Francis & Peter, Our Rock

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The Vatican Council has knocked the guts out of me…. I have not yet soaked myself in petrol and gone up in flames, but I now cling to the Faith doggedly without joy. ~ Evelyn Waugh

 

I won’t lie: I was a bit concerned when I saw the screaming headline on the Huffington Post implying that the Pope wants the Church to ease up on abortion, gay marriage, and birth control.

Converts like me always get concerned about apparent papal or magisterial shapeshifting. I think Evelyn Waugh was the same way. He joined the Church before Vatican II, and the changes that followed in the Council’s wake irked him, to say the least.

But he stuck it out. He stayed close to Peter and died in the lap of the Church. And I think that’s relevant to the whole Pope Francis interview controversy.

Unlike my kids—all cradle Catholics, and constantly immersed in the life of the Church, at home, at school, in the very air they breathe—I took on my Catholic identity freely as an adult, and I’m fiercely proud of it. It wasn’t a conversion of convenience, but rather of conviction, and I remain convinced—all of it, no exceptions.

That includes teachings that are socially awkward these days—things like the issues that were listed in the HP headline. I’m not embarrassed by what my Church teaches on sexuality, marriage, and abortion. Neither am I embarrassed by what my Church teaches about peacemaking, care for the poor, and environmental stewardship. It’s all of a piece; it’s all the same teaching, and it’s consistent and it makes sense and I firmly believe it’s all true.

So when the headlines scream at me that maybe—just maybe—the Pope intends to change course and steer the Church in a new direction on these kinds of things? It’s unsettling. Disturbing. “This can’t be,” we think. “Could it?”

Is that doubt? Naah. It’s just human. We grit our teeth, squint at the news, read more thoroughly, dismiss the cranks (left and/or right), and settle back down with Peter

In my office, above my desk and right by the door, I have a little sign that reads, UBI PETRUS IBI ECCLESIA. It’s the ancient Latin epigram, attributed to St. Ambrose, that roughly translates, “Where Peter is, there is the Church.” Yes, indeed. Whether we like it or not.

The Pope’s brief, sensible comments about abortion, gay marriage, and contraception are an example of “we like it.” That Catholics shouldn’t focus on those issues exclusively is only shocking to those who have an axe to grind, both inside and outside the Church. “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 Pope said. It’s the kind of talk welcomed by the Catholic “middle,” as John Allen wrote.

But the “we like it” stuff is accompanied by other things that I might prefer to consign to the “or not” side of the ledger—like this one:

We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation.

So, for instance, how do I accompany people like the three-year-old who was shot in a Chicago park last week during a gang shootout? Is the Church there in the midst of situations like that? Am I there? How can I bring the Gospel to similar situations in my own community?

How about all the incarcerated women who suffered eugenic-like sterilizations in California as late as 2010? Is the Church accompanying them? And what about incarcerated women and men in general: What can I do to lighten their burdens? Are they being treated justly—the ones right here in my own home town?

Then, there’s the story about the woman who pocketed a $20 bill dropped by a blind guy in a Minnesota Dairy Queen earlier this month. The DQ manager, JoeyPrusak, only 19 years old, confronted the woman, and refused to serve her when she insisted the money was hers. The lady stormed out; Joey restored the twenty bucks to the customer out of his own pocket. Somebody saw the whole thing unfold, wrote it up, and posted it. It went viral. Now Joey Prusak is getting calls from Warren Buffett, as well as lots of media attention.

Am I Joey? Or am I that conniving, avaricious lady. That’s the question I need to be asking myself when I hear that story. Not whether Joey is pro-life or in favor of traditional marriage. I suspect he is, but it doesn’t matter. He was Jesus that day in that humble DQ, and he clearly didn’t cultivate the headlines or public praise. He would’ve done the same thing, risking his job and future, regardless of the attention.

That’s the Gospel. That’s what Pope Francis wants us to remember. It’s a rock we do well to stay close to.

image: Sergii Figurnyi / Shutterstock.com

Richard Becker

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Rick Becker is a husband, father of seven, nursing instructor, and religious educator. He blogs regularly at God-Haunted Lunatic

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  • Debbie

    Great piece. As someone received into Full Communion 30 years ago, a lover of the Church and one also convicted and unashamed of her unpopular teachings, I, too, grimaced at the headlines following the Pope’s interview. After reading the full text of the interview, I was comforted…but pieces like yours provide a wonderful, continuing meditation on the implication and importance of our Holy Father’s words. Thank you.

  • diana

    I mostly agree with you. I have to say that this is the best Pope we had in a lot of years (I’m almost 60 years old and I was born in a Catholic Country, so being a catholic is my life), but I disagree with you in one small point: Joey for all you know is a homosexual young man. In my long life I have found people doing “the Jesus thing” (if you pardon the expression) in a variety of places, peoples, color, sexual orientation and even religious upbringing. I’m starting to believe that God works through us, whether we call ourselves one thing or another. We think we know ourselves and even our “neighbors”, but God knows us even better than we know ourselves. God sees exactly what is in everyones’ hearts. God bless.

  • pbecke

    Yes. A great piece.

  • Judy Kallmeyer

    The Holy Father is right. We certainly do not have to talk about these issues constantly. Indeed, in some arenas, it might be called “preaching to the choir.” I appreciate the fact that the people need to have the facts, that these activities are morally unacceptable. I suspect that those who are on the other side of the issue are not convinced by repeated statements of the Church’s position. Perhaps greater attention to other matters, poverty, peace, justice issues, and just plain living our Catholic faith to the hilt will have more power to persuade than our constant pronouncements. Let us truly be the “light of the world” and the “salt of the earth.” Let us preach the Gospel always, and not always with words but by our deeds.

  • Ramanie

    A great article. I agree with you all the way

  • Michael A Knight

    Thank you for sharing your thoughtful words. I needed that. God Bless.

  • lily

    Thank you Richard,
    I am wondering how to pray for the abortion mills and when I am there what can I do differently. We pray the Rosary , and have a few signs. Is this the wrong way to go about this situation? Sorry, the unborn are constantly on my mind. I try to help others as well. Wondering how Pope Francis would handle this? I honestly want to do something different. But I know my best weapon is the Rosary.:)
    God Bless you,

  • frubordgy

    No true conversion is a conversion of convenience – Jesus paid the price for each of us, freely given but never cheap whether baptized at birth or in adulthood. We each must make our confession of faith daily as we strap on our cross. Our faith is a living breathing thing just as the Church perhaps as a cradle Catholic I can trust that the Head of the Church is Jesus and he is in control of the Church Militant. I was a kid when the Mass went from Latin to English at the same time arithmetic went to math. I’m still struggling with math and now struggling with going back to Latin. And thankful that faithfulness to Latin hasn’t been added to the Creed. When the boat was rocking and disciples freaking, He said “peace be still.”

  • Rick Becker

    Many thanks for your response. It’s always a relief when our grimaces turn into sighs and smiles.

  • Rick Becker

    “Freaking” is a good word for what I was describing, and “peace, be still” is a good reminder. Thanks.

  • Rick Becker

    Even though I argue above that abortion isn’t the only issue, it’s certainly critically important. I’m totally with you when you say it’s constantly on your mind, and I still try to get out to our local abortion clinic when I can. I used to carry signs (nothing graphic; just reminders of the truth), but now, like you, I just carry my Rosary. It is, as you say, the best spiritual weapon in the fierce spiritual battle that goes on at all abortion sites. Keep going.

    Your presence is a powerful witness–to the women, to the clinic workers, to everyone who sees you. Plus, like Ammon Hennacy, by going to the clinic, it’s a way of defying the culture that seeks to change YOU!

  • Rick Becker

    Thanks, Diana. I think I understand what you mean. Certainly it’s true that we’d want what God wants for everyone–including living a moral life according to His divine design. My point is only that, even short of that, it’s better to act charitably than otherwise, and God can use those moments to draw us closer to Himself and a life lived in accord with His divine purpose.

  • Gary Downey

    Richard, the problem I have about Pope Francis’s remarks is I can’t make sense of them. I am a devout Catholic attending Mass regularly for 25 years. I have rarely if ever heard any Priest in any parish talk about abortion, gay marriage or contraception. In fact it’s safe to say that few Bishop’s speak about these topics. It,s the media that speaks about these issues not the Church. The Church has been mostly silent about them. In my opinion it has been the lack of silence from the Bishop’s and the Church that gay marriage is legal and gaining ground. One thing that is troubling. When you lump abortion along side of gay marriage and contraception, this is very dangerous. The social justice crowd in the Church have a very bad habit of doing this. The murder of an innocent child is not on the same level as gay marriage or even feeding the poor for that fact. The murder of innocent children made in the image and likeness of God is one of the most diabolical acts in the history of mankind. This disturbs me more than anything about the Pope’s remarks. Why doesn’t Pope Francis speak up about 40 Days for Life being band in Australia by one of his Bishops? Why is he silent on this?

  • Lee

    Yes, Richard I like where you are about this. We need to be more like Joey (Christ) and put our best forward for the betterment of man-kind. Joey didn’t need for the man to be blind to act. He didn’t wonder if he was helping a person who believed in things he might not agree with. He did what was RIGHT! Thanks be to God

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