Not liberal, not conservative: simply Catholic

| March 20, 2013 | 7 Comments
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, washes the feet of residents of a shelter for drug users during Holy Thursday Mass in 2008 at a church in a poor neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. CNS photo / Enrique Garcia Medina, Reuters

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, washes the feet of residents of a shelter for drug users during Holy Thursday Mass in 2008 at a church in a poor neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. CNS photo / Enrique Garcia Medina, Reuters

Meeting with journalists a few days after his election, Pope Francis talked about how difficult it is for the media to cover the Church as a spiritual institution. Many reporters, it seems, fail to understand that a conclave is more about prayer than politicking, more about responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit than what the latest polls may show.

This tendency to cover a papal election much like one would cover an American presidential race — complete with pre-election speculation about frontrunners and long shots — also reveals the secular media’s predilection to frame elections, both political and papal, through a timeworn and less-than-helpful liberal-vs.-conservative lens.

Seeing the whole picture

In the case of Pope Francis, media pundits are having a hard time determining what they see through that lens.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires for the last 15 years, he had been a strong advocate for traditional marriage and an outspoken opponent of abortion. Does that make him a conservative at heart?

At the same time, he has revealed a special place in his heart for the poor — speaking out against unjust economic policies, washing the feet of recovering drug addicts on Holy Thursday and supporting the rights of migrant workers. As pope, he has already mentioned the need to protect the environment. Do these actions reveal liberal tendencies?

The fact is neither label is accurate. Pope Francis isn’t “liberal” or “conservative” in the way the media like to use those monikers. The pope and the views he espouses are thoroughly, and simply, Catholic.

What many in the media and the too-often-polarized general public fail to see is the thread that connects and runs through all of these issues: a belief that all human life is sacred, that God has ordered the universe in ways that allow our human dignity to flourish, and that we must treat every person we meet as if they are Christ himself.

This isn’t anything new: The Church has a robust body of Catholic social teaching on these matters, rooted in Scripture and Tradition, that dates back millennia. This teaching calls us to something beyond mere politics, beyond the requirements of this world to the requirements of the next — even if as sinners we fail to live up to that calling at times.

Lesson for all

There is a lesson here for journalists who seek to pigeonhole Pope Francis — as they often tried to do with previous popes — without understanding the full body and broad swath of Church teaching.

But there is a lesson for us, too.

Pope Francis reminds us that, as Catholics, each of us is called to embrace the Gospel and the fullness of the Church’s teachings — not just the teachings that happen to fit comfortably with our political views, whatever they may be. Some of these teachings are easy to embrace; others are more challenging — as they should be if we want to live more like Christ and less like the fallible human beings we are.

In this Year of Faith, which also is a time we are being invited to learn more about our faith through the local Rediscover: initiative, our new Holy Father serves as a model of how to live a life of prayer and outreach, a life that transcends the limits of secular labels and is open to the power and persuasion of the Holy Spirit — the same Spirit that moved the cardinals of the conclave to select Pope Francis to lead Christ’s Church.

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Category: Welcome Pope Francis

  • Sam

    Great editorial, Joe

    • Joe Towalski

      Thanks!

  • Karin Freihammer

    Hooray! Joe – you have summarized beautifully the message of this Pope that defies the conservative or liberal political labels. Pope Francis is living the Gospel and is comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. I have already felt convicted to more fully live my Catholic life because of the witness of our new Pope. Thanks for this editorial that reminds us that being Catholic isn’t about being liberal or conservative – it is about following Christ.

  • Karin Freihammer

    Hooray! Joe – you have summarized beautifully the message of this Pope that defies the conservative or liberal political labels. Pope Francis is living the Gospel and is comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. I have already felt convicted to more fully live my Catholic life because of the witness of our new Pope. Thanks for this editorial that reminds us that being Catholic isn’t about being liberal or conservative – it is about following Christ.

    • Joe Towalski

      Thank you for the kind words, Karin.

    • Joe Towalski

      Thank you for the kind words, Karin.

    • Joe Towalski

      Thank you for the kind words, Karin.

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