Rescandalized by the Gospel


Sometimes, as an English major, there are certain books I feel guilty for not having read.  Moby Dick.  Anything by Joyce, even a couple pages’ worth.  As a Catholic English major, adding Flannery O’Connor to the list seemed almost a stoning offense.

Oh, I tried.  I tried to read her and like her, and, failing that, I tried to read her and understand her.  I couldn’t.  If there was a point beyond “bad things happen in dreadful ways”, I missed it.

Then I came across a really great essay on O’Connor written by Daniel at Carrots for Michaelmas.  It’s more than worth a read in its entirety, but it was this quote that really stuck with me:

“But, more dangerously for the Christian, we’re safe from a violent encounter with Christ. What I mean by that is that we’ve all heard the bloody, scandalous, disturbing elements of Christianity for so long they’ve lost the ability to shock or surprise. It’s easy to forget how radical the call of Christ truly is. “

The quote made such an impression on me because it not only made me want to give O’Connor another try, but also because I had just read Pope Francis’ interview and was wading through the wreckage of people’s responses to it.

I know that places like NARAL and HuffPo and, shoot, the mainstream media as a whole completely missed the point, and instead decided to “helpfully” translate the three-day interview for their readers to “Shorter Pope: Let your freaky sex flag fly, he won’t judge!”, and I am in no position, from my small and messy corner of the Internet, to dissuade them of their misconception.

But for all the faithful who are wringing their hands and wailing and gnashing teeth about the Pope’s comments, I say this: go back and read that quote right up there.  Christianity is not a safe, comfortable religion.  It’s not a set of manners.  It’s not a political path.  It is a shockingly radical concept- that God Himself loves us so much- us! stupid bags of bones and snot and bad attitudes!- that He became one of us so that we may know Him, love Him, and serve Him in this world, so that we may be happy with Him in the next.

I’ve heard people complain that the Pope’s words have made things even more difficult for conservative politicians here in America. I’ve heard people complain that the interview signed the death warrant on marriage here in the Western world.

To everyone upset by the Pope’s interview because you think it undermines the Church’s teachings on abortion, homosexuality, and the permanence of marriage, you’ve been given a great chance to be re-scandalized by Christianity.  You’ve been shocked and surprised by the Gospel once again, and that’s an amazing gift!  This is your opportunity to remember that the Universal Church is bigger than America, or the West, or politics.

Look at the progression of our catechism- we must know God first, then choose to love Him, and from that love will flow a desire to serve Him.  There are so many people in this broken and toxic culture that don’t even know God.  There are so many people enslaved to sin that yearn to love God.  If we, as disciples of Christ, can help with those first two things, then the last one- serving God, will follow organically.  Engaging the culture about sex and abortion without first giving them some reason to know and love God is like yelling at someone for cutting their arm off and bleeding out when we should be doing everything we can to get them to a doctor.

This is not to say that the moral teachings of the Church aren’t important.  They are.  But they are important only because they help us get closer to God.  They have no value apart from their relationship to Him.

In a world as damaged and fallen as ours is, it is tempting to impose order first, simply to stop the noise from all this sin, then introduce God into the quiet, but that’s not the way our hearts and souls were designed.  We need to remember always that Christianity is about following Christ first, and everything else is a result of that relationship.  There is a whole world longing to be seen and loved and healed by Christ, so we need to be sure we’re bringing them Jesus, and not simply a political cause.  We need to remember the radical call of Christ, and resist the urge to swap it out for something temporal and fleeting,  something safe and tame, something that will never heal us the way God can.


image: Station of the Cross in Czestochowa, Poland via Shutterstock

Cari Donaldson


Cari Donaldson lives on a New England farm with her high school sweetheart, their six kids, and a menagerie of animals of varying usefulness. She is the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories, and has a weekly podcast about homesteading at

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  • Well done, Cari.

  • DYoung

    Well said.

  • Lucy


  • Micaela

    “This is not to say that the moral teachings of the Church aren’t important. They are. But they are important only because they help us get closer to God. They have no value apart from their relationship to Him.”

    Keep it up, Cari

  • Lee

    You have said just what our Pope has been saying from his heart all along, and I truly admire how beautifully and simply you did this.God awaits!

  • chaco

    Yes, God awaits; He can’t share Himself until invited in – He’s a gentleman. As a child, I was taught about this God but the 1st real experience of a heartfelt encounter with Him was during a teenage bout with depression, even thoughts of suicide, when I cried out to this God I’d been taught about; “Jesus, what’s wrong with me ?! “. He graciously came in with undeniable consolation. Cari, I’m sure you know personally that this Heartfelt Love has to be the spark that draws us into knowing God better (moral teachings). I’m reminded of a testimony that shared how their invitation to God was sparked when another person cried tears of compassion for their plight. I think this is what the Pope was steering us toward in regard to evangelizing.

  • Debbie

    Beautifully stated! Great insight, Cari.

  • JMC

    And this is exactly why the mainstream media to thoroughly misinterpreted the Pope’s words. They don’t know God; they only know the secular viewpoint. And so they’re happily spreading the misinformation that. this Pope is open to women in the priesthood, to gay marriage, and every other perversion, real or imagined, in our culture today. It seems to stem from a mis’sunderstanding of what “judging” someone really means. I’m not sure I understand it myself, but I do know it doesn’t mean that pointing out to someone that he’s committing sin is not it, simply becaune se it’s one of the spiritual works of mercy, i.e., admonishing the sinner. But it’s difficult to explain that when the culture doesn’t want to hear it, when the culture is busily trying to convince everyone that God is a myth.

  • JMC

    Oops. I meant SO thoroughly misinterpreted…

  • Lee

    We think we know what is best for us as we journey through our lives, until we give ourselves to God, then we know the Truth. Some peoples will never know who they were meant to be, because they were in control of their will and would not follow our Lord’s Will. Some peoples will always keep them in prayer.

  • chaco

    God’s judgment is more easily understood if we consider the difference between 1st degree – 2nd degree etc. crimes; The discernment of degree relies on the culpability (understanding in the head/ intellect & Heart/ will) of the sinner. Only God can read the conscience/ Heart. [Nothing has more profound depth than a soul created in the Image of an infinate God.]

  • Barrysullivan1

    I am a life long, orthodox, pro-life Catholic activist who ran for Congress some 20 years ago. I always bring up that none of these moral issues matter if there is no God or one does not believe in a Final Judgment. So I undrstand what the Pope is trying to say but I believe these comments are going to be used by the media to mislead many Catholics who get their information from the media i.e. they don’t go to websites like this one to get the entire quote. I believe his comments will allow the “seemless garment” from Cardinal Bernadin to creep back in and lead many souls astray. It is early in his pontificate and I hope I am wrong.

  • SS

    Loved your article Cari,
    However, I’m afraid most people, Catholics and non-Catholics get their information on Catholic teachings from the same place they get their information on what the pope said (or didn’t say), from liberal media. I too am a convert and have studied the faith for many years. Unfortunately, most Catholics don’t know their faith. The Church has done an extremely poor job of teaching the faith. The Church does not want to ‘offend’ anyone with Christ’s teachings, so it doesn’t teach them, then it wonders why we find ourselves in such a mess. Christ did not invite the ‘moneychangers’ to buy and sell and cheat and steal in the Temple. He made a whip of cords and drove them out. Repentance is unnecessary when unacceptable behavior is accepted. It comes from a desire to right one’s wrongs and come into conscious contact with our Creator. Yes, He loves us, and yes He accepts us all…. if we repent of our sinful ways and follow Him (not perfectly, but following none the less). There is a difference between right and wrong. Our Church has been greatly remiss in teaching the faith. I find great error in the popes recent comments… I fear those errors will lead a great many sheep astray.