LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - When Jesus began his public ministry, he shook the Jewish world to its core. He reminded God's people that how we treat one another is more important than any label we wear. Now, Pope Francis is doing more of the same, reminding people that how we treat the least members of our society is more important than what we label ourselves, even if that label happens to be "gay" or "atheist."
Some Catholics, described as "conservative" in a recent Washington Post story have taken exception to Pope Francis's recent interviews, comments and admonishments and, according to the report, "are openly questioning the pope."
One of the interesting comments in the WP article came from Robert Royal, the president of Faith and Reason in Washington D.C., "When NARAL [abortion advocates] sends you a thank-you note, it's clear something got miscommunicated."
However, the Holy Father has been quite clear in his communication, if we read his words and understand their context. The problem is how much the media filters his message because they are so eager to co-opt the Pope and somehow re-cast him in their own image. Media outlets have proclaimed that "Atheists go to heaven" and that homosexual behavior is allegedly now acceptable to the Church.
These are both errors. No statement by Pope Francis has ever affirmed such a sweeping claim about all atheists. Nor has any statement ever affirmed the moral disorder of homosexual acts. The Pope is, after all, Catholic. He does not and cannot change the teaching of the Catholic Church, to the scriptures and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Furthermore, some of the people who pass on these falsehoods reveal their lack of understanding of both what the Church teaches and how she is governed.
The same criticism applies to those who would criticize Pope Francis for merely echoing the message of Jesus Christ to love the poor, and, yes, even to love your enemies!
So where is the bombshell 180 reversal in Church doctrine? It doesn't exist. It is made up.
Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI worked hard to help Catholics understand Church doctrine with greater clarity than ever before. They emphasized Catholic identity and what it means to be a Catholic Christian. As a new era of moral relativism accelerated out of the 1960's and gained converts during the past few decades, Church leaders have been compelled to speak clearly and firmly about Church doctrine. Among those messages were explicit teachings that reaffirmed that homosexual behavior is sinful. In addition, that the fullness of truth is found within the Catholic Church. And that procured abortion, contraception, and sterilization are great moral evils.
These are clear messages and to the soft ears of a morally relativistic society, they sound harsh and unyielding. Yet, this is not the law of a few old men in Rome. This is the Law of God, revealed in in Natural Moral Law and capable of being known through reason because it is etched onto the heart of every being. This Natural Moral Law is further elevated and built upon by God's revelation of His loving plan in creation and the re-creation which comes through redemption in Jesus Christ. That Revelation is found in the Sacred Scripture and the unbroken Tradition of the Church. The words are clear, but our eyes and ears are obstructed. Jesus Christ often dealt with the same issue.
Catholics have finally become acclimated to these profoundly important moral teachings. Informed, orthodox (not conservative!) Catholics understand these teachings with clarity. Pope Francis is among that number and he speaks clearly about these issues. However, he now emphasizes the need to share the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. He calls us all to go out to the margins! He keeps company with prisoners, the poor and even atheists. Sound familiar? Jesus kept company with harlots, tax collectors, and gentiles. Pope Francis is simply doing the same thing and calling Christians to follow.
Likewise, he is on-point with his message and timely. The tone of his delivery is unique to his personality, but the content of the message is entirely consistent with Church doctrine. What has changed is our media interpretation of the message.
Some Catholics have run afoul, succumbing to the same snare that has entrapped many who are not Catholic. They listen to the media hype and wrongly conclude that Pope Francis is somehow changing Church doctrine.
What must be understood is that the pope cannot change Church doctrine. Doctrine comes not from the pope, but from the Holy Spirit who continues to reveal the fullness of Truth as given to us by a loving God. Under certain specific conditions, the Holy Father, in communion with the bishops of the Church, can speak infallibly to issues concerning faith and morality. Let's be clear, the Pope cannot change what God has established, even if he were the most "liberal" soul on Earth.
Which brings us to a second point. The media tends to refer to Catholics as "conservative" and "liberal." These are politicized labels. This is a reflection of how pervasive the misunderstanding has become, for Catholics are neither. Catholics are orthodox, meaning they fully embrace the teaching of the magisterium (teaching office) of the Church or they are not fully Catholic. One may claim the label all they want, but one's standing with God is based on faith expressed in lived behavior which flows from it, which is judged by God alone and God cannot be fooled.
Political labels should not be applied to God, or to His Church. Jesus was not a Republican. Nor was He a liberal hippie as popular memes circulating on the internet attempt to claim.
Christ and the Pope are not individuals to be claimed by various political apparatus to promote their own agendas. The Holy Father does not belong to the atheist movement or to homosexual equivalency movement, nor to the conservatives or any other group with an agenda. The media may insist otherwise, but what else can we expect from institutions corrupted by decades of moral relativism and decay?
It's time for the world to get it right about Pope Francis. It's the height of disrespect to see sensationalist headlines claiming the pope for one thing or another.
If Pope Francis is about anything, he is about you -- you as a human person with a soul and an eternal destiny. If that sounds "liberal" to you, we suggest you look up John 3:16 again.
A birth foretold: click here to learn more!
© 2013, Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM.