Last week everyone’s favourite free-wheeling Pope said, to a Lutheran woman married to a Catholic man who said how hurt she was at not being able to take communion in each other’s churches:
“life is bigger than explanations and interpretations,” he suggested that individuals should not be obsessed with complex theological debate and decide according to their conscience.
“It is a question that each person must answer for themselves,” he said, suggesting that his own authority was below that of God’s in such personal matters.
“There is one baptism, one faith, one Lord, so talk to the Lord and move forward. I dare not, I cannot, say more,” he said.
What’s remarkable is that he stopped there. Perhaps he realised that saying any more would cause even more of a scandal than the indifferentism to which he’d already given voice? Who am I to judge?
He’s right that we. each of us, answers to our conscience. But I should have expected a Catholic bishop to have been emphasising the importance of that conscience being properly formed; perhaps he took that for granted? It did not sound as though he did.
I shall be corrected here I am sure if I err, but my understanding is that for Catholics, as for Orthodox, taking communion is a sign of full fellowship? It is for us Baptists. To say that those not in full fellowship cannot share at the table with us is not to be ‘nasty’ or ‘uncaring’ or whatever the latest word is which expresses modern man’s inexhaustible list of things which upsets the new, more sensitive man – it is a statement of fact. Modern man seems quite allergic to ‘facts’, which he seems to find offensive when they go against his opinion; quite why his opinion should count for anything is unclear, except for the fact that in a world where relativism rules, the one thing of which he can be certain is his own view – until he changes it.
Were I a Catholic, I should be profoundly concerned by another of the comments he is said to have made:
“What will the Lord ask us on that [Judgment] day? Did you go to Mass? Have you prepared a good catechesis?” …
While these things are important, the deeper questions will be “on the poor. Because poverty is the center of the Gospel. He, being rich, was made poor in order to enrich us with his poverty.”
Jesus didn’t consider it a privilege to be God, but instead “humbled himself unto death, death on a cross. It’s the choice of service,” Francis said.
It’s the choice we will be faced with when we meet Jesus face to face: “did you use your life for yourself or to serve? To defend yourself from others with walls, or to welcome with love? This will be the final decision of Jesus.”
This Jesus he mentions seems not to be the one who spoke about sheep and goats and who warned that few would be saved, and even wondered if there would be any faithful left when he returned. Jesus welcomed all with love, but there was this thing he asked of them – that they should repent of their sins. Would that, perhaps, have upset some of the poor sensitive souls to whom the Pope was speaking?
There is a reason that the great preachers often spoke of sin – it is sin which damns us to hell. Being reminded of our sin is unpleasant – it often makes us feel uneasy. Good, because that is the first step towards penitence. If we feel uneasy about something we have done or said, we should think on that a while – because that’s our conscience, that’s God’ voice telling us that we’re going wrong. That is also an invitation to get it right next time, to apologise – to repent.
I’ve no idea whether this Pope is a Catholic in the traditional sense. He’s one in the modern sense. Whether that’s enough, who can judge?