The Pope’s Interview
Many words have been spoken and much ink has been spilled these past few days about the Pope’s recent interview that the media ran wild with.
But something to keep in mind is this – there is a tension in living out of Catholic life. Every Catholic who cares for and loves the faith knows this and has experienced it.
The tension is brought about by trying to hold two (or more) SEEMING contradictions in balance with one another. The faith is rife with these things – Three Persons in One God; two natures in One person; the Immaculate Conception; Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine; victory through death and so forth.
None of these is a contradiction – they just need deep deep reflection because they are difficult to get our little finite minds around. They are paradoxes – not contradictions.
Today, the Church finds Herself in a state of paradox that many wrongfully claim is a contradiction. It is the tension between the DOCTRINAL approach and the PASTORAL approach.
At the heart of all the heartache by faithful Catholics VERSUS the celebration and party atmosphere of unfaithful Catholics over the Pope’s interview is the failure to fully appreciate this tension between pastoral and doctrinal.
They have been set in opposition to each other – almost as if, one is right and the other is wrong. That is not only stupid, it’s also un-Christlike. Did the good shepherd not come to earth and impart sound teaching THAT MUST BE FOLLOWED for our salvation?
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments (there’s the doctrinal part) and my Father and I will come to you and We will make Our home in you (there’s the pastoral part).
This pastoral vs. doctrinal false dichotomy that first arose in the seminaries near the end of the 19th century has rained down mass confusion on the Church by being exploited by many clergy.
Down here … on the street level where the ground troops are … it has resulted in the falsely expressed notion that, God is so loving that he would never throw anyone in Hell forever – and of course, the quite logical extension of that premise is therefore, leading an immoral life, while regrettable isn’t THAT big a problem.
The Pastoral VERSUS Doctrinal battle has created the further erroneous perception that there is opposition between God’s Mercy and His Justice. Again .. a massively absurd and ill-conceived proposition.
It is the tension between Pastoral and Doctrinal dimensions of the Church that we find so very present in the Pope’s interview. Living with life’s tensions is part of life. Parents are most familiar with this in the case of raising their children.
When a child desperately wants something which MAY be harmful to him, MAY be … and a parent’s first reaction is to say no because of the POSSIBLE harm … then the protests or arguments of the child tend to have the effect of perhaps softening the parents initial sense.
They consider, for example, if perhaps their firmness might have the effect of alienating their son – which could be an even worse harm than the initial possible harm.
This is one of life’s millions of tensions, so we shouldn’t be surprised in seeing this exhibited in the Pope’s own thoughts – none of which by the way here are infallible – they are his considered opinions born of his life experience and circumstances expressed in an off the cuff kind of way.
For the media and many unfaithful Catholic and enemies of the Faith – they get great glee from these words and play them up incessantly because in many many cases, they live lives of gross depravity and sexual immorality and DON’T WANT TO CHANGE.
So to them, this feels like a triumph – “see, even the Pope agrees” they claim. “Stop telling me I can’t live with my same sex partner or my live in girlfriend.”
For the faithful beleaguered Catholic who is down in the trenches doing everything to fight the good fight and hold back the flood, the spin on the pope’s words is massively deflating.
It IS pastoral to tell someone they need to live a moral life. Is there a way to say it that such a person might respond to it better than another way it would be presented – sure, but that depends on the hearer.
Some people need to hear things bluntly. Others don’t like hearing things directly because they get their feelings hurt to easily and so forth.
The one thing that is curious about some of the Pope’s impressions is that the Church is always going on about abortion and same-sex marriage and contraception. REALLY?
When is the last time a priest strode into the pulpit and gave a fire and brimstone about contraception that you can remember? When is the last time a bishop – or a bishops’ conference issued any statement about the depravity of an unmarried couple living together.
It is the MEDIA which has painted this picture of a Church constantly hammering these themes.
The vast majority of faithful Catholics know these things are seldom, if ever mentioned in any substantive way on the parish level – they aren’t even talked about and requests TO talk about the doctrines is usually swept away with an excuse that it wouldn’t be pastoral.
So one does wonder where His Holiness’ perception comes from of a Church emphasizing doctrinal over pastoral care – obsessing about them.
Nonetheless, it is this false dichotomy between pastoral and doctrinal – set up by the media and by many in the Church who want to undo Her moral teachings – that is to blame for much of the deep concern over the Pope’s interviews.
For example, for the intrepid souls of the 40 Days for Life Campaign, are they being too “doctrinal” “too obsessed” by standing outside abortion chambers – highlighting the sanctity of life AND the evil of child murder?
Or are they motivated by pastoral love and concern for the child and the mother – and the abortionist for that fact?
And what about the parents pleading with their homosexual son to not go down that path of giving into his passions – wherever they come from? Are they being doctrinal by warning him of Hell or are they being pastoral in wanting to help him choose the path to heaven. Again – a false dichotomy. They are being both!
For the past 50-60 years … there has been an effort on the part of many in the Church to play up pastoral care to such a degree that essentially ignore doctrine.
Many times, this is to make them feel good about their own moral failings – which often times are sexual and frequent. Sometimes, it is owing to a worshipping at the altar of feelings and emotions – where they place too much emphasis on these things to the detriment of truth.
But these things cannot be separated … anymore than you can separate the heads from the tails of a coin.
A perfect example of this is the very next day after the Pope’s interview was released and his words created headlines about abortion not being that big a deal .. His Holiness blasted abortion at a meeting with gynecologists who he told, that every child that is killed, that child bears the face of Our Blessed Lord and that every child aborted has been unjustly condemned.
What needs to be addressed in the Church today is this false notion that doctrine and pastoral care are opposed to each other and one is right, the other wrong.
If anything beyond headlines and excuses for peddling more immorality by the media comes from all uproar, hopefully it will be this.
The tension between doctrinal and pastoral has been abused and lived out in an unbalanced manner in the Church for two generations now – it’s time to right the ship and correct course.