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September 26, 2013
Column #1,674
Francis: The Church is Mercy and Love
by Mike McManus

In a remarkable interview for Jesuit magazines, Pope Francis was asked, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio? (His birth name.) His extraordinary answer:

“I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech…I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”

This Pope is like no other. Instead of living in an ornate Papal Apartment in the Vatican, he chgooses to live in an apartment near others. He did not want to live alone, but in a community. He travels not in a limousine but in a small decades-old car. He visits the poor.

Francis is the face of Jesus in a modern world.

After his election, he appeared on the papal balcony not in the usual gold embroidered vestments, but in a simple white cassock. Before giving the traditional papal blessing, he asked the crowd “to ask the Lord to bless me, your bishop. Pray in silence for me.” He bowed deeply.

Francis also has a fresh vision for what the church must do: “heal wounds and warm the hearts of the faithful. I see the church as a field hospital after battle.”

He correctly states that the church is perceived as being “locked up in small-minded rules.”

What’s far more important is the “proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all,” the Pope asserted.

“I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess. The church’s ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for people and accompany them like the Good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbor. This is pure Gospel. God is greater than sin.”

The church should not just welcome people, but go to those “who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent.”

This is a profound insight. There are 22 million ex-Catholics. They would be America’s second largest church, second only to 68 million Catholics. Many can be wooed back. Millions have divorced and remarried, for example.

Francis says mercy must be extended in such cases. He tells of a woman who had an abortion and a failed marriage. She remarries, has five children and is happy. However, her abortion “weighs heavily on the conscience.”

Though he is a “son of the church” who recognizes the teaching that abortion is wrong, he adds, “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent.” Its “pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines.”

She must be shown mercy and love. This is what makes “the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

The Pope is hinting that the church will welcome back divorced and remarried Catholics. He doesn’t say they’d be allowed to receive Communion, but that’s the clear implication of a “new balance” between church rules and mercy.

He leaves the issue up to the Holy Spirit to “inspire the priest to say the right thing.”

“More love, less judgment is the seed he is planting,” writes Kathleen Parker.

Francis says he was once asked “in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person.”

Later he adds, “I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else – God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is al and full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”

He wants the church to live “on the frontier,” reaching out to the lost, the lonely, the poor. He sees a “lurking danger of living in a laboratory. Ours is not a `lab faith’ but a `journey faith.’”

In his prayer time, he asks himself questions: “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What should I do for Christ?”

Those are questions every Christian should ask.

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