|egret, l.a. river|
"Pope Francis is beginning to lose me. Especially his last (Oct. 1) interview," he wrote. "We must pray especially hard for him." Attached was a link to an anti-Pope screed so full of fear, judgment and hate that I wanted to wash my hands after reading it. "The unrepentant sinners who'll be having abortions, fornicating, using pornography, etc. etc.!"
Catholics who are obsessed with other people's sexual behavior, I always feel, are deeply damaged; keeping sexual wounds or secrets they've not yet been able to share; and/or struggling with or indulging in sexual behavior that goes against the teachings of the Church themselves. If you're remotely free in this area, you simply don't pay that much attention. My own reaction to even the slightest degree of such freedom is always been unalloyed amazement, deep gratitude, and an abiding conviction that there has to be a God, because no-one with my self-centered fear, narcissistic craving for attention, and disordered nerves could possibly be refraining from acting out sexually, or any other way, except out of love.
The fact is it's hard to be faithful to the teachings of the Church. We all struggle. We've all, at times, failed, sometimes badly. Let's recognize that we all have emotional baggage, generational wounds, and a heart hemorrhaging to feel useful, needed and loved. Let's not impose more heavy burdens and not lift a finger to help. Let's gather round and encourage and share and support each other in our efforts.
Forcing, shaming, and scolding never convert anyone. Does Let him who is without sin cast the first stone ring a bell? No-one knew better than Christ our impulse to project our own sins and shadow side upon the other. That's why Pope Francis says, "Convert you? Proselytism is solemn nonsense. You have to meet people and listen to them."
In order to listen you have to have undergone a very long, very excruciating purification process yourself. I don't mean so much, or only, purification of your sexual capacity and desire, but of your motives. Of your desperate desire, which you keep hidden from yourself, to convert people not to Christ, but to you--your rightness, your excellence, your ability to smartly annihilate your opponent. You have to keep before you at all times that you're a sinner yourself.
We're not running a country club here; we're running a trauma ward for the sick of soul and spirit.You don't take a 19-year-old who comes from generations of poverty, addiction, mental illness, sexual, physical and emotional abuse--I see such young men and women in jail all the time--and jeer, "Hey perv, put down the porn! I, who come from loving parents, a solid home life, higher education, money, property, prestige and good teeth, am toeing the line--why can't you?" You think, with tears in your eyes, My God, if I'd been born with such staggering odds stacked against me, I'd probably be a pedophile, a rapist, a murderer, a suicide...
The rules are not an end in and of themselves. The rules are simply to guide us into some rough kind of shape so that we can be of maximum use and help to everyone else. The rules are to prepare us to give an account of ourselves on the day when Christ separates the sheep from the goats. On the day when he asks, How kind were you? How humble were you? How much did you love the least of these--because the least of these were me?...
We discover how much we love him when we are willing to sacrifice ourselves, not by judging the sacrifice of others.
People who are following the rules out of freedom, joy and love to do almost unconsciously. People grounded in the love of the Christ of the Gospels almost automatically act in accord with the teachings of the Church. You won't think about it much, but when you do, you'll realize, I'll be darned, my inner compass is in pretty much complete accord with the Catechism, which is to say, with the letter of Christ. And even better and more miraculous, your inner compass will be in accord with the spirit of Christ.
You'll follow the rules and then some. You'll offer up not only your sexuality, but your whole self. You'll go to Mass not just once a week, as "required," but several times a week because there is nowhere on EARTH, in spite of rush hour traffic, ringing cell phones and lame music, you'd rather be. You'll know abortion is wrong and the reward is not just that you get to, say, make a living off your political views; the reward is that your heart will open and you'll start being a "mother" to many. You'll be given a whole lot of hidden responsibility and be invited to provide all kinds of hidden service, in anonymity, for no remuneration and at great cost to yourself. You don't need recognition for that; it's a total gift. You want to recognize Christ for giving it to you.
There's no blueprint for that. You have to be willing to strike out into unknown territory, to live always in exile, to refrain from identifying yourself with anything or anyone but Christ. This overfocus on the rules purports to be fierce and bold but strikes me instead as fearfully timid. I always want to ask the rule-obsessed, Why attack the weak? Why not attack the biggest idolators of the age: those who mistake their country for God? Those who persist in the delusion that, oh, say, the United States is a chosen race, a special people, an idea that has been responsible for untold violence, untold suffering, untold derailed lives, and untold millions of senseless, horrific deaths.
I think Pope Francis is saying, Let's look at that sin. I think he's saying abortion and contraception and sexual behavior that is less than what would bring us and everyone around us fully alive will stop when war stops, when poverty stops, when we open our fearful, hardened hearts and dare to step out of our very carefully-constructed little boxes...
The Pope is dissing our contributions, some of us are raging. But that's not what he's doing at all. He's saying Yes, we're clear on our teachings, we live and die by our teachings, but the proof that our love for our teachings is legitimate is that we devote our lives to them with very little fanfare.
If we're promoting the sanctity of the human family out of love, what do we care whether we're sufficiently recognized? If we're trying, at great cost to ourselves, to be faithful to the vows of whatever our station in life happens to be, why would we need our efforts to to be validated? If we're trying to be Christ in the world, who cares if we're seen? To be upset because we feel our contribution has been minimized is an attitude that goes against the very core of the Gospels, which are entirely based on being willing to take the last place, to lose our lives for his sake in order to find it. When we're with Christ, we have all the only consolation, warmth, and recognition we'll ever need. We'll no longer look for the approval of the world. Look what the world did to Him! We'll have total faith that our efforts will bear fruit, maybe not in our lifetime, probably not in any way we'll ever be given to see.
Instead, some of us are running around keening, "What's going to happen to our positions as self-proclaimed 'guardians of the faith?' Who's going to be in charge? Who's going to spy?"
Here's some super-Good News: We don't need you to spy any more! We get to look for new jobs!: as peacemakers, contemplatives, consolers, listeners, healers, gardeners, activists, architects, liturgists, teachers, musicians, artists, writers, artisans, cooks...because someone's gotta prepare that banquet table...
The Pope is blowing a huge, huge breath of fresh air through the Church. He is putting the lie to the pursed-lipped elder brother in all of us. He is saying--to all of us--Without love you have nothing. He is saying--to all of us--Come to the living water. He is saying--to all of us--Come and see...
Thus, I replied to my correspondent:
"Oh the Pope isn't losing me at all! On the contrary, with great courage and to my intense joy, he's corroborating the idea of what it is to be a follower of Christ that I've had all along.
I'm going to pray especially hard that he continues in this vein, and I think we should all pray especially hard for our own continuing conversion to the scandalous Christ of the Gospels!
I don't bother myself with the kind of voices in the links you sent--I so appreciate your goodwill but please don't pass on such material again.
And now--let's eat!