Pope challenges us to keep gaze on Christ

| Sarah Mealey and Joe Towalski | September 25, 2013 | 0 Comments

crucifix“And now . . . the rest of the story.”

This was the iconic line spoken by the late radio broadcaster Paul Harvey, who would pause in the middle of telling a story as he prepared to reveal a key element that he always held back until the end. Eventually, the listener would get all the facts and learn the often-surprising “rest of the story.”

Harvey’s tag line comes to mind in light of the secular media’s coverage of Pope Francis’ recent interview with a Jesuit journalist. Most media outlets focused on small portions of the 12,000-word English version of the article published last week by America magazine. It made fodder for provocative headlines like “Pope bluntly faults church’s focus on gays and abortion” in The New York Times. It was typical of stories circulating in print and online in the days after the interview was published.

What was — and still is — missing, however, from much of the media coverage is the rest of the story of what the pope actually said during the interview.

To be sure, he said much that challenges us on many levels: the need to be more merciful and compassionate in our approach with others and to walk more closely with people who are wounded and in need of healing.

While the teachings of the Church are clear and aren’t changing, the pope also reminded us that the Church must ultimately keep its focus on the most important aspect of its mission on earth: proclaiming the love and saving power of Jesus Christ to a world that is in desperate need of the Good News.

Rooted in the Gospel

Pope Francis is not asking us to change 2,000 years of Church teaching on core moral issues such as abortion, marriage and contraception when he says “it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.” But when you look at the whole text of the interview, what he is indeed saying is that when we do talk about these topics — and any of the teachings of the Church — we must always ground our conversations and efforts in the Good News of the Gospel. He is calling us to keep our gaze on Christ.

The work of the Church and its foundation of Catholic social teachings are broad and encompass issues ranging from pro-life concerns and poverty to family life, immigration and global solidarity. Church teaching is a full-service banquet, not an a la carte menu. At its heart, and through all of its manifestations, is the dignity and inestimable worth of every human being.

At any given time, because of pressing matters in our culture, the Church may focus on particular issues over others in the pew and in the public square, but it never sweeps the other ones aside as unimportant to its mission. To represent the pope’s comments as putting the Church on the road to changing longstanding Church teaching is a misreading of what he said. Nothing the pope said is inconsistent with what you will find in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

But it is getting people talking. When you take a few moments to reflect, however, it is very similar to the way Christ got people talking wherever he went. He was countercultural. People said, “No one has spoken like this before,” and they were forced to reflect on the meaning of his words. The Gospel message is as challenging to us today as it was to those during the time of Christ.

Responding to God’s love

One topic Pope Francis mentioned in his interview that didn’t get much press coverage — and therefore hasn’t been talked about much — is prayer. Near the conclusion of the article, he said this:

“Prayer for me is always a prayer full of memory, of recollection, even the memory of my own history or what the Lord has done in his Church or in a particular parish. For me it is the memory of which St. Ignatius speaks in the First Week of the Exercises in the encounter with the merciful Christ crucified. And I ask myself: ‘What have I done for Christ?

What am I doing for Christ? What should I do for Christ?’ It is the memory of which Ignatius speaks in the ‘Contemplation for Experiencing Divine Love,’ when he asks us to recall the gifts we have received.

But above all, I also know that the Lord remembers me. I can forget about him, but I know that he never, ever forgets me.”

The Lord never forgets anyone, no matter what his or her situation or status is in life. And each of us is called to respond to that love.

“What am I doing for Christ?” “Are we keeping our gaze on Christ?” Those are the questions Pope Francis wants us to ask ourselves each and every day. That is the real message of his interview.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Read Archbishop John Nienstedt’s statement regarding Pope Francis’ interview in America magazine.

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Category: Editorials