The news media has been full of stories today about the interview with Pope Francis. Because of the way in which the interview was reported in the media, I went to both the Italian Jesuit magazine that has the Italian version of the interview, and to America Magazine, another Jesuit magazine, that has the translation of the interview. Frankly, I liked the interview and much of what he said to the interviewers. Those reading should note that Pope Francis is a Jesuit, so this was a friendly interview by people of his own order.
The interviewer starts out with what is my favorite question and answer of the interview:
I ask Pope Francis point-blank: “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” He stares at me in silence. I ask him if I may ask him this question. He nods and replies: “I ??do not know what might be the most fitting description…. I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner. … Yes, but the best summary, the one that comes more from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” And he repeats: “I ??am one who is looked upon by the Lord. I always felt my motto, Miserando atque Eligendo [By Having Mercy and by Choosing Him], was very true for me.”
Pope Francis goes on to talk about his call, how he answered it, and what thoughts led him to join the Jesuits. It was interesting to me that one of the strongest pulls that he had to join the Jesuits was the sense of mission and community that they have.
“The Society of Jesus is an institution in tension,” the pope replied, “always fundamentally in tension. A Jesuit is a person who is not centered in himself. The Society itself also looks to a center outside itself; its center is Christ and his church.
He goes on to talk about his calling and the Church. But when he talks about holiness, he again speaks a paragraph with which I truly agree:
“I see the holiness,” the pope continues, “in the patience of the people of God: a woman who is raising children, a man who works to bring home the bread, the sick, the elderly priests who have so many wounds but have a smile on their faces because they served the Lord, the sisters who work hard and live a hidden sanctity. This is for me the common sanctity. I often associate sanctity with patience: not only patience as hypomoné [the New Testament Greek word], taking charge of the events and circumstances of life, but also as a constancy in going forward, day by day.
Yet in talking about the Church, he speaks another paragraph that is masterful:
“I see clearly,” the pope continues, “that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. 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.
But, it is shortly after this paragraph that he utters the only thought that most newspapers have reported out of this wonderful interview:
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. 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. … The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.”
What he said in the paragraph above is true, and it does have serious implications for the life of the Roman Catholic Church in the USA. In the paragraph prior to the quote above, he makes the strong point–with which many Baptists would be in agreement–that the Church must begin with the preaching of the love of God and his salvation. To express God’s mercy, to heal wounds, to be a field hospital–as he says–is the center point of what the Church needs to be. His whole point in the paragraph above is that if the only contact non-believers have with believers is the contact of the absolutely true, but out of priority, insistence “only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods,” then we are preaching a faith that does, “not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.” His point is not that the doctrines of the Church are wrong, but that the missionary priority of the Church must not be and cannot be those doctrines. When those doctrines are all that is heard, then the true faith is not heard.
This has broad implications for the Roman Catholic Church in the USA, in particular. When those doctrines are used to anoint a certain political party and to condemn even those fellow believers who choose the other party, then what is being communicated is no longer the true faith, but a truncated legalism and authoritarianism that is incompatible with the heart of God. The same would be true of those who would try to make service to the poor as the main hallmark of the Church. Note, it is Pope Francis in the interview that speaks of legalism and authoritarianism in other parts of the interview.
But, this is not the last of what he says. In fact, the paragraph that was written about so much is actually just a paragraph in the middle of the interview. There are many good words still to come. So, here is what I recommend. Go to America Magazine and read the actual article. Do not read the media summaries. They are not necessarily bad or biased or all the things we love to dump on magazines. But, they are insufficient. Pope Francis’ thought is much deeper and more varied than the limited reports in the media. Go read the article. It is a wonderful one.