Last week, on Remembrance Day, Pope Francis’ homily was on the Gospel of the day, on scandal and millstones. And I don’t know why, but I felt an interior “sting” when I read these words:
“…And a Christian who claims to be Christian, but does not live as a Christian, is one of these corrupt… …We all know someone who is in this situation and how much they wound the Church! Corrupt Christians, corrupt priests.”
Now, we might object – but who can really “live as a Christian”, since we are all sinners? The Holy Father pointed out that there is a difference between being a sinner, and being corrupt. A sinner, teaches Pope Francis, repents and seeks forgiveness, feels weak, feels that he is one of God’s children, humbles himself, and seeks salvation from Jesus. A corrupt person on the other hand, does not repent, and continues to sin, but pretends to be Christian. There is hope for them too, of course, if only they choose to end their whitewashed double life of corruption and accept that they are sinners like the rest of the world. In short – a sinner is open to conversion, but a corrupt person is not.
Wherever we might happen to fall in this spectrum between sinning tax collectors and corrupt Pharisees, the fact remains – the Pope said that there are corrupt Christians, there are corrupt priests. And somewhere, someone is going to be offended. And while I don’t quite know why I felt that interior “sting” when I first read the article, I know that another thought crossed my mind – that if it wasn’t the Pope who had said this, I could have just closed myself off, and “relativized” away the comment as “just” the words of some priest or some cardinal. But I couldn’t do that, because the man, the priest, who said those words, is the 266th successor of St. Peter.
I must admit that even to this day, Pope Francis says and does things I still sometimes find disconcerting. And while those memes – you know, the ones about how the secular media is contradicting itself when it tries to portray Pope Francis as the opposite of Pope Benedict XVI – are admirable and important from an apologetic point of view, I wonder if perhaps they also might have the unintended side effect of “relativizing” or smoothing over the prickliness of our current Pontiff’s words and actions?
What do I mean? Well, what if I really am put off by Pope Francis’ words? What if there in fact is something wrong with me and my views that the Holy Spirit is trying to tell me through the Pope’s words? Is it not a kind of whitewashing for me to constantly “re-interpret” anything that I don’t find agreeable until it is in line with my version of the way things should be?
For whatever reason, the Holy Spirit chose Pope Francis to lead the universal Church in the present time. And it’s the same Holy Spirit who, for whatever reason, chose St. Peter and St. Paul to be apostles in their time, whom we celebrate today on the feast of the Dedication of the Churches of St. Peter and St. Paul in Rome. Have another look at the epistles of St. Paul, and the epistles of St. Peter. They could be equally prickly with their words. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself was not all sweetness and agreeable to all. That’s why “many of His disciples drew back and no longer went back with Him” when He told them about the greatest gift that He would give them.
Pope Francis is the Pope, because I believe that the Holy Spirit is on the move, as He is in every age. And whether or not I feel at all times that I “like” Pope Francis, or the things he says and does, I’m not going to let that reality of my sinfulness get in the way of my openness, and unswerving loyalty to Christ and His vicar on earth. Because if I do that, the gates of Hell are going to prevail against me.