Speaking for Pope Francis

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Typically, I change the topic of my blog from week to week. The exception is when I am commenting on a large study where the data and findings seem better shared over several weeks. I had a new topic in mind for this week, but then the reactions to last week’s blog came pouring in.

From week to week, I receive 20-30 responses to my blog. Last week’s blog on “What Would Pope Francis Say?” generated over 70 responses. About half agreed with my perspective. The rest were critical and followed two lines of thought.

Some argued that the Pope didn’t mean that issues related to life and contraception were not paramount in the Church. For these responders, this is the first and primary issue about which the Church should speak and advocate.

Others argued against big government and social service programs. If I ever see a picture of Pope Francis reading Dr. Seuss, perhaps these responders are correct that the Pope’s position is similar in some way to that of Senator Ted Cruz. But I really don’t think so.

First, none of us can really speak for Pope Francis. It is a rhetorical question. But what is clear after six months of his papacy is that this Pope is still an enigma. His every word and action is interpreted and used to advocate for a position. But we all need to listen more, read more, pray more, reflect more … and over time, we will come to understand his vision and his leadership for the Church and for the world.

My major concern, however, is with those who argue for a narrow agenda for the Church and a singular definition. If one agrees that the dignity of human life is paramount in the teachings of the Church, why is this the only issue about which the Church could, should, must speak? There are many Gospel values that we share with fellow Christians and people of all faiths and traditions. Shouldn’t the Church also speak out about injustice throughout culture and the world? Shouldn’t Church leaders speak out often and loudly?

More important, I find it difficult to accept the most narrow interpretation of the dignity of life. I share the belief in the sanctity of life and the need to protect unborn children. But the dignity of life that I read about in the Gospels and I hear preached about by Pope Francis has equal concern for the sick and the poor; the young and the old; the able and the disabled.

As passionate as the Church is about abortion and life issues, should we not also be as concerned that all people have health insurance and access to medical care; that all people have enough food and are paid a livable wage; that all people live free of war, violence and abuse; that all people are treated with respect and dignity; that all people experience the love of God if only through each of us?

Last week, the students of Anna Maria College, assisted by our Campus Ministry Department, sponsored a Homelessness Awareness Week. Every day, these dedicated students learned about issues related to homelessness, engaged in community service to directly help and support the homeless in our region, and even slept outside overnight with little comfort to experience if only briefly what it is like to be homeless. I was honored and humbled to address these students at their closing prayer service. Words can not describe how proud I am of their commitment to gospel values and their response to a call to action.

Homelessness Awareness Week is an expression of dignity of life. Social service programs are an expression of dignity of life. I cannot wait to hear what else Pope Francis helps us to better understand as we walk our journey of faith and service.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

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Guest Friday, 01 August 2014