September 20, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 20:20-26.
They watched him closely and sent agents pretending to be righteous who were to trap him in speech, in order to hand him over to the authority and power of the governor. They posed this question to him, “Teacher, we know that what you say and teach is correct, and you show no partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it lawful for us to pay tribute to Caesar or not?” Recognizing their craftiness he said to them, “Show me a denarius; whose image and name does it bear?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” So he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” They were unable to trap him by something he might say before the people, and so amazed were they at his reply that they fell silent.
“Agents pretending to be righteous who were to trap him in speech.” These men were agents of the religious authorities, the institutional Jewish church, the guardian of orthodoxy and orthopraxy — “correct” belief and behavior. They stand out to me in such contrast to Pope Francis. An interview with him by editor in chief Fr. Antonio Spadaro was published in the Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica yesterday. It produced some stunning headlines in media around the world. I encourage you to read the entire article online at americamagazine.org.
In answer to the question “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?”, he responded, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate description. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.” When asked if he would accept his election as pontiff on that day in March, he gave the same answer, “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This understanding of himself and his relationship to God is the foundation of his priestly ministry and the execution of his office. By contrast the righteous religious authorities confronting Jesus did not perceive themselves as sinners. Consequently, they could not empathize with their fellow Jews; they held themselves separate and above others especially public sinners like tax collectors.
In his interview Pope Francis stated, “We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church….The church is the totality of God’s people.” He went on, “This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people….The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.” This is the context for his words that have led to headlines around the world such as “Pope: Church will fail if mired in rules for gays, abortion” that appeared in msn.com.
To me this man is truly the vicar of Christ. A brief anecdote in his interview directly illustrates the situation that Jesus found himself in as described in the gospel. “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks 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. If life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation.” This is my call as a Christian, as a follower not just an admirer of Jesus.
The Pope elaborated, “In this quest to seek and find God in all things there is still an area of uncertainty. There must be. If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions — that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself….You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation. The risk in seeking and finding God in all things, then, is the willingness to explain too much, to say with human certainty and arrogance: ‘God is here.’ We will find only a god that fits our measure.”
Finally, he said, “If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists — they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies. I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’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 a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”
This is a Pope who shares my heart and mind. This is a Pope that I can look up to and follow. This is the man that the Holy Spirit selected at a time of sore need for the Church, for the hundreds of millions of faithful around the world who yearn to know that God loves them, sinners every one. “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is the ultimate confession of humility and gateway into the divine love of God.