WCR Logo


December 1, 2014

For some Catholics at least, there exists the frightening prospect that the media is right about Pope Francis – that the pope is trying to make it easier to live the Gospel, that he wants to water down the faith and that he wants Catholics to get in step with modern society.

There was, of course, the famous "Who am I to judge?" comment the pope made shortly after his election in relation to homosexual activity. Now, there is the prospect that it might become easier to obtain a Church annulment or possibly even for divorced and remarried people to be welcomed at Communion without having their first marriage annulled. Some fear all this means that the pope wants to alter Church teaching.

However, if you read the steady stream of papal homilies and addresses, it is clear that Pope Francis is demanding more of us, not less. Take for example – one of hundreds of examples that could have been chosen – the second paragraph of his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel. There he states: "The great danger in today's world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures and a blunted conscience."

Here is a clear challenge to our middle and upper class North American lifestyles. To follow Christ we must purge ourselves of frivolous pleasures and a covetous addiction to consumer goods. These things blunt our consciences and make it well-nigh impossible to live the Gospel.

Time and again, the pope challenges the lifestyles of modern Western society. It is this aspect of the life of faith that is so often ignored as if the size of one's house, car and expense account are not matters of religious concern.

The pope aims more of his comments at bishops and other Church leaders because they, above all, must be visible witnesses to the Saviour who had "nowhere to lay his head" (Luke 9.58). It is we – those whose affiliation with the Church is closest – who are called to a higher form of witness.

If the pope is asking for a slackening off, it is in our attitude toward others, to those who are far from the Church or who feel unwelcome there.

Never have I met a person who has gone through a divorce who said, "That was great fun. I would love to do it all over again." A divorce instead more often brings intense inner turmoil, tears, anxiety, loneliness, sleepless nights, meetings with lawyers, diminished income, conflict over visitation rights and an uncertain future.

So, when the divorced person turns to the Church and perceives not welcome, but harsh judgment and another labyrinth of hoops to jump through, is it any wonder that they turn away? Any Church committed to a new evangelization in societies that were once Christian, but are no longer so, must confront this perceived lack of compassion.

Any Church that follows Jesus can never forget that Jesus, in contrast with the religious traditions of his day, ate with sinners and constantly challenged the most devout people. It was his unqualified acceptance of tax collectors, prostitutes and adulterers, not a wagging finger, that led sinners to change their lifestyles. Jesus sat at table with them, not after they had cleaned up their lives, but while they were still living in their sins.

Pope Francis is calling us to do the same. It is not for us to judge, but to welcome, especially those who have in any way been marginalized. In the process, we will have to live up to a higher standard and be patient with those who carry heavy burdens.

The pope wants us, not to water down our core beliefs, but to expand them. Not only must we be concerned about the morality of sex and marriage, we must also welcome those on the margins, advocate for justice and adopt lifestyles visibly different than the consumerism of our day.