USA Today, like most news sources, summarized a recently published interview with Pope Francis: "Pope Francis said the Catholic Church should focus less on abortion, gays and contraception." Is there more to the story?
Consider this: last May, Pope Francis excommunicated a pro-gay marriage priest. Greg Reynolds of Melbourne, Australia had been advocating views on women clergy and gay marriage that clearly contradict Catholic doctrine. However, the pope's action is only now making news. Why? Perhaps because, as one commentator notes, "he's not the liberal the media wants."
I read the pope's recent, controversial interview in its entirety. His fellow Jesuit, Antonio Spadaro, asked him, "What kind of church do you dream of?" Francis replied: "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."
This is the context of his oft-quoted statement, "We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. . . . When we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context." What context? "Proclamation . . . focuses on the essentials, in the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus."
What are the "essentials"? Francis: "A genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. . . . Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives." The pope is emphatic: "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."
Pope Francis is right: when we focus on the immorality of our culture, we diagnose the disease but have no cure for it. However, if we then lead people to Jesus, he heals what we cannot. Human words cannot change human hearts. But the gospel contains the power to effect the moral transformation our culture so desperately needs.
I am reading Killing Jesus by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. Set in Jesus' lifetime, this paragraph is striking: "Jesus will never write a book, compose a song, or put paint to canvas. But two thousand years from now, after his message has spread to billions of people, more books will be written about his life, more songs sung in his honor, and more works of art created in his name than for any other man in the history of the world."
The worship chorus is right: "It's all about Jesus."