People Who Walk Their Talk: Pope Francis

francisToday is Monday, December 23, 2013.

Pope Francis is, apparently, leading the Catholics, some kicking and screaming, into the modern era.  He has made some bold statements since becoming the Pontiff, particularly in front of the Third Vatican Council.  I don’t think I have ever heard a Pope more widely quoted and applauded – by non-Catholics!   (Full disclosure: I’m not Catholic.  I’m not even Christian.)

We could see that he was different right off the bad.  He refused to wear fancy vestments and the monzetta cape after he was elected.  He chose a simple silver piscatory ring, rather than a gold one. He wore a simple wooden pectoral cross around his neck.  He took the bus with the cardinals, rather than riding alone in the Popemobile.  He chose to live in a guesthouse rather than the formal papal apartments.  He washes people’s feet and goes among the poor.  What’s more, he is telling his followers to do the same!   He’s asking why top CEOs are making so much more than their employees, and why so many charities aren’t really helping the poor.   He’s asking why people are not living the tenets of their faith in their daily lives.

Pope Francis, formerly known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, has long been noted for his humility and his concern for the plight of the poor, as well as his commitment building bridges between people of different beliefs and faiths.  He has been given a chance to bring these qualities to bear on the office of Pope of the Catholic Church, and to serve as a model to a worldwide audience.  What an opportunity for service!  And what an opportunity to clarify and modernize the official position of the church with respect to the various issues of life as we live it today.

In some of his statements, the Pope is telling Catholics some of the things that many non-Catholics – and non-Christians – have already realized.  Here’s an example:

“The time has come to abandon all intolerance,” said the Pope.  “We must recognize that religious truth evolves and changes. Truth is not absolute or set in stone. Even atheists acknowledge the divine. Through acts of love and charity the atheist acknowledges God as well, and redeems his own soul, becoming an active participant in the redemption of humanity.”

Truth is not written in stone!  What a remarkable statement!  So is the recognition that those who call themselves atheists are capable of “acts of love and charity.”   This is such an uplifting acknowledgement, albeit a little late.  Many of us have known that for a long time.  But, more importantly, how will the Pope make these ideas a reality in everyday practice?  Will non-Catholics be able to receive Communion, for example?  Will the Church stop forcing couples with one non-Catholic partner to raise their children in the Catholic Church?

Here’s another example:

“The church no longer believes in a literal hell where people suffer. This doctrine is incompatible with the infinite love of God. God is not a judge but a friend and a lover of humanity. God seeks not to condemn but only to embrace. Like the fable of Adam and Eve, we see hell as a literary device. Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God”

This statement wasn’t exactly an apology for the heinous acts on the part of the Catholic Church during the Inquisition, but at least it takes away some of the sting.  The fact that hell is not a “forever” place is  another concept that many non-Catholics have come to realize, especially since it has been corroborated by many of those who have come back to tell about their near-death experiences.   So how will the Catholic Church walk this talk?  Will they stop having Catholics go to confession and say umpteen million Hail Marys for the remission of their sins?  Will they stop excommunicating people?

One of the Pope’s boldest statements, though, is the following:

“All religions are true, because they are true in the hearts of all those who believe in them. What other kind of truth is there? In the past, the church has been harsh on those it deemed morally wrong or sinful. Today, we no longer judge. Like a loving father, we never condemn our children. Our church is big enough for heterosexuals and homosexuals, for the pro-life and the pro-choice! For conservatives and liberals, even communists are welcome and have joined us. We all love and worship the same God.”

There have been a lot of Catholics through the ages that have condemned people who were not of the “true faith,” and I personally know some homosexuals who have left the church in disgust because of their unwelcoming attitude.  Will the Catholic Church now allow birth control?  Will they allow homosexuals to be active in the church?

Here’s another statement from the Third Vatican Council that has been going around on Facebook.

“Because Muslims, Hindus and African Animists are also made in the very likeness and image of God, to hate them is to hate God! To reject them to is to reject God and the Gospel of Christ. Whether we worship at a church, a synagogue, a mosque or a mandir [Hindu temple], it does not matter. Whether we call God, Jesus, Adonai, Allah or Krishna, we all worship the same God of love. This truth is self-evident to all who have love and humility in their hearts!”

Wow.  And how will this play out in real life?  Will some wars be avoided because of these words?  One can only hope.

“God is changing and evolving as we are, For God lives in us and in our hearts. When we spread love and kindness in the world, we touch our own divinity and recognize it. The Bible is a beautiful holy book, but like all great and ancient works, some passages are outdated. Some even call for intolerance or judgement. The time has come to see these verses as later interpolations, contrary to the message of love and truth, which otherwise radiates through scripture. In accordance with our new understanding, we will begin to ordain women as cardinals, bishops and priests. In the future, it is my hope that we will have a woman pope one day. Let no door be closed to women that is open to men!”

I know the first statement in this paragraph will be very hard for a lot of people to swallow, but I think it’s true.  God is evolving.  If God weren’t evolving, if only we were, then we might one day catch up with God, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.  Since God is evolving, too, IT will still be far, far ahead of us.  (Sorry, I don’t do the “he/she” thing for God.)
The mention of “our own divinity” is another incendiary phrase.  Some people are just not ready to admit that we Chips Off the Old Block, as it were.  Will the Catholic Church put less emphasis on sin, now?

The statement that the Bible has some “outdated” material in it is also of great importance.  I hope that this will mean less of a dependence on the written scripture and more on listening to God in the depths of our hearts.   I also hope this will mean less “selective quoting” of the Bible to make it seem that the Bible is saying something that it’s really not saying.

The ordination of women is another bombshell, and so is the mention of the possibility of a female pope.  I hope that the Catholic Church will follow through on this promise.  Perhaps they will also allow priests to marry…. or is that to much to ask, yet?

Pope Francis is one amazing person.  In one stroke, he has torn away many of the old beliefs of the Church that have held people back from a truer and more meaningful relationship with God and with people of other faiths.

Thank you, sir, for walking your talk, and may the Third Vatican Council also walk theirs.  🙂

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