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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Understand the Big-Hearted Pope -- Francis

by Susan Fox

“I am a sinner.”

photo by telegraph.co.uk
So begins a fascinating interview with Pope Francis published on Sept. 19. The interview rocked the world, with some claiming the pope is a “flaming liberal” and will take the Church to the left, while orthodox Catholics feel betrayed.

Both sides are wrong. The interview has to be taken in the context of the relativistic world we inhabit. He was trying to give us a strategy for converting the world. He was not pulling back from our positions against abortion, birth control and gay marriage.

“I see the Church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds. ... And you have to start from the ground up,” the Pope said in the interview.

He is right! In the context of evangelization, one has to focus on the person and the basic message of Catholicism, not on the hot button issues of the day. I have 30 years of door-to-door evangelization under my belt, and I quickly learned that arguing the issues of abortion, contraception and gay marriage – even defending the church in the priestly sexual abuse scandal – would never win any converts.

Early in my volunteer labor, I visited an elderly single woman who was lapsed from the Catholic faith. She was lonely and wanted attention. Did I give her that? No, I was eager to change her mind (this was 30 years ago). So when I asked her why she left the Church, and she answered because of its position on contraception, alarm bells should have gone off in my head. She was not living with anyone. She was too old to have children. That couldn’t possibly be the reason she was away from the Church. But instead -- in my enthusiasm -- I began to tell her the wonders of Natural Family Planning. Wrong choice! She naturally ended the interview there.

As the years passed, I learned NOT to explain the Church’s position on any of these hot button issues unless somebody
"I got to know the people,
 where they hurt and why
they hurt. And this method
proved the most effective
in bringing people
 into the church."
asked me to! Instead I got to know the people, where they hurt and why they hurt. And this method proved the most effective in bringing people into the church. I learned to look for the good things they were already doing, and emphasize this.

St. Peter Claver is an excellent model for this type of evangelization. During his 40 years of meeting and greeting the Negro slaves that poured into Columbia through the port of Cartagena during the 1600s, he baptized and instructed 300,000 slaves!

St. Peter Claver ministering
to the slaves
He didn’t waste time arguing the issue of slavery. He marched onto the slave ships, ministered to the naked and ill-treated passengers, brought them food, clothing, tobacco and brandy, and by gentle words and gestures he calmed their fears and after these needs were met, he proclaimed the gospel. After they were baptized, they were still slaves, but they had received the greatest treasure on earth – an intimate relationship with God Himself.

Peter Faber, one of the first companions to St. Ignatius of Loyola, particularly impressed Pope Francis, according to his interview with Father Antonio Spadaro, S.J., because of “(his) dialogue with all -- even the most remote and even with his opponents.” Sometimes we find our pastors hiding in the rectory when the neediest (not in a material sense) in their parish live right across the street. Lay Catholics too sometimes know how to hide in the Church, taking up jobs there, but never reaching out to strangers.

The pope also said he admired Faber’s being available and fully present to others immediately. So the pope admires evangelists that are available and fully present to everyone -- even their enemies. I admire this also.

The secular media was also fascinated by the fact that Pope Francis said he was a sinner. They felt this was the first time a pope admitted such. Apparently, they were asleep during their childhood Sunday Bible classes when St. Peter, the first pope, told Jesus, “Depart from me. I am a sinful man.”

The pope – as a sinful man – identified with St. Matthew, the tax collector sitting in the Custom House holding onto his money when Jesus came by, and said “Follow me.”  Going to the Church of St. Louis of France in Rome, the pope often contemplated the painting of “The Calling of St. Matthew,” by Caravaggio.

“That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew.” the pope said. “It is the gesture of
St. Matthew wonders,
"Who me?"
Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff: ‘I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.’”

Ironically, Jesus went to the apostle Matthew’s home after they met and had dinner. The Pharisees saw this and asked why Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus responded, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

That was the whole purpose and theme of the pope’s interview with Fr. Spadaro. The pope’s words about the “Church as a field hospital” eerily echo Jesus’ own words in the Gospel of Matthew. "For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Yet this so poorly catechized world has chosen to interpret the pope’s remarks about loving sinners as if we also must love their sins -- an illogical conclusion.

One liberal writer reading Pope Francis’ remarks about papal infallibility concludes that the pope  believes the people who support gay marriage and contraception are infallible. The pope said, “All the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief, and the people display this infallibility in believing, through a supernatural sense of the faith of all the people walking together. This is what I understand today as the ‘thinking with the church’ of which St. Ignatius speaks. When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit. We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church.”

What the pope is saying is nothing new. The smallest person in the Catholic Church uniting his mind and heart with the deposit of faith handed down to us from the apostles (the mind of the church) is infallible. But the smallest person uniting his mind and heart with the thinking of the world (pro-abortion, contraception and gay marriage) is just a plain old fool.

So then Pope Francis says, “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. The teaching of the church is clear, and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

That is exactly what I am talking about – that our evangelization need not fixate on our differences with others, but rather on the gospel. But the liberal writer I am looking at sees these remarks as a grudging acceptance of the Church’s official positions on abortion, contraception and gay marriage. And he bases it on the pope’s use of the term, “son of the church.” He thinks that is not a defense of doctrine, simply acquiescence.

People with such infantile knowledge of the Catholic Church should not under any circumstances write about it. The term “Son of the Church” means docile, absolute, childlike obedience. To the best of my knowledge St. Teresa of Avila coined it, or at least she used it to describe herself in her later life. She said, “I am the Child of the Church.”

Imagine this. The elderly and sick Saint Teresa wants to go start one last convent in a big city and then rest. Her confessor, whom she has vowed to obey as if his is the Voice of the Church, orders her instead to start numerous small convents all over Spain. If you ever watched the movie, it is really something. She is being carried around from convent to convent in a bed because she is so very ill. And she obeys even this onerous order from a priest who is hanging around Paris getting adored because he is her spiritual director. (Near the end of her life, he gives his orders by letter and never sees her in person.) She – an elderly and sick nun  – starts several small convents. She obeys at great personal cost. She is obedient unto death.

Today, St. Teresa of Avila is one of the incorruptibles. That is, her body doesn’t decay. But she is unique among this class of saints, because her body is not only incorrupt; you can arrange it in any position you want including standing up. Now this is a message from God: St. Teresa of Avila is and was a daughter of the Church. She is still wholly obedient – even in her dead body.
Now we have a pope describing himself as a “Son of the Church.” What do you think? Is he only giving grudging obedience? Or is he onboard the speeding train with his whole heart, thinking with the "mind of the Church," thinking with the Catholic people, priests and bishops, who have faithfully followed the Good Shepherd for the last 2,000 years?

The original and complete interview with Pope Francis can be found at A Big Heart, Open to God


  1. Great article. Orthodox Catholics are going to have a hard time accepting some of the things Pope Francis has to say. He will likely draw people back to the Church who will probably start out going to mass and receiving communion instead of going to confession first. They won't pay any attention to what the Church has to say about things like contraception and gay marriage and they won't have any qualms about not going to mass on a Sunday or holy day of obligation if they have something else to do. I don't know if this will be a good thing or a bad thing for the Church.

  2. The process you are talking about has been going on for a long time. Orthodox Catholics, if they know their faith, are supposed to keep their focus on Jesus, and not on what the person in the pew next to them is doing, unless someone asks for information. Like I said, religion isn't about rules. It's about a radical transformation into the life of Christ. Mess ups on the way there will happen. These can be handled in the confessional. No orthodox Catholic should have any problem with what the Pope said if they know their faith. He's a faithful son of the Church, and he wants to convert the whole world. Who could argue with that? Susan Fox

  3. You're right, of course. As an atheist, I can see all of the good that comes from the faith of believers. My wife is a perfect example of a good believer and I am a perfect example of a bad nonbeliever. I have been giving her hints that I don't believe but yesterday it came to a head and I stated quite frankly that I am an atheist. I picked her up at the train station and she said she wanted to go to the church that has a separate chapel for Eucharistic Adoration. Without thinking, I let out a moan and she got upset at me and wanted to know what my problem was and why I don't have faith anymore. I tried telling her that I still believe it is good to practice Catholicism and that I intended to do so. She told me that I would be living a lie. We went into the chapel and sat only a few minutes before she got up and we left. Things have been pretty bad since and I don't know what will happen when it is time to go to mass on Saturday afternoon.

  4. Bill, You have a right to go to Mass whether you believe or not. Don't let your wife keep you away. They always say we Catholics are hypocrites. They are right. Every Catholic, every Christian, is a hypocrite. Once you know God and how kind He is and then you see yourself in your weaknesses and faults and your lack of faithfulness to a kind God, you KNOW you are a hypocrite. But I always tell these outside accusers, "We are hypocrites, but there is ALWAYS room for a couple more." (meaning them.) They usually are quiet after that. If she won't let you go with her, take separate cars, or sit separately. My stepfather really loved the Eucharist. I would watch his face when I gave Communion to my sick mother, and he had such a look of longing when he witnessed that. Most of the time he tried to pretend he didn't care about the Catholic faith. Heavens we didn't even know if he was baptized or not. He acted very anti-Catholic much of the time. So after Mom died, I said to my stepfather, why don't you become Catholic, and his response was, "Susan, I don't qualify." That was news to me. I thought Jesus died on the cross for every human being in the world, but apparently when Jesus went to the cross, he said to Himself, "This is for everyone in the world who will ever live except Susan's stepfather. He doesn't qualify." That means that only my stepfather didn't qualify. All atheists qualify. He died for all atheists. And we know historically the Scriptures are most accurate, while belief that they are not is an act of blind faith. God bless you. Susan Fox

  5. From Bill S. (greatly shortened): While I was religious, I never thought about Emily at all. But now that I don't look at what I did as necessarily sinful and I think the worst thing I did was say what I said to her I am nostalgic about the whole affair. The two times that I was with Emily seem like the best two times I've ever done anything in my life. If I were religious I would swear that Satan is tempting me.

    Susan, what do you think of the coincidences starting with me writing the nasty letter that caused Linda to come home to getting the xxxxxx and running into my cousin's girlfriend at the hospital and me saying that nasty things family got ended our relationship? Added to that is the coincidence of me picking up Emily and my cab which is not very likely thing to happen. And what do you think of me having looked at it as a sin for which I repented but now looking at it as a fond memory?

    Don't feel like you have to respond right away. Bill

  6. Dear Bill, I think you married Linda, and whether you had the right feelings or not, you made a decision. Love is a decision. It isn't feelings. The ship has already sailed. Accept it. However, you had an affair before your marriage. We are spiritual beings, and sex creates a bond between two spiritual beings. Believe it or not, you are still tied spiritually to Emily. This can be very confusing because you are married to Linda, spiritually tied to Linda, but also spiritually tied to Emily. That's why the Catholic Church highly recommends virginity before marriage, and fidelity after marriage. It makes for a very peaceful heart. I told you about that book “The Healing of Families: How to pray effectively for those stubborn personal and familial problems” by Fr. Yozefu-Ssemakula available at www.healingoffamilies.com in my article "What do we do when prayer doesn't seem to help?"

    In his retreat, Fr. Yozefu (Fr. Joe) relates the story of two Catholics married to Catholics who commit adultery together. They repent, go to confession, and try to avoid seeing each other. However, because they have had sex, they have created a spiritual bond. So the woman says to herself, "I always run into Joe at St. Thomas' parish. I will talk my husband into going to St. Cecelia's this Sunday." Joe thinks the same thing and talks his wife into going to St. Cecilia's that Sunday. So trying to avoid one another at St. Thomas' parish, Joe and the "other" woman bump into each other at Mass. The same thing could happen at the bank. They are trying to avoid one another, but they keep ending up in the same place. Unfortunately, then Joe, and this woman decide that God must want them to be married, so the two adulterers divorce their spouses (never God's plan) and marry each other. And then they are definitely worse off than they were before. Fr. Joe says it is necessary is to break the bond with people with whom you have had an affair outside marriage. Yes, you went to confession. Yes, God forgave you. But the consequences of the "sin" is that you still have a spiritual bond with the person with whom you had an illicit affair. Fr. Joe gives you the prayers to say to break this bond. It basically comes down to telling Satan you break the bond with Emily and send Satan to the foot of the cross, and ask the Holy Spirit to fill up the space in your relationship with Emily that is now ended, and put the cross into your relationship with Emily which still exists after all these years.I know this sounds weird coming this way without full explanation, but I really recommend you get the book and read it.

    to be continued in next post Susan Fox

  7. Bill: Re: these bonds created by sex. I watched The World Over on EWTN and he featured a young woman who had been raped on a cruise ship. Someone slipped a date rape drug into her glass, and the next thing she knew she woke up raped, in a pool of urine, no one in the room, and no memory of who raped her. The story is actually very touching because at one point she had a vision of Jesus waking up in the bed raped in a pool of urine. That was part of her healing. Jesus told her that the man who violated her body actually violated Christ's Body as well. It was a potently lovely way for God to heal this woman after a traumatic experience like that. But I was alerted when she said before this vision, she actually wanted to find the man who raped her and see if they could get a permanent relationship going. This was one of her inclinations. It sounds really horrible until you take it in the context of the fact that we are spiritual beings and sex (even rape) creates a spiritual bond. The poor girl was suffering and confused by the bond created by her rape. So I don't blame you for being confused by the relationship you had prior to your marriage. You need to spiritually break that bond with Emily, and yes you are experiencing temptation. Watch out! God bless you. Warmest regards. Susan Fox

  8. Susan,

    Even though I have made it important to me that I try not to believe in the supernatural, your advice still makes sense to me. It puts things in perspective. My subconscious mind generates thoughts that do come across as temptations. In a sense, my conscious mind is being tempted by my subconscious mind. Even if I don't believe in Satan, there might as well be such an entity the way my mind works. I know you can only help me so much without directing me to a spiritual solution. Thanks for all that you have been able to do despite my resistance to that kind of solution.

  9. Dear Bill,
    Whether you believe in him or not, Satan has a strategy for destroying your life. He has a different strategy for each person because we are unique. Although you say I am not sending you to a religious solution, I believe that what you mean by that is the narrow "rules oriented" form of Catholicism you used to practice. I would never send you to that kind of thinking. That form of Catholicism is false. Sometimes it is even hateful. I am actually giving you the best of Catholicism handed down to us through the centuries, the kind that came from Jesus Christ as lived by his saints and apostles, the kind that you never had. So it occurred to me because you mentioned two incidents in your life (the circumstances of meeting Emily and how your brother led you into atheism) that Satan is using the same strategy in your life that he used with St. Teresa of Avila and Judas. To a certain extent it seems he may have been successful because you feel unhappy with the result. Basically, Satan used your cousin's promiscuous tendencies to lure you into a relationship with Emily, and he used your brother to draw you into atheism. Your cousin played with temptation but ultimately he went home that night to his wife, you, however, single man that you were, you ended up stepping into the temptation that your cousin created, leading you to these vain regrets later in your life. Also if your brother had not lured you out of Catholicism, even though the form you had was not the best, you would not have these vain regrets re: Emily. (Remember you said when you were practicing Catholicism you did not miss the relationship with Emily) This is a suffering as a fruit of sin and having bad companions, and if you ever decide to believe in Jesus Christ, you can offer this suffering -- the longing for Emily and not your wife -- up in union with the sufferings of Christ. If you are ever able to do that, your life -- even if you never pick up a toothbrush again or empty the trash -- your life will have profound meaning and purpose. to be continued, Susan Fox

  10. So what do you have in common with Judas and St. Teresa of Avila? You are all three uniquely called to be "friends" with Jesus, not with the "bad" companions that all three of you met in your lifetimes. You can read about St. Teresa of Avila's struggles with false friendships at " Lead us not into Temptation: Satan's strategy in the life of St. Teresa of Avila."
    When one is led astray by bad companions, the solution is to substitute a good companion for the bad. In a sense, that is what you are doing by talking to me. Teresa found this out to a very high degree.

    Re. Intimacy in marriage. I say this as one old married person to another (Lawrence and I have been married 30 years), it is a sin to withhold relations from your spouse unless one of you is too sick or has some physical handicap. The Catholic Church actually teaches that. Sometimes old Catholic women like myself think, "Oh Jesus is so wonderful. Why didn't I become a nun? I should start living like this now." This is actually another temptation of the devil to withhold relations from your spouse. And it causes untold suffering for the spouse. And it leads to the break up of marriages, and it leads to spouses beginning to dream of ex-girlfriends. Now I really don't know if you need to know that or not, but I thought I just might throw that in. God's plan for marriage is that we be available and present to our spouse whether they want to talk, go to adoration, or just go to bed. God bless you. Susan Fox

  11. An outstanding commentary on the papal interview. Most welcome - following on days of near hysteria from many - which, sadly, has and is, playing into the hands of the dissenters.

    I shall create a link to your article on our blog.

  12. Dear Barona, Thank you very much. I'm sorry I don't know how to find your blog. Maybe you can share a link with me here or on facebook. Yes, I was very disturbed to read comments from really good Catholics saying the pope should resign, etc. And it disturbed me. On Sunday I was going to a movie (my husband was out of town) and I was in great peace having said the Rosary, gone to Mass, and done the Liturgy, then eaten. As I got closer to the movie my peace evaporated completely! I began to be very disturbed. These were symptoms I would normally associate with Satan. But I kept saying to myself, "Why would Satan NOT want me to go to a silly movie and waste some time?" So I literally turned around at the last minute, came home, and sat at the computer and wrote that. I realized later I actually did God's will. I guess our guardian angels like to disturb us a little bit once in a while to get us going the right direction. God bless you. Susan Fox

  13. Readers: This is Barona's excellent blog, called "Witness." I highly recommend it.

  14. Susan,

    Very interesting what you said about intimacy. For the most part, I usually view Linda as a saint and myself a sinner. From early in our marriage, it was apparent that she did not exactly enjoy sex as much as I did. .....

    There isn't a day that goes by that I don't blame her in my thoughts ..... Is she a much better behaved person than me? Absolutely. ...

    One thing she did complain to me about often was that I couldn't just be intimate and affectionate without it leading to sex. .....

    Much of the way I feel is due to the fact that I've hardly ever had a real lover. ...

    These days, she is really good to me and these should be the best years of our life together. But I can't get myself to raise a finger to make things enjoyable. .... I do enjoy Catholics more than atheists.

    I better stop there.

  15. Dear Bill, Sorry for the heavy editing. I am trying to preserve your privacy.

    Bill, I hate to break this to you, but there isn't a single woman married in the entire history of humanity who hasn't at one point yelled at her (beloved) husband, "All you want is s--!"
    It is the nature of men that that is how they show affection, and they can't just kiss for hours like my husband and I did before we married, that is they can't do it after they marry you. Before they marry you, if you are living chastely men will kiss for hours. If you are not living chastely men can't just kiss and hug. It is not part of their nature. That's why it's important to have that nice long courtship for the woman, because after she is married, it's not going to come again.
    Bill, I highly recommend you try a program called Retrouvaille to put the sparkle back into your marriage and finally find the wife you were always supposed to have. It's like Marriage Encounter, but for marriages that need a little more work than normal. And people say after they go on one of these retreats, they don't come out of the bedroom for three days. http://www.retrouvaille.org God bless you. Susan Fox. P.S. stop accepting misery. Begin to live your life. Be happy. It's not too late.

  16. Dear Susan Fox,
    Great article. God bless you for all your -30 years - good work. Is it possible to make a few clones of yourself and spread them around a little? :)

  17. Clone me? Join the Legion of Mary. I am a "fruit" of that organization. Their chief charism is evangelization. If your local group is not doing that work of door-to-door evangelization, talk to the pastor. He is the one who approves the works. Also if you do join, read and learn the Legion handbook. It's been approved by every pope since 1921. Make sure the group is following the rules. A Legion group that is not following its own handbook could misshape you spiritually. God bless you, Simon. Susan Fox