What Pope Francis means for the Church in the modern world

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Pope Francis is not just about creating wriggle room or watering down the teachings of the Church. He wants to admit that we hold in tension definitive teachings and pastoral yearnings, writes Frank Brennan.

- ABC Online

At my regular parish mass in Canberra on the Fifth Sunday of Lent just after the election of our new Pope, I recall greeting the congregation with these words: 'Good evening. My name is Frank and I am a Jesuit. I've had a good week. I hope you have too.' I have been overwhelmed by the positive response by all sorts of people to the election of the first Jesuit Pope. I have happily received the congratulations without quite knowing what to do with them, nor what I did to deserve them!

It's still early days in his pontificate, but I think Pope Francis has opened up a vast new panacea and not just for Catholics. He is theologically orthodox, politically conservative, comfortable in his own skin, infectiously pastoral and truly committed to the poor.

Of late, most thinking Catholics engaged in the world have wondered how you could possibly be theologically orthodox and infectiously pastoral at the one time, how you could be politically conservative and still have a commitment to the poor, how you could be comfortable in your own skin - at ease in Church and in the public square, equally comfortable and uncomfortable in conversation with fawning devotees and hostile critics.

Think only of Francis's remark during the press conference on the plane on the way back from World Youth Day:'If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him?' Gone are the days of rainbow sashes outside Cathedrals and threats of communion bans. As Francis says in the lengthy interview he did for the Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica in September 2013:

'We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound. In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are 'socially wounded' because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them." In that interview he recalls

'A person once asked me, 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. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.'

Here is a Pope who is not just about creating wriggle room or watering down the teachings of the Church. No, he wants to admit honestly to the world that we hold in tension definitive teachings and pastoral yearnings - held together coherently only by mercy and forgiveness. 

FULL STORY What Pope Francis means for the Church in the modern world

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