This column is the bishop's communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.
By now you’ve surely heard the startling (if not shocking) news of last week — the mass media, celebrities, bloggers, and even pro-abortion groups have reported their decision to aid the Church in our evangelization of the world and in preaching Jesus Christ! Thanks be to God!
Of course, that’s not actually what happened, not even in the slightest. However, I can be left to hope, and here’s why:
Last week, a Catholic-run news outlet ran an extensive interview with our Holy Father, Pope Francis. The interview ranged from tidbits on the person of Jorge Bergoglio, to the role of women in the Church, and from the Pope’s favorite artists, to our worldwide mission. It was a very full interview, to say the least.
The thrust of the Pope’s words however, is much the same as he’s been saying all along: the Church must set out anew to preach the message of Jesus Christ with tremendous fervor and joy; we must renew our efforts to go to all peoples and nations, telling them of God’s overwhelming love for them and inviting them once again into relationship with Him.
To this end, the Pope emphasized that we keep our mission properly focused. It is the message of Christ, and His desire that all be saved, that comes first, the Holy Father said, all else (including matters of abortion, homosexuality, and contraception) must only flow from that message. If we try to put other things before Christ, he said, the Church will surely fail in her mission.
It’s a beautiful, timely message: to be Christian we must follow Jesus Christ, we must love like He loves, we must think like He thinks.
The public reacts
Now the mass media, celebrities, and the like got extremely excited about this message. In fact, they went crazy with it. But, not because of the Pope’s actual message. Instead they got very excited about what they interpreted the Pope as saying.
What they heard was the Pope telling Catholics to stop talking about abortion, and marriage, and contraception, and just . . . well . . . “live and let live.”
The group Naral/Pro-Choice America even posted a big sign on their Facebook page saying, “Dear Pope Francis, Thank you. Signed, Pro-Choice women everywhere.”
One of the major pro-abortion forces in the world actually thanked the Pope for what they interpreted to be his condoning of the slaughter of innocent human life. This should tell us just how far the misunderstanding of Pope Francis got last week.
Unfortunately for those who are so deluded as Naral, the following day Pope Francis called for the New Evangelization to confront the “Culture of Death,” the “throw away culture,” that allows for abortion and euthanasia. He asked a gathering of Catholic doctors to, “bear witness to and disseminate this ‘culture of life’ . . . remind all, through actions and words, that in all its phases and at any age, life is always sacred and always of quality. And not as a matter of faith, but of reason and science!
“There is no human life more sacred than another.”
The Pope’s message
Of course, the Pope’s words were not really reported by any major news services, nor “tweeted” by celebrities.
The Pope’s message to us is that we must re-engage ourselves not only with thinking as Jesus thinks, but also with loving as Jesus loves.
A primary role of the Successor of St. Peter is to be the sign and source of unity for the whole Church — drawing all in the Body of Christ into one with Christ the head, so that “the community of believers,” can be “of one mind and of one heart (Acts 4:32).”
In this, Pope Francis is doing exactly what Pope Benedict XVI did, what Blessed John Paul II did, and what their predecessors did — he is working to build real and lasting unity.
Now real and lasting unity requires unity of mind and of heart, as mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles above.
To have a unity of minds without a unity of hearts means simply a theoretical agreement that lacks the love which transforms people and bonds them together; to have a unity of hearts without a unity of minds means to have warm feelings of togetherness, without the solid foundation on which lasting unity can stand. Thus, to have real and lasting unity, both unity of minds and of hearts is required.
Getting out the message
To understand what the Church has been up to in recent years, one first has to consider what happened in the Church after the Second Vatican Council, and what’s happened in the world since the 1960’s.
At the very least, in the Church, there was simple confusion. No one really knew what the Church taught anymore; they would hear one thing from one priest or nun, and something very different from another.
In the end, the main thing that everyone seemed to know is that, “so long as you did what your conscience told you, you’d be alright.” The need for being of one mind with Christ and His body, the Church seemed to be dispensed, and Catholics were free to go in every which direction, so long as they were nice to others, and didn’t try to make any claims as to what was right and wrong.
Of course, the rest of the culture during that time was going wild with “sexual revolution,” and becoming more and more obsessed with the “self,” with one’s own pleasures, and with the absolute right to license.
And so, in short, over the past few decades it’s been necessary for the Pope and the bishops to be increasingly clear, as to what the Church does and does not teach.
The Church, especially through her chief teachers, the bishops, has had to make clear where the unity of minds is to be found: it is in Jesus and His Church. But when the Church stands up and says to the culture, “this is not the way to go! Jesus Christ intends more for humankind!” and when the pastors of the Church try to correct the deadly error which claims that Jesus is not the way, the truth, and the life, it leaves many people feeling as if the Church is condemning them.
When the Church continues to make clear where a unity of minds needs to be found, it seems as if she’s no longer interested in the unity of hearts.
What the Pope is addressing
This is precisely the situation that Pope Francis wants to address. He is standing up and “shocking” the world by saying, “thinking with the Church does not concern theologians only.”
The Church desires all people to “think,” with Her, both in mind and heart. In fact, the Pope went to great lengths in his interview to speak of how “thinking with the Church,” is an act not only of unity of minds, but of unity of hearts -- it’s not for theologians only.
The lay faithful, he said, have a special call to “think with the Church,” and it’s in their witness of belief that we see the faith lived out.
“This is how it is with Mary,” the Pope said, “If you want to know who she is, you ask theologians; if you want to know how to love her, you have to ask the people.”
The Pope is asking for unity to be built up by unity of hearts and of minds, and he’s trying to touch people’s hearts so that they might be open to unity. To read stories about what the Pope said, you’d never get that; you’d think he doesn’t care at all about the unity of minds, but only about some feelings of unity. So you really have to read what he says, and you have to know that what he says is precisely in line with what the Church has always said, but with a renewed call for unity of hearts.
Yes my friends, the Pope is actually Catholic, and so am I. And just as he is called to build that unity of minds and of hearts in the universal Church, I am called to build it here in the Diocese of Madison.
What we can do
So, I think we all should be listening to him, and considering how better to love one another and how better to draw close in Truth. And, despite their glee at the Pope’s message, I’m not so sure the mass media, celebrities, bloggers, and pro-abortion groups are signing on to promote real and lasting unity of all people in Jesus Christ.
So, if you want to know what the Pope says, I think it’d be best if we put down the New York Times and the State Journal, and look online at the Vatican website, or at outlets like the Catholic News Agency -- those who are interested in his message of unity.
And if you want to know what the Pope believes, I think it’d be best if we turn off the secular television talking heads and turn on EWTN (or even pick up the Catechism -- it’s all in there).
If you want to act as the Pope is asking, we should not sit in self-contentment, or spend time in gossip, but get active in our Church, reach out to our neighbor in love.
And, most importantly, if you want to pray like the Pope prays, we should make it to Mass, spend time before our Lord, pick up our Rosary — the things he does each and every day.
We’re not going to stop striving for a real and lasting unity in the Church -- neither the Pope nor the bishops -- and it’s going to be a unity that is built on unity of minds and unity of hearts, soundness of doctrine, and richness of love.
Thank you for taking the time to read this column. May God bless each one of you, and may he bring us closer to one another in sincere unity of hearts and minds, with Jesus our Lord. Praised be Jesus Christ!