Thursday, November 14, 2019

33rd Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 21: 5-19) You are Peter...

There is some confusion at the moment regarding what Pope Francis has and has not said.  A number of people have mentioned it to me, so I would like to try and clarify a few things.

Several years ago, Pope Benedict XVI said that in the Gospels there was no mention of the animals in the nativity scene, but that they are referred to in the Old Testament. Either way, no one knows what was there, as these are traditions. The media reported that the Pope had said there were no animals in the crib. Not correct.

In Regensburg, Germany, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI gave a lecture encouraging dialogue between Christianity and Islam. In it he quoted a 14th century Christian emperor, who said, "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." It was presented as the Pope saying that Islam had only evil to offer, which was not what he said and not what the Church teaches. He later apologized for the confusion and any offense he had caused, as he said this was not what he believed himself, but that is what was reported.

Pope Francis is unusual in that he is willing to step outside the box and reach out to people on the margins of society. This is a wonderful thing and it is exactly what Jesus did, but the difficult side is that it is often open to misinterpretation, but he has not changed any Church teaching.

On the flight home from World Youth Day in Brazil, the Pope was asked about the ‘Gay Lobby’ in the Vatican. One part of his reply was this:
“If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this point beautifully where it says… these persons must never be marginalized and “they must be integrated into society.”

It was reported that Pope Francis’ approach to homosexuality was going away from Church teaching. Not only was it not going away from it, but he quoted Church teaching.

In the last few weeks the ‘Amazon Synod’ was held, which addressed many of the issues of spreading the Gospel to the people of the Amazon and the difficulties with that. One thing that they concluded was that it would be acceptable to ordain men to the priesthood, who are deacons and already married. This was because of the huge shortage of priests in the Amazon region. We were given the impression that there were now going to be married priests. Not exactly true.

Perhaps the most controversial was a recent event in the Vatican. As part of the Amazon Synod and by way of showing respect for what is important to the natives there, a statue—which was reported as being Pachamama; a pagan goddess important to the indigenous people, though also representing Mother Earth—was brought into the Vatican. The Pope and cardinals were showing respect for what is important to these people, who are Catholic and the natives lit candles in front of it. In no way was there any kind of worship done, as this would be idolatry. It would be very similar to us lighting candles before the statue of Our Lady and singing a hymn to her. Some Christian groups consider that idolatry. But that is what was portrayed through the media. What the Pope is doing, is reaching out to people and showing respect for others and their backgrounds. These things are important to the Catholic natives of the Amazon.

Figurine brought into the Vatican
The same thing has been done for centuries. St. Paul did something similar in the Acts of the Apostles (17:23). While he was in Greece and speaking to the intellectuals there, he mentioned that among all their statues, he had noticed one statue with the name, ‘To an unknown God.’ He said this statue was in fact referring to the true God. In other words, he was using what these people could relate to, as a bridge, to try and teach them about God.

In a private comment afterwards, the Pope said that it was never his intention to give the impression that there was any kind of worship of this statue. Many people were upset by what happened and it is understandable. I think that one mistake the Vatican made in regard to this, was that they didn’t properly explain what had happened and so people were left to come to their own conclusions.

Recently it was reported, that in an interview with an Italian journalist by the name of Eugenio Scalfari, Pope Francis told him he did not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The interview had taken place two years previous and he was recalling what was said from memory. On other occasions the same journalist acknowledged that some of his reports were not true to what had been said. The idea that the Pope doesn’t believe in the bodily resurrection is ridiculous.

So to conclude, don’t be afraid of what you hear reported in the media, as it is often not true to what actually happened. Pope Francis has not changed any part of Catholic teaching. What he is doing is reaching out to people in the ‘grey area’, and that is exactly what Jesus did. Jesus was also heavily criticized because he did not do everything exactly according to the Law, such as healing people on the Sabbath. Many people were scandalized by what Jesus did and said, because they had a very narrow understanding of their faith.

Going into the mess of people’s lives also leaves the pope’s actions open to misinterpretation. The teaching of the Church stays the same, although our understanding of those teachings is constantly deepening, but ultimately it is the Lord’s Church. He is the one guiding us and the Church will continue to exist and grow, because it is the power of God behind it. So don’t be too concerned when you hear about these things. You are usually not being given an accurate picture of what happened.

“You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of the underworld will never hold out against it” (Matthew 16:18).

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