Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Holy Father Is Like a Child...Thank God!

27th Sun OT Yr B/2015
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

One of the greatest disappointments in the wake of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States has been the way many Catholics in America have tried to co-opt what the Holy Father said and did to advance their own hand-picked issues and arguments.  Watching the response on social media, for example, it seemed that about half of my Catholic friends wanted to celebrate the Holy Father’s meeting with Kim Davis as a complete vindication of her exercise of religious freedom to refuse issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and proclaim to the world, “This visit is everything! It means everything! Stand up and pay attention!” – as if nothing else the Holy Father did or said mattered.  At the same time, the other half of my Catholic friends seemed to laud the Holy Father’s visit with a former student of his who is an openly gay man, saying, You see – this visit is everything! It means everything! Stand up and pay attention!!” – as if nothing else he did or said mattered. 
It’s interesting how much these folks – who seem to be completely at odds with one another – agree on.  And so incredibly disappointing how much they’re wrong about.  Rather than taking in all that the Holy Father did and said – rather than considering the total example of all the folks he chose to meet with and learn from how he chose to meet with them – each one seemed to see only what they wanted to see.  Rather than receiving the Holy Father’s example as something to learn from, as one of my friends commented, it seems everyone is only listening to what “tickles their ears” rather than letting the Pope call us to conversion and “keep us on our toes.” 
Surely no one here did that.  Not us – we wouldn’t try to hijack the prophetic voice of the Vicar for Christ and selectively pick and choose from his authentically Christian witness to grind our own axes.  We know better.  We learned the lesson that another of my friends pointed out:  “It didn’t work out so well with they tried to do that to Jesus either, did it?”  No – Jesus wouldn’t be backed into any one political or social corner – and when folks tried to do that, Jesus pointed out that the Good News, the news of authentic love and freedom, calls everyone to conversion.  We’re tuned in enough in our parish family to realize that the message of Christ won’t be tamed and fit nicely and neatly into the boxes of our preconceived political and social perspectives.  As one of my favorite Catholic memes says, “If you’re not hearing Pope Francis challenge your view of Christianity and Catholicism, you’re not listening.”
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It’s not a new thing for those who just ‘don’t get it’ within the established religion to use marriage and sexuality issues to ‘test’ the Christian message.  It’s all the way through the Gospels – including our reading today.  And those Catholics who hear in Pope Francis’ teaching only what they want to hear are really doing exactly the same thing the Pharisees are doing in our Gospel today.  They didn’t approach Christ with a heart open to teaching and ready to answer the call to conversion – they asked their question to ‘test’ Him.  And when they didn’t get the answer they wanted, they rejected Him. 
The Gospels this weekend seem to make it clear:  there’s no reason to continue debating issues like same-sex marriage and divorce.  Man and woman were created for one another – and based on that, the union of persons we refer to by the word “marriage” – at least sacramental marriage that is recognized within the community of faith in the Church – is reserved for this male-female union.  And the Lord Himself says with great clarity that divorcing one’s spouse and marrying another is adultery.
Unfortunately, some will not hear anything else I say because you’ll either sit back on your laurels and say, “Preach it Fr. Alan – that’s right!!!” hearing nothing more than a vindication of your current position – or you’ll balk at a clear restatement of Sacred Scripture and say, “Whoever believes that is not someone I’m willing to listen to.”  That’s a shame…but its understandable…it’s what folks did with Jesus…it’s what folks are doing with the Holy Father.  What makes me sad about that, though, is that – just like with Jesus and Pope Francis – it will mean that the real gem – the real lesson that goes hand in hand with these clear teachings – will go completely unnoticed.
You see – the real gem – the real call to conversation – the real Gospel message that the Holy Father was preaching in his meeting with Kim Davis and his former student – is the same message that Jesus preaches in the Gospel today:  Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.
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Accepting the Kingdom of God like a child… Children have an instinctive desire to make friends, to share, to welcome others, to play together and experience joy together.  Isn’t that what the Holy Father is modeling for us, and challenging us to live?  Isn’t that part of Pope Francis’ call to conversion? 
Children also instinctively rely on their parents to teach them right from wrong, and to provide boundaries that keep them safe, healthy and happy.  But how many of us approach the Kingdom of Heaven that way – perhaps occasionally throwing our own “no” tantrum, but ultimately turning toward the Church, the teaching of the Church on faith and morals, and receiving it, setting aside our surface desires and appetites and accepting the loving teaching of the Church because we realize that it assures our safety, security, and happiness?
The Holy Father isn’t a contradiction when he meets with Kim Davis and his former student – he’s modeling for us the simple love and acceptance of one who approaches the Kingdom of Heaven like a little child, where the desire is to welcome all to the joy of the family of faith. 
The Holy Father isn’t a contradiction when he upholds Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce and makes the annulment process simpler and more straightforward – he’s modeling for us the great mercy of a simple child who lowers the bar for full participation in the joy-filled circle as far as possible. 
The Holy Father isn’t a contradiction when he consistently, continually, without flinch or fail upholds the teaching of the Church on marriage, sexuality, social and environmental responsibility while at the same time reaching out and being present to those who are themselves rejecting that same teaching – he’s modeling for us a child-like posture toward the great gift of the Holy Spirit alive in the Magisterium of the Church and inviting others to do the same. 
He’s modeling for us the way to the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”

1 comment:

Peggy Carter said...

I am silenced. Some pondering, soul searching is ahead, for me at least. We Americans DO want our ears tickled instead of our hearts, you know?