Now this is going to come as a shock to all of you, but a couple of weeks ago, the media misrepresented the Catholic Church. I know, I know, that never happens, so there must be some mistake. Let’s take a look at what happened. In his first few months on the job, Pope Francis has definitely demonstrated his own style. On some level, I almost feel a little sorry for our holy father. His immediate two predecessors are hard acts to follow, to say the least. Pope John Paul II is widely regarded as among the best philosophers to ever be Pope while Benedict the XVI has been described as maybe the best theologian to have ever ascended to the chair of Peter. Following that up is no easy task. But so far, Francis is more than holding his own, even if his style is certainly different. I saw a great picture on Facebook the other day that seemed to capture the essence of our last 3 pontiffs. It was a picture of all 3 men and under each was a caption. Under John Paul II it read, “This is what we believe”. Under Benedict XVI it said “This is why believe it”. Under Francis it said “Now go live it”.
Here is an excerpt from that particular homily that caused the stir:
“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
This ended up drawing attention from a couple of different fronts. The Huffington Post (That bastion of trustworthy news), ran a headline that said, “Pope Francis Says Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed, Not Just Catholics”. Their piece suggested that the Pope was teaching some form of universal salvation. He wasn’t. His setting was a short homily at a mass, reflecting on the readings for the day where he could reasonably assume his audience already knew at least a little something about Catholic teaching and theology. He was not in an academic setting where his purpose was to expound upon the theological depths of the Catholic Church’s teaching on salvation. He was making a much simpler point. Simply that we are all redeemed by Christ’s work on the cross. Redeemed doesn’t equal each individual accepting that salvific work. Just because we are all redeemed doesn’t mean we are all saved. But because of our redemption, we are all called (and via the available grace are able) to do good.
What is interesting is that the normal media outlets who are usually very quick to disagree with Church teaching, and who seemingly go out of their way make the Church look as if its teachings are so out of touch with modern times, etc. were now all of a sudden ready to embrace what they thought the holy father was saying. They would love nothing more than for the Pope to be a teacher of the brand of liberalism that they love so much. So when they think that the Pope is teaching that all people are saved, they like that and now all of a sudden this Pope guy is someone who should be listened to! I think that speaks to the fact that a longing for God is in all of us. Those of us who choose to have a relationship with God know this well. But even for those who do not, they still feel in the deepest recesses of their very being, that tugging toward something greater. Of course they do. That is what we are created for, union with God. We reject Him in many ways through sin as we fall for the lies of the enemy who tells us all these things will make us happy. But acceptance of Him and what He wants for us is the only thing that makes us truly happy, because it is what we are made for. So when people think they hear the leader of Christians on earth say that we will all be with God, it makes sense that they would want to latch on to that. But they would do well to scratch the surface a little to see more clearly the fullness of faith that this Pope represents.
I also saw criticism from the other side of the spectrum from those who were upset because they saw this is a smoking gun that proved the Catholic Church teaches a doctrine of works righteousness. That is that we can earn salvation by our works, apart from faith in Jesus. I don’t have space to go into it here, but they are equally wrong. The Church does not now, nor has it ever taught that we are saved by our works alone. Every person who goes to heaven does so because of the saving work of Christ on the cross. Without it, no one could enter the kingdom of heaven. But to whom much is given, much is required and Christ clearly asks more of us that just our faith alone.
Clearly any Pope is in a unique and difficult position. Every word they utter is scrutinized by more people in the world than any other public figure. Understandably they must be careful with how they present their thoughts. But perhaps this Pope is not nearly as concerned about that aspect of the job as maybe some of the rest of us are. After all, his predecessor was an absolute wordsmith. And more than that, he was a man who anticipated how his words would be responded to by others and therefore carefully selected them so as to be not misunderstood. Even so, the media never missed a chance to twist his words into something far away from their meaning (think Regensburg address). Seeing that, Francis may have made a conscious decision to spend less time worrying about being misrepresented and more time doing the work to which he was called. Let us too brothers, do the work to which we were called.