When I was a Seminarian
When I was a seminarian, I was not the brightest light. I was often criticized by the faculty for my lack of a philosophical background. Most of our teachings have been based on philosophical thinking. I was always attracted to St Thomas Aquinas, not only for his original thinking, but for his keen scientific mind. Yes, there was a lot of philosophy in his writings, but there was also a clarity of mind that suited the rational thinking of a scientist. His clarity gave some hope for understanding the supernatural in as much as we fallen humans can, but even at the end of his life, he felt that all his work was just straw. He knew that he too could only touch a speck of who God is.
In Pope Francis’ interview, many shallow people took delight in what he said about the relationship of the ancient Catholic churches and the young ones of today. He likened it to young people and older people and how they are all progressing on a life’s journey. If you look at the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, you can understand what he is getting at. Neither are found in Sacred Scripture, but over time they were “dug out” of our more ancient Sacred Tradition by the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Father sees the need to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful. This is no easy task. The newspapers interpret the Holy Father as saying that we are about to change the teachings of the Church on issues like contraception, abortion and homosexuality. For those who are enslaved to these sins, Pope Francis wants to find a new way to help these people toward their salvation. One time I was counseling a celibate homosexual and I asked him for advise. I asked him how should I present the issue of homosexuality from the pulpit. He simply said that I must present the Church’s teaching. He told me not to worry about how the homosexual community will react because they will hear only what they want to hear. The message of Christ has to be said. I found it interesting that he pointed out that those who are enslaved to sin will not have a clarity of mind. In fact they will be offended, but he said to me what happened to him may happen to them – a conversion.
Enslavement to sin has a way of locking us into a spiritual death. You may hear complaints that when you go to Mass, the priest always talks about abortion, birth control and homosexuality. Interestingly, it is not always being spoken about. But for those enslaved to sin, the mere mention of these sins pierces their hearts as if it happens everyday. Sin hurts and we tend to not want to hear about our own enslavement and pain. Pope Francis recognizes this problem and he is trying to search for a better way to heal these wounds and warm these cold hearts.
I have always thought that the rectory was the most inefficient way to reach people. It was easier when I was stationed in cities to walk the streets and meet the people. Route 9 does not even have sidewalks! Our neighborhoods do not seem to have sidewalks either. It is a real puzzlement for me on how to be with the parish if they do not come to the church.
Pope Francis wants to bring back the lost sheep who are divorced and remarried, in same-sex relations, etc. into the fold. But God has given us free will and we cannot force Church teachings on these people. But the dilemma is how do we get these people to move away from their sins especially when they are enslaved by them? That is the nagging question. Even Jesus seemed to agonize over the people who would not accept His mercy. Confession is not meant to be a torture chamber. It is the place where the Lord’s mercy should motivate us to walk away from sin and to do better. No matter what we think, God is displeased with sin, but the hard part is getting us to recognize our sinfulness and to ask for His forgiveness so we can restart our lives.
Pope Francis believes that it will take a new dynamism that will require time and patience to help those enslaved to sin. God does participate in time and He does show Himself in the process of history. As a scientist he recognizes that authoritarianism, empiricism and legalisms do not seem to work well today. If anything, they can make us become like the Pharisees who killed Jesus.
We all are in need of salvation and salvation does not come from us. It comes from God Who is always seeking us lost sheep out. Our life’s journey is a quest for God, but the first move is not ours, but God’s. We must search for God, but not on our own terms. Encountering God is always a surprise. Our relationship with Him is always fuzzy. He is present in every human life, but especially in the sinner who loves God the least. In His mercy, He makes the first move to rescue them no matter what a disaster they may have made of their lives.
Our life is a journey of faith where God reveals Himself in history and not in abstract truths. But these truths do guide us on how to survive on that journey. The thinking of the Church must recover the genius like that of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. This is the way of deepening the Church’s teaching. Perhaps that genius for our times is Blessed John Paul.
We fear the radical Muslims in the world, but with Christ working in us and through us, we can make them into Christians. Jesus tells us if we love Him, we must keep His commandments. This is the only way that we can develop a real relationship with Him. This is never a perfect ride. As we move through our journey we are in need to intensify our prayer with Him. The Real Presence is the conduit to unite ourselves to Him in our life’s journey. It is also the source of what we need to evangelize the world. Only an honest struggle with the supernatural will radically transform us so that Christ can not only save us, but make us His agent to save others.
The claims of the media that this Pope will rescind God’s laws is totally unfounded. Something big is brewing in the Church. God is about to surprise us.