Monday, June 20, 2016

The Pope's seemingly contradictory statements ...

Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio speaking at a drug rehabilitation center
in the neighborhood of Bajo Flores in Buenos Aires in 2011.

"All things to all men."

St. Paul wrote, perhaps to assure his critics: "To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some." 

That is what I think Pope Francis does when making ordinary, down-to-earth, off-the-cuff remarks.  He likes to speak in the ordinary language of ordinary people of the streets.  Sometimes when I read Alfred Delp, or Walter Ciszek, I am reminded of Pope Francis tends to speak from his pastoral experience as an archbishop, one who spent much time with people who were poor, whose circumstances in life distanced them from the Church.  How much he learned on the 'peripheries' seems to me to parallel what so many priests and religious learned in the prison camps of the 20th century.  We see similar experiences in the lives of laity such as Betsy and Corrie Ten Boom, Bl. Franz Jägerstätter, Madeleine Delbrel, Dorothy Day, and so many other saintly figures of the last century.

It's unusual to see a Pope like him in modern times.

So anyway.  I'm no expert to be sure.  I grew up a bastard - or called that, because my mother was a divorced and remarried Catholic to my dad who was raised Lutheran - and destined for hell because he was not Catholic.  So I was told.  My mother's sin maybe added to her craziness and definitely, along with alcohol, fueled their fighting and much more.  It was a turbulent experience, involving prison, mental hospital stays - in those days that was how they treated alcoholism, abuse, and abandonment, near homelessness with eviction after eviction, failed suicides, attempted murder - very screwed up stuff.  Incredibly, my mother insisted upon a Catholic education and that all of her kids receive the sacraments and attend Sunday Mass.  Amazingly, she prayed - a lot - every day.  She just didn't go to Mass - she was too ashamed.

There were 'better' people, better families than us - though living in similar circumstances - poor, unemployed - but not crazy.  They maybe didn't drink or weren't promiscuous, and they were decidedly more responsible.  Though married, it may not have been a sacramental marriage because it was a second marriage.  The family maintained stability, the kids were raised Catholic, the parents were honest and good people.  (I'm thinking of friend's parents I got to know growing up.)  I think these are the types the Holy Father thinks of when he converses about irregular marriages and families.  Often he says he sees more fidelity, more faithfulness in these situations than he did in 'faithful Catholic' marriages.  I understand that.

I don't know the literary term for it - if there is one - because I've noticed I'm beginning to forget such things, but in my opinion, it is not unlike what our Lord would say when he'd remark, 'such faith I have not seen in all of Israel', or illustrate in the parable of the good Samaritan, how the sinner-outcast-untouchable showed compassion for the man left for dead.  I forgot the name of the Orthodox Bishop author who was so popular in the 1970's - in his book - Beginning to Pray he wrote about a prostitute who out of devotion kept an icon with a lamp burning before it - I was always impressed by that story.  Remember one of Francis' favorite films is La Strada, and I think a few other Fellini films which seem to be all about 'street life' - the poor, the sinners, and their devotion and longing for love.

On that day there shall be open to the house of David
and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem,
a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness.
- Zechariah 13:1

Perhaps we have a Fellini pope?  I like that.  I love him so much, and I love what others see as contradictory messages.  For me it is so fascinating.  Ask yourselves, what is the greatest contradiction in the world?  What is the sign of contradiction which most marks the life of the Christian?

The cross.  Jesus and him crucified.  How many times did he rebuke his disciples - his priests?  He told them they didn't even know of what spirit they are.  He rebuked them for so many things.  Yet when the Holy Father offers a gentle rebuke, many of us get upset, or feel hurt - or imagine he is changing doctrine or abolishing canon law.  That makes me sad.  

I don't see the pope saying people no longer have to be married, or priests are animals, or that second marriages are better.  I see him using anecdotal experience, examples from ordinary life to illustrate how one ought to accompany and minister and be with the outsider, the excommunicated, the people we used to assume were fated for hell - like I was told my dad was.  The Holy Father seems to me to call all of us to respect their dignity and their humanity, without condemnation and lording our 'holiness' over them.  I do not see him asking for a change in doctrine - far from it.

I'm sure no one will pay attention to this, and that's very good.  Pay no attention to me - one who has been steeped in sin since birth.  I have no authority, and to be sure, the pope doesn't need me to defend him.  I just feel badly that so many get upset, come unglued as it were.  

For the most part, these discussions do not concern me - I'm a single, Catholic man.  Never married, never a father, never a priest.  I count for nothing ...

Scene from Nights of Cabiria, Fellini, 1957.

The film is about a prostitute.  
In the scene, Cabiria and friends join a procession to 
a shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  
Cabiria prays tearfully, “Madonna, help me to change my life.”
The next day she said
everything is the same ...


  1. Terry this is beautiful. I hope you don't mind that I shared it to my friends on FB - most of them are the kind of Catholics who would appreciate this.

    1. Thanks Merc - you are way too kind however. The criticism is mounting against the Pope - it seems worse than ever.

  2. Terry,

    Another solid post and with so much to ponder. I believe, regardless of the many critics of our Holy Father, there is some to truth to what he says, like it or not. Like you, I seek to press onward and pray for everyone.

    Have a great Monday! Stay cool too! Here in So. Cal it is 99 degrees at the moment!

    1. Thanks Yaya - keep on keeping on. I think very few agree with our confidence in the Holy Father - I'm thinking God made him Pope just to prove to the rest of 'sinful humanity' that his merciful love is real - and as Christ told Faustina, the greater the sinner, the more assured he is of my mercy - or something like that! :)

      And you stay cool too - it is too hot.

    2. This is the passage I was thinking of:

      Jesus said to her (entry 1146):

      Let the greatest sinners place their trust in My mercy. They have the right before others to trust in the abyss of My mercy. ... Souls that make an appeal to My mercy delight Me. To such souls I grant even more graces than they ask.

  3. Anthony Bloom and the book is either still in print or back in print.

    1. Yes! Thanks. Bloom visited my novitiate years ago - he had Mass in the Byzantine rite for the community. He was quite graceful, it seemed to me he almost danced with the censor. I've always liked very simple liturgies, a low Mass or the Ordinary Form.

  4. I see you used a detail from Chagall's "White Crucifixion".
    Pope Francis has said that it is his favorite work of art.

    I love this Pope.

    1. I find the overt contemporary references a little crass. High school stuff. The whole "Jesus was a Jew" thing just takes me back to the bad modern scripture scholarship we had to endure during the seminary.

      Buy hey, each to their own! Peace.

    2. E - Chagall's works are some of my favorites and especially love this painting and its important in calling attention to the sufferings of the Jewish people. I love the emphasis of the Jewishness of Christ - it's deeply moving. Thanks for the link.

  5. I love this post. So much I want to say but I have no words. Maybe that is best.

  6. I'd love to have you on my radio show sometime, but I don't know how to contact you. If you are interested email me at You can read about my show at

  7. Thanks for the offer Mike - but I never do things like that.


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