Unofficial Papal Mottoes: Part II – Pope Francis and Limitless Divine Mercy

How does the role of Divine Mercy” as an unofficial motto play out with Pope Francis? When asked about homosexuals Pope Francis replied, “Who am I to judge”. This should remind us of the deliverance of the adulterous woman where Jesus Christ told those who wanted to stone the woman, “Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her [John 8:7]” That Pope Francis, said, “who am I to judge” does not mean that the Church accepts homosexuality as ok. Note that at the end of the adulterous woman story when the woman says to Jesus that no one in the crowd has thrown a stone he replies, “Neither do I condemn you. []Go away, and from this moment sin no more [John 8:11].” This was a nuanced and merciful response, like Pope Francis today. Francis has repeatedly said that he accepts the basic tenets of the Catholic faith such as marriage, family, and sacredness of human life…that he simply is not spending as much time on polarizing issues as that is not what his triage of the Church is calling for.

This message of “divine mercy” is revitalizing and energizing the church.  It is making it more attractive and relevant to the people of the world. Pope Francis was the person of the year in 2013 for Time and many other magazines.  There are many other measures of popularity and positive awareness that can be tabulated, as well.  In recent times there has been a call for “The New Evangelism”.  It is the right time too, as Pope Benedict XVI said, re-propose the Gospel “to those regions awaiting the first evangelization and to those regions where the roots of Christianity are deep but who have experienced a serious crisis of faith due to secularization”, clergy scandals like child abuse and more.  Pope Francis in his daily actions serves as a model of how to do so.  It is easy to simply label something black or white.  It makes life easy, but not necessarily right.  Let us follow the more nuanced merciful example of Pope Francis.

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Unofficial Papal Mottoes – Part I

This started out as one post but as I developed it further it I saw that I was actually covering two topics, so I’m splitting it in II. Today is Part I.

Every Pope tends to use a certain phrase repeatedly during his reign as head of the church which encapsulates the direction they are taking the church. For Pope John Paul II (16 Oct 1978 – 2 April 2005) it was “Do Not Be Afraid”.  With the Cold War and the horrors/misery of World War II part of the global psyche, it was a message that people needed to hear and brought hope to millions.

Next came Pope Benedict (19 April 2005 – 28 February 2013) with “Faith and Reason”. With “just reason” Benedict warned that one falls into the trap of utilitarianism and nihilism. No religion can survive by “faith alone” as without reason the risk is of radicalists like al-Quaeda. In Christianity fundamentalism is most closely associated with those who believe that inspiration and infallibility of Scripture is translates into literal interpretation of the Bible, creationism.  This message really resonated with me, but it was poorly communicated in the media, and thus to the world.

Today we have Pope Francis (13 March 2013-present) and his message is one of “mercy”, that the “Lord never tires of forgiving”. Society has seen the authoritarian Catholic Church, the critical one.  Now it needs to see the merciful Church, and mercy as lived in the lives of Catholics every day. The media has been emphasizing simplified polarizing lighting rod messages like “no abortion and contraception”. The church’s acknowledgement that in the struggle of daily living “life is sacred” issues are not easy – a more nuanced merciful perspective – was lost in the noise. Pope Francis brings the message of divine mercy to the forefront of Catholic and world consciousness. As Pope Francis said, the Church needs to be a “field hospital”, conducting “triage” and emphasizing pressing needs of the people, first.  Everything is underlined with the focus on “divine mercy”.

Do you agree with my interpretation of Papal messages?  What are your thoughts and ideas?  What does the message of “endless divine mercy” mean to all of us?  My take on the message of divine mercy will be in part 2.

 

For Me? With Me? Against Me?

“For whoever is not against us is with us.” Mark 9:40

vs

” Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”  Mathew 12:30

Anyone else see the contradiction?

This past Sunday I heard the parable about the apostles of Jesus Christ trying to stop a person – whom they did not consider one of them – from casting out demons in the name of Jesus.   Jesus rebukes them saying if a person is not against him then he belongs (Mark 9:40).  It speaks of “an inclusive welcoming church”, one that reminds me of the progressive liberal period with Pope John Paul II as the head.  I immediately thought of how  I sometimes feel that this different from where the church is heading under Pope Benedict XVI.

But, then one can also find a Bible quote to support what some see as the different “unequivocal you must toe this line or else” voice of the church under the current Pope, Benedict XVI.  In the gospel of Mathew, the Pharisees state that since Jesus cured a demoniac he must be an agent of the Devil. Jesus rebukes them and warns them that one cannot remain neutral.  You have to be either for or against him (Mark:12:30).

It is easy to find Bible quotes that support a point of view of the Catholic Church one thinks one wants.

In the parable of seeking to exclude in Mark’s gospel there is an ambivalence associated with the demon caster, but in the gospel of Mathew we have Jesus responding to those who are bitterly opposed to him.  In the first he speaks of growing the church; in the second of the divisions within, saying, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid to waste, and no town or house divided against itself will stand (Mathew 12:25).”

As in the Bible, both responses of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI are to what they see as the context of the situation, and are not necessarily about “me”.  It is not about the church being for/with/against “me” – it is God’s Church.  Through both stories run what I see as a common thread: Jesus and Love.  And after all isn’t that what it is all about?

All too of often we respond to our situations and lives from just a “me” perspective.  We respond divisively. I pray that we have the grace to understand the greatest gift of all: the relational nature of LOVE. After all, the Christian Creation story is that at the beginning God created man and woman – not man, or woman.*

 

*I can further explore the relational nature of love through the dogma of the trinity – three persons in one God – that is part of the Catholic Church Catechism.  If you are interested you can start by quickly skimming the introductory paragraphs in wikipedia’s entry on the Trinity.