[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter what anybody would have to conclude was a triumphant tour of the Unites States, Pope Francis is enjoying a renaissance of sorts with almost all Americans regardless of their religious positions and perspectives. And the reason for that lies in what most say is his obvious sincerity, integrity and commitment to spreading the love of Christ.
In fact, his reputation is so solid in this regard that he has had a particular resurgence of popularity with some of the most unlikely of fans — social liberals in America. Previously they felt it quite fashionable to denigrate Catholicism for being far too opposed to their liberated lifestyle. And it seems that his popularity with them might have some within the Church who fall into the more conservative ranks a little riled.
Why? Well quite understandably many of them want the Pontiff to stand up more forcefully for the rules of the Church, and let these liberated thinkers know that he is not now — nor ever — going to bend those rules to their liking, And they wonder why he is spending what seems to be an inordinate amount of time on things like climate change, economic justice and welcoming those that seem to break the rules of the Church.
Well as a great big fan of this pope and one who very vocally argued for a pope from the Americas this time around, let me offer you my take on what he is doing and why he’s doing it. And you can take it or leave it with a grain of salt.
First of all there’s his namesake Francis of Assisi’s purported call to action, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” It’s pretty obvious to even the most casual of observers that when Francis reaches out to love and accept the downtrodden, the unwanted and the castaways of society, as well as the sinners among us (that means all of us by the way) he is doing exactly that. And I don’t think any well-intentioned Catholic or any other Christian for that matter has a problem with that — hopefully!
But I think some might want a few more words from this pope on right and wrong. And specifically who is right and who is wrong on a multitude of issues.
For those I offer this insight — the story of the Prodigal Son. You all remember the tale of the father with two sons — one who always does the right thing and stays with the father to help him, and the other who asks for his inheritance from the father then splits and squanders it living the life of wine, women and song. When the second son returns the father welcomes him not only with understanding arms, but in fact practically a hero’s welcome, offering him anything that he has.
Understandably the good son becomes a bit irate. But the father reminds him that he has enjoyed the father’s love perpetually, but he is rejoicing because “he who was lost is found.”
Now the things that Pope Francis is talking about recently are all in line with Catholic doctrine — whether it means the concept of taking care of the poor and being concerned about poverty, or about respect for life at every stage from time in the womb to time on Death Row. And as for the respect for the environment, not only are we to be good stewards as the Bible tells us, but as his encyclical states emphatically over and over again, we need to see the environment as a gift to be shared by all the world’s people, and to respect the environment means to be respecting those people and their rights to it.
But I also think he just might be focusing on some of these topics more than others in order to bring back a few Prodigal Sons (and Daughters) into the Church. And just maybe, if he can do that, then we can all celebrate together a resurgence of faith in Christ in the world in a way that we have not seen in a long, long time, and for all the RIGHT reasons.
So read, listen and think carefully about this pope and what he’s saying before passing judgment on Francis or his new fans. They might be our Prodigal Brothers and Sisters coming home. And we might do well to rejoice with our pope and our Father in heaven over their return.