Sunday, October 6, 2013


egret, l.a. river

Not long ago I received an email.

"Pope Francis is beginning to lose me,” the guy wrote. “We must pray especially hard for him." Attached was a link to an anti-Pope screed so full of fear, judgment and hate that I wanted to wash my hands after reading it. "The unrepentant sinners who'll be having abortions, fornicating, using pornography!” was the general tone.

People who are obsessed with other people's sexual behavior, I always feel, are probably struggling with or indulging in some kind of deeply unsatisfying sexual behavior themselves.
My own experience is that when I’m trying to follow the Church’s teachings on sex, I simply don't pay that much attention to whether anyone else is. I’m too lost in wonder. No-one with my self-centered fear, narcissistic craving for attention, and disordered nerves could possibly be refraining from acting out sexually, or any other way, except out of love.

It's hard to be faithful to the teachings of the Church. We all struggle. We've all, at times, failed, sometimes badly. Let's acknowledge that we all have emotional baggage, generational wounds, and a heart hemorrhaging to feel wanted, needed and loved. Let's not impose more heavy burdens and not lift a finger to help. Let's gather round and encourage and share and support each other in our efforts.

Forcing, shaming, and scolding never convert anyone. No-one knew better our impulse to project our own sins and shadow side upon the other than Christ, who observed Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. That's why Pope Francis says, "Convert you? Proselytism is solemn nonsense. You have to meet people and listen to them."

telephone poles and trees, l.a. river

Obsession with rules always raise a red flag. When we get over-focused on whether everyone else is following the rules we’re worshiping an empty cross. We've de-incarnated the rules. We've left out actual human beings.

We're not running a country club here; we're running a trauma ward for the sick of soul and spirit.
You don't take a 19-year-old who comes from generations of poverty, addiction, mental illness, sexual, physical and emotional abuse, for example—our jails are filled with such young women and men--and jeer, "Hey perv, put down the porn! I, who come from loving parents, a solid home life, higher education, money, property, prestige and good teeth, am toeing the line--why can't you?"
You think, with tears in your eyes, My God, if I'd been born with such staggering odds stacked against me, I'd probably have killed myself.

The rules are not an end in and of themselves. The rules are simply to guide us into some rough kind of shape so that we can be of maximum use and help;to everyone else.

When we’re living out of love rather than fear, we’ll follow the rules and then some. We'll offer up not only our sexual selves, but our whole selves. We'll go to Mass not just once on Sunday, as "required," but several times a week because there is nowhere on earth, in spite of rush hour traffic, ringing cell phones and lame music, we'd rather be.

We’ll know abortion is wrong and the fruit of that knowledge is that our hearts will open and we'll start being a "mother" and a “father” to many. We’ll be given a whole lot of hidden responsibility and be invited to provide all kinds of hidden service, in anonymity, for no remuneration and at great cost to ourselves.

There's no blueprint for that. We have to be willing to strike out into unknown territory, to live always in exile, to refrain from identifying ourselves with anything or anyone but Christ. I always want to ask the rule-obsessed, Why attack the weak? Why not attack the biggest idolators of the age: those who mistake their nation, their military, their political and economic system for God?

I think Pope Francis is saying, Let's look at that sin. I think he's saying abortion and contraception and sexual behavior that is less than what would bring us and everyone around us fully alive will stop when war stops, when poverty stops, when we open our fearful, hardened hearts and dare to step out of our very carefully-constructed little boxes.

The closer we are to Christ, the less we'll look to the world for approval. Look what the world did to Him!

The Pope is blowing a huge breath of fresh air through the Church. He is putting the lie to the pursed-lipped elder brother in all of us. He is saying--to all of us--Without love you have nothing. He is saying--to all of us--Come to the living water. He is saying--to all of us--Come and see.

peace, l.a. river


  1. Amen, Heather! The Pope sees the Church as a field hospital after battle. Long live the Pope!

  2. Amen! There's a story told of St. Francis that he was found one day weeping because he was "the greatest sinner in the world." The friar speaking to him pointed out all the good he'd done, saying, "Look at all those other men! They are sinners. Compare yourself to them!" Francis replied, "Ah, but I know what I have been given. I do not know what they have been given." Lord have mercy--and thank you for driving that point home for me again.

  3. Agreed!

    I think another major motivation people have for focusing much on the rules is fear. Many people fear (and sometimes I share their fear) that if the rules aren't frequently emphasized, then the forces that would just as soon dispense with the rules -- those teachings that are currently considered clear and unchangeable -- will gain ground to the point that, well, the rules and teachings actually will be dispensed with and changed in the end. They've seen this happen in other ecclesial bodies (many of the rule-emphasizers might have come from these groups), and so they fear it will happen where they are now unless they and others put up a fight. I think this is a very strong motivation for some of these people, at least in the North American context.

  4. Just the sound of me clapping.
    And the sound of the printer because I will be passing this along.
    Peace to you, Heather.
    May God continue His work in you for all of our benefit.

  5. Hi Mome, yes, that's exactly my point, that the rule-obsessed exemplify the victory of fear over love, rather than the victory of love over fear. Which is itself so profoundly ecclesiastically in error that when we succumb to it we become perpetrators of the error, not safeguarders of the truth. The very tone of the discourse, as I said at the top of the piece, becomes so full of bile, disrespect for the Office of the Pope, and self-aggrandizement that it's automatically to be distrusted and prima facie in error.

    The Pope is not changing the rules. He has made abundantly clear that he is not changing the rules. He is reminding us what the rules are for. He is is saying, with Christ, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence" [Matthew 23-35]

    The fear of people whose writings and "preaching" take the tone toward the Pope described above is not that Christ won't be loved: the fear is to their careers.

    That person has a face in the Gospels. His name was Judas.

  6. Thank you Heather for this post. It is full of many jewels and for me a blessing at this time. Pope Francis indeed is a gift of enormous proportions, His voice is timely and God's love is clearly heard through him. I find his call to inner conversion a gift and a tremendous challenge beyond all measure , a challenge which is met with the grace of prayer.

  7. Last October we participated in the 40 Days for Life by praying outside the abortion mill. The "escorts" from UConn came, four beautiful young people, dressed in fluorescent. pinnies. After we finished praying the Rosary, one of our number, a truly holy and loving woman named Deb, said, "Let's go ask them out to breakfast!" So we did. Three of them looked like they would have liked to come with us but the fourth person said, "No. We won't be doing that." So they didn't come with us. BUT ... something changed in my heart that day, looking into the faces of all four. And Deb ... what can I say. She's a saint. Great post, Heather ... and happy Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary (I'm commenting Oct. 7.)

  8. Yes, R.T.! This is EVERYTHING, this human encounter, or at least the attempt to encounter, "the Other"....especially in the poor, the alien, the prisoner...whose very existence convicts me.

    Sitting with the men and women in jail, I start thinking, If a black, judgmental, Pharasaical, proud, stingy heart were against the law, I'D BE IN HERE WITH THEM. Then I realize, one more time, that IS against the law: the law of Christ, the law of love...

    I love that you all met over breakfast. "They knew him in the breaking of bread"...and yes, happy Feast Day of Our Lady of the Rosary. Beautiful reflection in today's Magnificat with a quote from Charles de Foucauld: "Love is expressed with few words, always the same and always repeated"...

  9. And yes, Maureen, Pope Francis is a challenge. He is way challenging me. Helping me see how I project my cowardice and tepidity on others. Challenging me to admit how I love to be safe and secure. Challenging me to see that peace-making requires activity...I don't just get to sit in my room, make three wishes, and hope it comes true...

  10. Also, I'm thinking of how Christ said I came so that your joy may be complete. That's another sure sign that I've strayed from the path, when my tone becomes hard, hopeless, and grim. Joy to be distinguished, of course from the happiness lite of consumer spirituality....

  11. If the pope had disparaged zealous attempts at death penalty reform, would you still feel such joy? Would you still feel that he was "blowing a huge, huge breath of fresh air through the Church" if he implied that abolition of the death penalty might be a turn off to potential converts? Instead of speaking 'abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods', suppose he had said, "We cannot insist only on issues related to capital punishment. 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." Would those words be a concern to faithful Catholics?

    If he told people who hold candlelight vigils when someone is about to be executed to give it less fanfare and stop talking about it "all the time", should we be happy with that?

  12. Hi Spambot, the Pope is not disparaging any genuine efforts toward love. He's standing absolutely firm for the sanctity of the human family, for life from conception to death. People are turned off not by the teachings of the Church, but by the tone--yours being a prime example--in which they're presented.

    No healthy person responds to having religion shoved down his or her throat. People respond to being made to feel useful. People respond to being invited to sit down and eat with each other. People respond to being invited to participate in a discussion about ideas that are interesting, with other people who are interested in the process of coming awake and alive in love.

    By very little fanfare I mean we go about our activities, whether public or private, whether we're vigiling against abortion or the death penalty, whether it's raising kids, whether it's the Sacraments and prayer, without drawing attention to ourselves. The focus of a death penalty vigil is the person about to be executed, not how amazingly holy we are to be protesting the execution. The focus of a pro-life vigil is the unborn child, not how amazingly right we are to be on the side of the unborn child. The Crucifixion was the most visible, the "loudest," the highest act of both action and contemplation, the world will ever know.

    But Christ went about the Crucifixion with very little fanfare. He made it about us, not him.

  13. "That's another sure sign that I've strayed from the path, when my tone becomes hard, hopeless, and grim." Oo - me, too. Thank you for your writing, and I really like this post. There is a picture of Pope Francis on my fridge, and sometimes when I walk by and glance at it I find myself asking his intercession for something or the other - because he looks so loving I mistake that he's a saint already.

  14. Hi Heather, One thing that is bothersome to me in this discussion is the attempt by our society to turn what is wrong into something that is right. Not only is it right, but it is wholesome and good and must be praised. To me, that is why the sexual, family, and abortion sins hold my focus so much. It's not that people are sinning it is that so many are insisting that these sins are good and holy.


  15. I bet this one is going to be on your CRÈME DE LA CRÈME POSTS.

  16. This post is beautiful - love it!

  17. Hi there Mike, I don't hear people claiming abortion is holy; I hear them claim it (to me, eqaully misguidedly) as a right.

    Whatever the case, all behavior based on using the other as object is, as you say, is a lie. All behavior that is toward death is a lie. But we don't get to stop at, rest at, become obsessed with, the lie. We have to take action. We have to change our whole lives...So I think the Pope is saying let's also look at the bigger lies that undergird sexual misconduct: greed, war, idolatry, the lust to dominate, consumerism, all of which lead to poverty, loneliness, isolation, more bad sexual behavior, more violence. Let's look at how we fall short in these areas ourselves. Let's give people Christ. Otherwise we're just a bunch of people preaching to each other.

    I feel like I can speak with a teeny bit of authority here because I have such a bad record in the sex department myself. I always knew the things I was doing were wrong. I didn't need a Catechism for that. I didn't need perfect people who had apparently never been tempted, never strayed, never taken the short cut themselves. I don't think there are any such people, for starters, and if there are, they would have been the LAST people who would have stood to convert me. The sinner doesn't identify with someone who claims to have been perfect all along and is perfect now; the sinner identifies with someone who is like them, which is to say human, broken, fragile, temptable--and who offers a solution as to how to do better. Who will walk the path with them while they continue to try to do better. Who is able to share his or her experience, strength and hope in a way that is interesting and inviting and lively and an attraction and human. Who is still in the struggle and full of gratitude because one day at a time, by some insane grace, actually doing better. That's how hopeless drunks get sober. They're humble enough to ask for help. They abandon themselves to power greater than themselves. They call each other higher.

    I've seen guys who were technically faithful to their wives and who were the biggest bastards going. I've seen gay guys tend their partner, dying of AIDS, with the care of Mother Teresa. Who do you think is closer to Christ? Who is going to fare better on the day of judgment? I think Pope Francis is saying how do we know? Who are we do judge? Why are we so fascinated with our neighbor's bad behavior while our own goes unchecked?...

    Love is the measure and love, the love of Christ, is a way more exacting master than fear. Following the rules is the beginning, not the end. The purpose of offering up our sexuality is so that we can focus our whole heart, mind and strength on God in order to do unto the least of these. No rule can get you to share your last morsel of bread. The saints can't be legislated. No rule could either add to nor detract from St. Maximilian Kolbe offering himself up in the place of another to starve to death at Auschwitz. That is no rule; it's the law of love. It's utterly transcendent.

    That's the mystery I ponder. That's the law, of which I fall so very short, on which I try to focus...

    1. Heather, Thank you very much for you thoughtful reply. I agree that I don't want to be focusing on the sins of others. I'm a sinner myself and I need to focus on my own call to holiness.

      My suggestion that these sins are being proclaimed as holy is only a bit hyperbolic though. Perhaps abortion supporters are not to this level yet, but the supporters of same sex marriage and other alternative family lifestyles do hold their more famous practitioners up as heroes.

      It's not that I'm worried about what sins my neighbor is committing. I'm worried about how our collective consciences are being degraded and I'm worried about the ways that political correctness will turned on our freedom to express our religion in the future. We all know that law suits are coming (for example against churches who refuse to perform same sex marriages).

      Thanks again, Mike

  18. Heather ihav been asleep for a few months! But when this post arrived my computer burst into Flames !! You shud put this in Magnificat, uk version.
    You could do with getting together with Papa Francis to write his next Encyclical. !!

  19. Beautiful post. Thank you, Heather. Frankly, Pope Francis had me at the foot washing of the Serbian Muslim girl. I was ready right then to join the Church...indeed... I am more ready all the time. What a courageous and loving man he appears to be. What a wonderful model of Christ for those who are quick to judge and slow to love.

    I like the way you said it... "The Pope is blowing a huge, huge breath of fresh air through the Church. He is putting the lie to the pursed-lipped elder brother in all of us. He is saying--to all of us--Without love you have nothing. He is saying--to all of us--Come to the living water. He is saying--to all of us--Come and see."

    I also like the way Scripture says it "... If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" 1Cor 13: 1-2

  20. Not all who question as your friend does, or who wonder what motivates the Pope's words are 'anti-pope' or pope-haters.

    RE rules; why does it have to be either/or? One can have the utmost compassion and empathy for the broken, while recognizing that it is the 'rules' - the commands of Jesus given in love - which prevent us from getting broken in the first place, which is why some of us are motivated to see those rules taught with both clarity and charity. And most of the desire to see the teachings enforced is directed toward catechists and church leaders, so that the young people and those who have not yet suffered extreme consequences can embrace the beauty and dignity and avoid those consequences and live their best life. I cannot speak for your friend, or those responsible for the material you thought hate-filled, but there are those of us who recognize that while we must be busy reaching out to the broken, and humbly see ourselves in them, also hope that better teaching and formation will help others escape some of that pain. I also think there is an insidious, unconscious danger in wearing our sinfulness, past or present, as a badge of, for lack of better term, 'pitiful honor'; of locking ourselves and others in a sinful state because we fear 'judging'. Noone cast a stone that day. But after they had gone, Jesus didn't walk away too, but gently led the woman at the well to recognizing her errors. With love. With truth.

    The factions in the Church fighting for 'reform' that wants to call sin right, or to break 'rules', are not typically made up of the broken and lost; they are prideful. I will forever struggle with my particular sins and temptations, but I hope never to join a movement that wants the Church to remove gossip, jealousy, selfishness, or laziness from the 'sin' list, because I 'was made that way.' But those sins make me very miserable, and hurt the people around me, so neither would it be helpful or loving for anyone to not hold me accountable simply because they struggle with those sins too.

    We must trust that God will work through the papacy to protect the deposit of faith of the Church, but we also know that the evil one is working very hard to tear down the Kingdom, sometimes seemingly faster than we can build or repair. We must pray very hard for all our Church leaders, and there is a definite difference to Pope Francis. But just as we must love the broken and sinful, mustn't we also love the Pharisee and hypocrit? Or are those sins more unforgiveable than the sins of sexual perversion?

    There are many directions in which to cast stones. We must be careful.

  21. Hi there, 5mom, thank you and I'm so with you on the pride! When you say, though, "RE rules; why does it have to be either/or? One can have the utmost compassion and empathy for the broken, while recognizing that it is the 'rules' - the commands of Jesus given in love - which prevent us from getting broken in the first place, which is why some of us are motivated to see those rules taught with both clarity and charity,"I'm thinking you didn't actually read my piece. Of course we're faithful to the teachings of the Church! Of course it's both/and. Of course we're called to try to love the Pharisee and the hypocrite, for the Pharisee and hypocrite is (are?) us...As for whether Phariseeism is worse than sexual misconduct--Christ seemed to think so. The "perverts" didn't kill Christ. The Pharisees did.

  22. Mike, again, thank you. I have always loathed political correctness. I'm thinking, too, how love is neither conservative nor liberal, but rather transcends both. I always get a kick out of the folks who'll say, for example, "Oh ok, you're against abortion, I just wanted to make sure you were kosher." And I'll think, Kosher? What does THAT mean? I'm "kosher" enough so that if I started taking it upon myself to go around vetting people's credentials as to whether they were "good" Catholics I'd be at Confession begging forgiveness for my pride (which I have to do all the time anyway).

    Anyway, yes, our degraded culture...if you've read my work you know I didn't get very far with my own "sexual for the heroes you mention, I feel the same way about war "heroes"--5-star generals who give orders from the Pentagon and send thousands--ours and theirs--to their deaths. I feel our degraded culture, and my complicity in it, when I pass the many homeless people on my way to Mass. Nothing could be more emblematic of our degraded culture,or of the way we have allowed ourselves to stoop to it, than the vast majority of what passes for Catholic discourse on the Internet.

    We, who above all others, should speak with charity, courtesy, intelligence, kindness, and humility; we who should be guided by wonder, mystery, beauty, a spirit of self-sacrifice, and above all, forever and always, a melting love of Christ...that's not quite the impression an earnest, questing searcher would get who was interested in the Christ of the Gospels. That's what bothers me most about the Pope alarmists. It's wonderful that he's fomenting discussion! The Gospels are always galvanizing. The Gospels are always electric. The Gospels always shake everything up. That's not what's alarming--what's alarming is the vitriol, the bullying, the wilfull misinterpretation, the ridiculous sense of There goes the neighborhood to so much of it. The neighborhood went to hell a long time ago if you and me are in it.

    The bullying, the overlooking of the least of these, the incessant grab for power, property and prestige, in and out of the Church, is responsible for our degraded culture. Yes, it is horrifying that doctors may find themselves in a position where the'll lose their jobs unless they perform abortions. In which case they will be called to quit their jobs and blessed are the persecuted. Christ never said we wouldn't be persecuted--in fact, he guaranteed that we would be. Those doctors who quit their jobs will be some of our new heroes, along with conscientious objectors, citizens against handguns, civil disobeyers of all peace-loving stripes, those like the Sisters of Life who continue to work with the mothers of unborn children, anti-death penalty activists, catechists who emphasize peace, justice and love for the poor, and as I said, cooks.

    So yes, I worry with you about the degradation of our collective conscience--by lies, by greed, by the unremitting, state-promoted and in many cases Church-promoted, violence of our culture. Then I come back to Therese of Lisieux, who burned to heal all of it, to be a missionary, a priest, a martyr, and who lived out her whole life in an obscure cloistered convent trying to be kind to the crabby nun beside her.

    That's what is within our power. I think one of the reasons I find discussion about how to stop sexual sin so fruitless is that we can't force the conversion of someone's heart. Of course you see the sin, you mourn the sin, you're outraged by the effect of the sin, especially on children. We can speak about, write about, and live our faith. But we can't force anyone else to change. All we can do is pray to continue to be converted ourselves. We can ask God to put in our path the people to whom we can be of service; the people who will challenge us, inspire us, call us higher.

    Thank you again for your thoughtfulness and insight.

  23. Heather, every night, before going to bed I come to your blog to find what you have written, and every time I find something to take to bed with me. This piece you have written today has so many beautiful thoughts, so much inspiration. It makes me think what Christ said: " I have not come to abolish the law but to complete it." Yes, because he left his Spirit of love within us and if we follow that Spirit, without even noticing, we will be following the law. There was a time when I was taught that only those in the Catholic Church would be saved. Fortunately, Christ Spirit told me better. We don't have the monopoly; Christ is in each one of us and it is our responsibility to bring Him alive by our love to ourselves and to others. To judge is so unchristian that I must pray to God everyday for forgiveness for the times I have judged others and still do.
    Detouring from the topic, I would like to finish my comments by saying that I am very pleased to find new words in your writing that I had never come across before (maybe because English is not my native language). In today's piece I found "dissing" and "unalloyed." I am smiling.

  24. Heather,

    Kaboom! This post could create the same kind of wonderful waves as the Holy Father's interview with America. Thank you for living and articulating the Spirit of Jesus.

  25. Thank you so much for your strong responses to comments from me, Michael Witt and 5mom, which all seem to touch on the same sort of concern. As for my comments about the fear that many people feel, I think sometimes those fears aren't entirely unreasonable, especially with the way the pope's comments have been interpreted by those -- Catholics and non-Catholics -- who want to see changes in the church's unchangeable doctrines. An opinion piece like the one that appeared in USA Today right after some of his comments were made public speaks of the pope's "liberalizing agenda" and how he will need to make "back door" and "evolutionary" changes to "systemically change moral precepts that (the church) has, for centuries, insisted are unchanging" only serve to stoke such fears. (Here's the link: Even if one rightly concludes that the writer of this piece doesn't know what he's talking about, there can still be that nagging worry that maybe this is exactly what is underway. It actually seems like it's the fear that the church will change its teaching on homosexuality that troubles the most people, probably because they've seen how rapidly society has changed its opinions on the matter (along with a small but growing hostility toward those who, even more or less privately, advocate a traditional view) and they've seen how several other ecclesial bodies, which themselves once proffered promises that they wouldn't change their teachings on the matter, have ended up changing their teachings on the matter.

    Ultimately, though, you are right in warning that in succumbing to fear, we so easily can "become perpetrators of the error, not safeguarders of the truth." I myself sometimes feel these fears, so I sympathize with others who express them, but I also have to remind myself that these fears are also indicative of a lack of trust in the Holy Spirit and Christ's promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. Not only that, but they are also very often fears not that the truth will be lost but rather that I, or we, will be hated by the world that hates Christ.

  26. My pleasure: thank you, mome. My thought here is that Christ has been in a whole lot worse company than gay people. Far more “disordered” than any same-sex attraction is the so-called follower of Christ who disdains sitting next to, befriending, supporting—in short, loving—a gay person. Straight people massacre schoolchildren and instead of shouting from the rooftops that every follower of Christ worth his or her salt should throw away his/her handgun, we chant Gays, gays, gays. One in five kids goes hungry and instead of catechizing against unbridled corporate greed, we say Gays, gays, gays. We claim to believe in one God, the Father Almighty while making an idol of our nation and its military and instead of examining the flagrant dereliction of Christ's command to Love thine enemy and Put down your sword, we incant Gays, gays, gays.

    The world does hate us, but not for the reason it should—because we live and speak the truth (that honor is reserved at the moment for people like Edward Snowden and Chelsea (Bradley) Manning). It hates us because we’re hypocrites. We claim to believe in Savior who said It is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven etc. and when’s the last time we challenged ourselves to look at how much money we have, how much we need or don’t need, what kind of food we eat, what kind of car we drive, how much or how little we share with the poor? When’s the last time we challenged ourselves, in the harsh and dreadful light of the Gospels, to ask ourselves what we do for a living, what master(s) we serve? How many hours a day do we spend watching mindless TV and listening to hate-mongering radio personalities and newscasters? How deeply have we bothered to educate ourselves (and how much do we care) about the prison system, the plight of Native Americans, the fact that more U.S. soldiers now die from suicide than in active combat, the disgraceful fact of our working poor? When was the last time we took a walk and looked at the heart-stopping beauty around us? The Church isn’t in danger because of gay people, for heaven’s sake; it’s in danger because we have not begun to let the Gospels penetrate to the marrow of our bones. As a young reader wrote yesterday, "The hostility towards Christianity in my opinion comes not because our values are too hard, but rather the failure of love and support required to live them." And on the other hand, as I replied, the people who are always nattering about "sin," don't sacrifice, and don't call us to sacrifice, ANYTHING! Or anything that Christ wants...As you say, my fear here, my own hypocrisy, isn't so much that the truth will be lost but that if I really lived out the Gospels, I'd be hated or even killed by the world that hates Christ.

    Still, to worry that the Church won’t survive Pope Francis is to worry that the Church won’t survive Christ. Because he has not said one word that is not in total accord with the Gospels. By panicking and attacking and willfully misinterpreting him by insisting that he trying to change doctrine when he has clearly said he has no intention of doing any such thing, and when his message of love is the clearest possible sign that he is squarely IN LINE with doctrine, we only show how very far from the Gospels we are ourselves. And, as you say, how very little is our faith.

    But not to worry! These are exciting times. As the Pope said in a recent homily, “You can flee from God, even while being a Christian, being a Catholic, or a member of Catholic Action, a priest, bishop, Pope [...] everyone, everyone of us can flee from God. It is a daily temptation. To not listen to God, to not listen to his voice, to not feel in our heart His proposal, His invitation...Why does Jonah flee from God? Why does the priest flee from God? Why does the Levite flee from God? It’s because their hearts were closed, and when your heart is closed, you can no longer hear the voice of God. Instead, a Samaritan who was on a journey ‘saw him and was moved with compassion: his heart was open, he was human.”

  27. I’m thinking this morning of the talk I’m to give in a couple of weeks to hundreds of Catholic (high)school girls. And of how when we hear the word “love” we sometimes mistakenly think that means being too soft, when in fact love means allowing ourselves to be called higher. Love means more stringency, not less; higher, more challenging standards, not lower ones. I’m praying I can get across to these young girls the ideas of voluntary poverty; the hard, lonely, risky, long-suffering work of peace-making; the harsh beauty of saving ourselves for the wedding…all the things Francis is calling us to, that Christ calls us to, that St. Therese of Lisieux practiced in the cloister. The joyful, juiced, life-affirming yes—not to pleasure, but to joy, that always has pain in the middle of it. The wound to our capacity to love and be loved—and thus to the whole Mystical Body—that comes from giving ourselves away prematurely, to people who aren’t worthy of all that is most precious in us, to whom we’re not ready to commit and who aren’t ready or prepared to commit themselves to us.

    “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
    --Madeleine L’Engle

    So that’s my prayer this morning. How can I be a source of light? How can I let my obedience and love for the teachings of the Church, my soul that has been formed by them, shine through?...

  28. Heather – please know that I sincerely appreciate your taking the time to dialogue and your openness and attention to these comments. I am sorry you feel I missed the point of your piece; what a humbling irony for me when this whole topic is about the misinterpreting the Pope's words! I do think you eloquently capture the heart of the Pope’s message, and like all your reflections, it is beautiful and rich. I love that the Pope is reminding us that love is the foundational call of each of us. I hear your wise reminder that we will naturally go above and beyond when we truly live the rules out of love. That alone can serve as a great measure of where we are – or are not!

    I share honestly hoping that others will better understand the hesitation some of us feel regarding the reception of the Pope’s message without being seen as hating either the Pope or fellow sinners. Mike’s sentiments about the ‘collective conscience’ echo my concerns, a concern ultimately about greater loss of souls and suffering. I do not commonly see people using the rules to beat others down ; rather I see a desire to see our legislation reflect the God given dignity of human life and respect for natural law in order to provide boundaries for a safe society and the freedom to proclaim His word. I wish that the teachings had been explained to me earlier in a way that made them matter, that made the truth and beauty of them shine brighter than the attraction of sin. When few around me were living them out as visible example, it was easy to justify, and only when I came across clear teaching could I experience the freedom they offer where I had previously seen only constraint.

    I confess that I do feel uncomfortable that Pope Francis’ voice is different in a way some of us are pridefully tempted to fear is weaker and quieter than his predecessors in offering the moral compass we so badly need to find our way through the plague of moral relativism. I know this isn’t so; that he is in fact offering a beautiful perspective that gets to the heart of the Gospel. But in my frustration with those who disregard the teachings out of ignorance or rebellion, I tend to focus on the fear that without clarity and authority of these teachings from the top, my job steering my children will be harder. I do not believe the Pope wrong or even liberal in his teaching, but when I see the same folks who disliked the previous popes’ strong vocal enforcement of the teachings now rejoicing because they think Francis’ words do indeed hint at specific changes, I admit I get nervous. I can appreciate his spirituality, his humility, and his simplicity, while still wishing he spoke in a way that quieted those both within and outside of the Church who are ‘obsessing’ about hoped-for changes in Church teaching. In the struggle to find the delicate balance of hating the sin and loving the sinner, I admit to fearing that if we forget to hate the sin, we will have more of it. It is a worry that the Pope’s words will be used by some to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ and dismiss the need for good catechesis. Yes, I see that it is foolish pride that forms the basis for these irrational fears; Pope Francis is our holy father, the Vicar of Christ, appointed and anointed to lead and shepherd, so all worry and fear is of course only weak faith. Your insights challenge me to surrender the fear and to look inward to where his message calls for change in myself. I pray his words and leadership will bear great fruit for the world.

    Thank you for words that, as always, encourage us to seek balance, to humbly check our own actions and motives, and to see Christ at work in unexpected ways.

  29. Okay, 5Mom, that is so beautiful I can hardly stand it--thank you so much for continuing to humble me, to open wider my heart...I just had a phone conversation this morning with a (non-Catholic) friend and we were both bemoaning the rampant way-too-early sexualization of the young, of teenagers and even earlier. It is beyond awful, so of course I understand and share the fear of the collective conscience actually being permanently morphed in some unimaginable way toward evil...

    All I'm saying is that sex can't be addressed in a vacuum. The whole culture in a way has to be dismantled. This isn't going to happen socially or politically; it happens when one by one, we step out from the crowd and become entirely God-centered...Our cultural attitude towards sex is completely on a par with our national mania for empire, world domination, and greed. It is completely on a par with our insistence upon being anesthetized 24/7 by TV, video games, bad food, and the "comfort" of our consumeristic lives. It is completely on a par with the lie that freedom means rights without responsibilities, with using each other as images and objects, with our reluctance to step out of our comfort zone and meet and embrace the leper....

    What convicts me is my complicity in the system, my cooperation with culture. And what gives me hope is that we are called to be saints. That is truly what we need right now: modern saints. People who are willing to step out from the crowd and say The emperor has no clothes. People who are willing to say We are not heeding the Gospel call..."With man it is not possible but with God all things are possible"...

    As for the people who are twisting the Pope's words to their own ends, let them--just let it not be us. "They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, saying: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; We mourned to you, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ "[Luke 7:32-34]

    Christ knew very well that his identification with the victim, the misfit, the disenfranchised, the poor would be used by some as an imprimatur for bad conduct. He knew very well that the Pharisees would accuse him of substandard conduct himself for the company he kept. We never have to fear lowering our own standards, or that anyone else's will be, when we're centered on Christ. As I always say, Christ hung out with the drunks and whores, but he didn't hang around the bar engaging in low-life conversation and telling dirty jokes. He hung around with the tax collectors and whores and drunks who wanted to get better, who hungered and thirsted for righteousness, who were sick and tired enough of being sick and tired to be drawn to the truth.

    So it will be, must be, with us. Our job is to pray to be drawn to him and to be like him. Be not afraid, he said (though I feel fearful myself this morning)...He'll do the rest...

    Again, thank you so much.

  30. One more thing and I swear I'll leave you all in peace for a bit. When I say what we need are individuals who are willing to step out and say The emperor has no clothes--I've been helping a young man edit his diaries from the three months he spent at Ft. Benning in 2006. He's a nice Catholic boy who wanted to serve his country and they send him to basic training and right away he gets a sickly feeling that this is not right. Two days in, he looks down at his Army-issue pistol belt, sees "Born to Kill"...and realizes I am not born to kill. I was born to heal. He sees a kind of vision of hell, of the spiritual death that will await him if he continues on. And right then he "hears" the voice of the Virgin Mary saying "Get up and go"...He thinks, Come on, I'm at Ft. Benning, I can't just get up and go. And the voice says, Get up and go...

    (Just as an aside this is so the voice of the Virgin Mary that rings true to me, that is totally in accord with the Mary of the Gospels and the Mother of Christ. I never quite trust the "miracle" locution that says Pray a novena every fifth Tuesday and your son will get in to Notre Dame...)

    Anyway, so the kid gets up and leaves. goes AWOL, somehow miraculously makes it off base...gets in trouble of course. Cause when you go into the military you sign a contract to kill and if you decide in the middle of it you don't want to kill, they don't take kindly to it. They court martial you and put you in jail (see the memoir of Camilo Mejia, Road from Ar Ramadi or the documentary "Soldiers of Conscience" if you want to be sickened by where some of your tax dollars as a follower of Christ are going). After three months, the kid gets out on a kind of anxiety disorder medical discharge--but not before getting a full load of how the military treats its emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually wounded. And let's just say he's now discerning his vocation as a priest...

    But he writes this beautiful book and it is not conservative, and it's not liberal: it's from the supernatural love of Christ, and that is what distinguishes us, or should, as Catholics, and it is the only thing that can save us and the world. And that is why I am so excited lately I can barely sleep. Because I think, I hope, I pray--and Pope Francis is the sign--that the collective conscience is actually moving toward the light. It is moving toward recognizing that Christ actually meant what he said. Love thine enemies. Put down your sword. We finally figured out that ritualized human sacrifice is barbaric. We finally figured out that slavery is barbaric. And we may be very very slowly figuring out that war is barbaric. When war ends, the rift between men and women that began in the Garden of Eden ends, poverty ends, justice, mercy and love reign...but it all begins with the truth, with our willingness to see and act on the truth about ourselves and about the world...

    Let's not forget who came out and said: The emperor has no clothes...."Unless you become like little children"...

  31. Thank you for even more clarity, and I hope others can receive my comments and vulnerability as gently and patiently. I desperately need prayers to get where you are - you are breathing in the fresh air of Francis, while I am anxiously holding my breath!

    It occurs to me that what we are all longing for in our quest to 'fix' society is heaven. Heaven will be the pure society God intended us to have before we polluted it with our pride. Oh, how I long for that purity in my thoughts, speech, and actions and the incredible peace I can only imagine it bringing!

    I will keep your talk to the high schoolers in prayer; I have no doubt they will be impacted greatly and that many seeds will be sown through your humble sharing.

    1. Yes, that's just it--we are all longing for heaven...not to see it on this side, and these changes, this movement toward the light has been and will be a long one, with many casualties. Still, to feel we are part of it is everything...thank you all so much have no idea how you challenge me, encourage me, and shore me up...

  32. American Catholics seem to be in line with Pope Francis's renewed focus on Christian love, according to a new poll -- 68% agree with him that the Church “has become too focused on issues such as homosexuality, abortion and contraceptives.”

    A bit troublesome, though, are two other findings: 60% of them are for same-sex marriage (compared with 56% of the general public), and 52% say abortion should be legal in all or most cases (compared with 53% of the general public).

    1. Maybe I'm being a little pigheadedly simple-minded here, but after reading the digital equivalent of gallons of spilled ink in recent weeks about all this hand-wringing over how people might interpret the Pope's words, I'm like, so what? Why is that such a big concern and fear? Anyone who thinks the Pope is changing Church doctrine will find out soon enough how wrong they are about that. He needs to say some things that don't get communicated by repeating all the old formulas. So he's got some new ways of talking about some very old Gospel truths. (Or maybe he's renewing some even older ways of talking about those truths.)

      With respect, I want to say, Relax! Obviously, papal hammering on gay marriage and abortion in exactly the same way as many clergy and Popes have hammered on it up until now won't improve the stats you cite. After all, those stats describe views that American Catholics formed under exactly those popes who, presumably, shaped their public statements in ways that the critics of Pope Francis approve of.

      I don't mean to be dismissive of your concern about those stats. Those represent a real problem. But I think the Pope's words do not exacerbate that problem, and most of the fretting I've read (which goes as far sometimes as bearing false witness about what he says, as Heather points out) sure doesn't help solve that problem.

      I'm with Heather on this. Pope Francis's words are refreshing and encouraging and light-bearing. Let's listen to him. Who knows; maybe his approach will surprise us and eventually lead more of those American Catholics to re-think their views on issues that trouble you, too, via a fuller understanding and experience of Christ's love, not just by scolding them into submission.

  33. Thanks for your thoughtful response, Dianne. I think my concern is that these recent statements of Pope Francis may serve to confuse many Catholics with regard to Church teaching, especially since they're obviously very confused already! His refreshing approach needs to be accompanied with doctrinal clarity as well.

    I'm also surprised that you think the Church has been into scolding folks into submission. Wow. Certainly never happens in any parish I've been in, at least since Vatican II in the 1960s. And even before that, it was always love the sinner, abhor the sin.

    1. I have heard others express the same surprise, Lydia, while some say they hear sermons on abortion and gay marriage a lot. I'm guessing both scenarios are true, and perhaps the one you describe is prevalent at the parish level. My take, for what it's worth, and that may not be much, is that while parish priests may be staying away from the topics of abortion and gay marriage in droves, the public, political presence of the Catholic Church has been very vocal on these topics. Parish priests may not be scolding, but bishops and other publicly prominent Catholic officials have been speaking out, a lot, against abortion and gay marriage in the political sphere, and that's what people hear and know about the Church from the news and the "culture wars." One very public example that comes to mind is the uproar a few years ago by many Catholics against Notre Dame for inviting President Obama to speak at commencement. And you've got your Manhattan Declaration signers, your bishops claiming that Catholic religious freedom is being curtailed by health care reform, and so forth. (Other religious leaders are of course involved in the same things, but we're talking Catholics here.) I make no judgment here about those positions, just saying that's what the general public, including a lot of Catholics who may or may not attend church regularly, see as the face of the Catholic Church.

      I think this is probably what Pope Francis is referring to.

    2. And yet here's Francis himself doing a bit of "scolding" just recently, on September 20th:

      "A widespread mentality of the useful, the “throw away culture” which today enslaves the hearts and intelligences of so many, has a very high cost: it requires eliminating human beings, especially if physically or socially weaker. Our answer to this mentality is a decisive and unhesitant “yes” to life. “The first right of a human person is his/her life. He/she has other goods and some of them are more precious; but life is the fundamental good, condition for all the others” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion, November 18, 1974, 11). Things have a price and are saleable, but persons have a dignity, they are worth more than things and they have no price. Because of this, attention to human life in its totality has become in recent times a real and proper priority of the Magisterium of the Church, particularly for life which is largely defenseless, namely, that of the disabled, the sick, the unborn, children, the elderly.

      Each one of us is called to recognize in the fragile human being the face of the Lord, who in his human flesh experienced indifference and loneliness to which we often condemn the poorest, be it in developing countries, be it in well-off societies. Every unborn child, condemned unjustly to being aborted, has the face of the Lord, who before being born, and then when he was just born, experienced the rejection of the world. And every elderly person, even if he/she is sick or at the end of his/her days, bears in him/herself the face of Christ. They cannot be discarded!"

    3. Scolding? A simple and beautiful speaking of the truth--scolding? Let's focus on the actual substance of the Pope's remarks.

    4. Thanks for sharing that quote, Lydia. Good for Pope Francis. His statement here would be an instance of what I'm talking about when I said, above, that those who think the Pope is opening the door to relaxing the Church's teachings will find out soon enough how wrong they are about that.

    5. And you know what else is great about the above quote from the Pope, and about this whole phenomenon of his many interviews, sermons, statements, and the global interest therein? We are conditioned to sound bites, and he's not playing along. Obviously, many insist on "hearing" only sound bites from him, whether in order to praise or criticize him according to their agendas. But he surprises us by being interesting, compelling, and winsome enough to make us stop and listen to, or read, more. He's speaking from a very, very deep, broad, steadfast, and fruitful vision and experience of the love and work of Christ in the world, and he does it in a way that connects with people in surprising ways, ways we may not be used to from a pope. (Conjecture again. These are just my impressions. No critique of previous popes intended.)

      It takes all of the space he took to say what he said in the above quote about the dignity of human life. He's not being wordy; he's just not delivering sound bites. The amazing thing is, he's compelling enough when you hear short excerpts of his that you may want to investigate more context. And you find gems like this, wherein he does more than simply recite doctrine; he reaches deeper into the humanity of his listeners, somewhere into the region of their instinctive knowledge of being made in the image of God, and their desire to know this God. (Of course, many won't respond this way, but with hostility. Nothing could be more predictable, and no one can manage all these responses.)

      I think I just mean to say that this all leads me to think it's pointless (and also an instance of taking much needless thought and worry for the morrow) to wring one's hands over how people might interpret Pope Francis's words in ways that suit their biases. People will ALWAYS do that. I think he's circumspect and wise enough, and I'd rather he keep on being awesome and inviting us to hear him out at length, rather than start measuring all his statements like a State Department negotiator.

    6. Yes, yes, and yes, Dianne! We don't look at Christ on the Cross and have our first reaction be a carping, "People are going to misinterpret! People are going to use this for more violence, or less violence," or whatever our particular bias/fear/personal baggage/blindness happens to be.

      We regard Christ on the Cross and we fall to our knees, lost in trembling, awe, mystery. We say what can this mean? How can I change my life COMPLETELY? What am I being called to? WHO IS HE?...

      As you so beautifully articulated, that, to me, is the stance to which St. Francis is inviting us. As I wrote to another reader this morning, if we come from the place of being sinners, we are always in more or less the right kind of balance. Hard on ourselves (in the right way), easy on everyone else. Mindful always that the problem is not '"them," but us. The idea is to attract rather than promote. If and when someone is moved toward the light, we are there not only to tell of the rules but to be an example, however silent, hidden, and imperfect, of living them out.

      If you follow the rules out of love (again, only possible or done best when cognizant of your own terrible propensity for sin, AND cognizant that the horror of sin is that it tears the whole human fabric), they will lead to a strange kind of freedom and peace (in the midst of your ongoing stumbling and suffering) that you can't articulate. You can only really live it and again, fall to your knees in thanks.

      You can only share your own experience, strength and hope. It's always sort of draining to write these "political" posts, i.e. instead of simply saying in so many words God is love, to try to get across what that might actually look like in our day-to-day lives. If we don't have Christ as the experience of our deepest hearts, we're only able to argue about "Christianity" as a kind of social and cultural phenomenon. We'll jab at the Pope (or whoever/whatever the target happens to be that day) but we're unable to take in, reflect upon, and offer something useful about the SUBSTANCE of his remarks.

      Which are earth-shaking, which are the deepest kind of challenge, which are revolutionary. Not because Pope Francis is revolutionary: because Christ is...

      We are all like sheep without a shepherd. Except we do hear his voice! So I, for one, am going to pray to keep trying to follow it...And yes, thanks as well, Lydia, for the incredible quote..

    7. I'm surprised you hadn't read that quote before I posted it here. Sad, isn't it, that it's gotten nothing like the coverage of the "obsession" comments. It would, I think, touch and move many.

  34. Amen and amen! Good, good, meaty, useful conversations here, Heather and all dear fellow readers. I am thankful that the discourse has been with love and respect and reflection.
    I have been moved by Pope Francis' sense of joy and delight, most recently as he visited Assisi. He melted my heart by making his first stop a visit to meet the children and adults with disabilities, as well as encouraging their caregivers and teachers.
    He really does appear to be a very different man from the one who first introduced himself to the world upon his election. I try and pay attention to his words by asking myself, "what does God want me to take notice of and apply in my own life?" Sometimes dangerous to ask that question!
    I just feel as though the Holy Spirit is working away in surprising, new, and unexpected ways, and that tends to hit me when I read this blog.
    Love and prayers!

  35. Heather,

    I come to your blog when I've had a particularly hard day. You always distract me from my own thoughts. This was brilliant. Thank you.



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