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