leave Him the right for the judgment in hope for God’s mercifulness and help in solving the most difficult situations. They are encouraged to keep contacts with God through faith and prayer and they are invited for retreats for people living in non-sacramental couples, to participate in the life of the Church in a way approachable for them. We must mention the great work of ecclesiastical courts which help in explaining situations when there is a suspicion of non-existence of the first marriage.
Responsibility for material aspects
It is worth quoting the interview of the Holy Father with a Brazilian journalist which took place during a press conference on a plane, by which the Pope was returning from Brazil in July 2013:
‘PATRIZIA ZORZAN: - I speak on behalf of the Brazilians. The society has changed, young people have changed and we can see a lot of young people in Brazil. The Holy Father did not mention abortion or the same sex marriages. In Brazil a law was passed which broadens the right for abortion and allows for marriages between people of the same sex. Why didn’t the Holy Father speak about it?
POPE FRANCIS: - The Brazilian Church has expressed its opinion in this issue in a perfect way. It was not necessary to return to these issues, and I did not find it necessary to speak about deceptions, lies or other matters, about which the teaching of the Church is clear!
PATRIZIA ZORZAN: - But this is an issue which is interesting for young people…
POPE FRANCIS: - But it was not necessary to speak about it but about positive things which open a path for young people, wasn’t it? Moreover, young people know the opinion of the Church very well.
PATRIZIA ZORZAN: - And what is the attitude of Your Excellency, can we ask for your opinion on this issue?
POPE FRANCIS: - My attitude is the attitude of the Church. I am son of the Church!’
Finally, a curiosical issue, especially the one which is publicized in a special way and concerns a recommendation not to take donations for giving sacraments. This is a school example of manipulation. The Holy Father cannot accept abuses, and even, thanks to God, he encourages priests to real asceticism in using material things and when he was speaking about it to Roman priests, he added that he was aware of the fact that every parish needs financial means for keeping the church and providing good conditions of life to priests.
In the arch-diocese of Przemyśl there are 100 small parishes, which have been using help of other parishes for years, which is coordinated by the Curia, in order to bring them a relief in the effort of administration. Recently, many school have been liquidated and it may happen that priests who do not teach at schools, will have to request for the generosity of the poor, like them, the parishioners. The situation is various in particular dioceses. Besides, in many dioceses, a pricelist for particular services is not binding. These are voluntary donations. We should be honest – decoration of the church which is organized by newlyweds sometimes costs a thousand zlotys, and even more. So, shouldn’t there be an expression of gratitude for cleaning, keeping the Church, and also for the ministry of a priest? In one of parishes, a parish priest collects donations during a wedding. Being aware that among guests there are people from outside the parish, he informs about motifs of this gesture: ‘In a minute you will sit at the wedding table. You will enjoy and use the gifts prepared for this circumstance. And in our parish there are many poor families. This collected money will be given to them’. And it often turns out that people are willing to give donations for this purpose. Let’s repeat the Pope’s words from the interview: ‘Nobody redeems himself as an isolated individual, but it is God who attracts us to Himself, recognizing the complex essence of relations among people, which happen in the human community’.
I am aware that this reflection does not cover the whole richness of the statement of the pope Francis, among the others, in the long interview which he gave to the Italian Jesuit journal ‘La Civilta Cattolica’, therefore, I suggest readers reading the whole interview edited in the previous edition of ‘Niedziela’ (no 40/2013). I am sure that the text of the interview will be thoroughly analyzed and elaborated. And a discussion is needed, because it enlivens the interest in the Pope and the Church, it deepens the knowledge.
Summing up, I want to emphasize that nothing about which the Holy Father speaks, ‘ scares’ the Polish Church. His words are a signpost for us, so that both clergy and laymen would become mature to this vision of the Church, which is presented by the pope Francis. We all ‘are sinners, at whom Lord looked’ – and it means a lot.