September 6, 2013 – A Compassionate Church

Well this weekend is the 34th edition of the Popeye Picnic, and after all these years I’m still not sure what the proper lingo is.  Do I wish you a “Happy Popeye Weekend”, or a “Happy Popeye Picnic”, or simply just a “Happy Popeye?”  Perhaps the more proper greeting should be “Good Luck!”  Good luck getting through town, finding a parking space, getting to all the attractions you want to see, etc.  I have to be honest (I am a Catholic after all, lol) and say that this isn’t my favorite weekend of the year.  I know that this weekend is important to our community, our businesses, our organizations, etc.  And I hope that everyone has a great time and enjoys the experience.  I guess I’m more of a routine-oriented guy, and not so much of a hustle-bustle guy.  But that’s just me.  So again, I hope you enjoy everything.

Moving on now to something that irks me much more than dealing with the Popeye Picnic.  When we hear about the Catholic Church in the press, particularly in the mainstream press, we hear about how strict the church is in its beliefs.  We hear that the church isn’t keeping up with the times.  We hear that its stances on issues such as abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation before marriage, euthanasia, etc. simply don’t fit with the current landscape of the world.  And unfortunately, many people have expressed their displeasure by ceasing to practice their Catholic faith.  As has been mentioned here before, the number of people in the United States who consider themselves “ex-Catholics” would make up the second largest denomination in our country.

These misleadings result in the perception that the church has no compassion for those who do not follow the faith to a tee.  We would rather see a person leave the faith than not conform to its teachings.  And its certainly understandable for people to feel that way.  Last year, the Freedom from Religion Foundation took out a full-page ad in many national newspapers aimed at persuading Catholics who may not agree with everything the church teaches to quit the Catholic Church.  Bill Keller, who is a former editor of the New York Times, wrote a column in the paper urging discontented, liberal-minded Catholics to “Summon your fortitude, and just go.”

People who hear these things and do not know the whole story of the Catholic Church may get the perception that the church has no tolerance at all toward those who do not totally comply to their teachings.  In truth, this could not be more wrong.  It was almost comical a few weeks back when Pope Francis made comments about not being judgmental toward homosexuals, and the media made it appear that Francis said something completely contrary to what the church had taught.  Pope Francis simply and compassionately reiterated Biblical teaching.  The Bible and the Catholic Church have never taught that it is a “sin” to be homosexual.  They teach it is a sin to have homosexual sex because it goes against the laws of God’s nature, specifically his plan for human sexuality.  When Pope Francis said “who am I to judge” he is saying that active homosexuals deserve the same kindness, love, and mercy that all of us sinners would hope to receive from God and from others.  We don’t make judgments about anyone’s personal worth—God has already done that when he created us out of love.

A similar reaction took place when Pope Francis said that the Lord had redeemed all of us – even the athiests.  Again, many people saw this as a radical change in church teaching, when in fact it is what the church has taught for 2000 years.    Paul, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, said that Christ “indeed died for all.”  The Catechism of the Catholic Church confirms this, saying that “Christ died for all men without exception: ‘There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer.”  However, here’s the distinction: Christ’s redemptive sacrifice is not the same thing as salvation.  Salvation results from accepting Our Lord’s redemption and applying it to our lives.  Catholics know that Christ died for our sins, but that we must receive that gift by trusting in him, accepting his proposal of love, and following him with our life.  So while it’s true that Christ redeemed all people, even atheists, it doesn’t follow that all atheists have accepted this gift or will be saved.

Pope Francis’ pastoral approach has been characterized as a more merciful, less judgmental approach.  However, it is a approach that has always existed in the Catholic Church.  Pope Francis has just figured out the magic formula to bring it more to the forefront.

The news this week was dominated by the conflict in Syria.  In response to this, Pope Francis has called for a day of prayer and fasting tomorrow (September 7).  Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, said in a statement issued Tuesday, “As our nation’s leaders contemplate military action, it is particularly appropriate and urgent that we in the United States embrace the Holy Father’s call to pray and fast on September 7 for a peaceful end to the conflict in Syria and to violent conflicts everywhere.  Pope Francis has exhorted ‘the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace, … a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people.'”

As already mentioned, this is Popeye Picnic weekend, and it may be difficult to squeeze time into our schedules for intense prayer and fasting.  However, we should at least take a short time, however brief, to pray for a peaceful resolution to the conflict and for wise judgement for our political leaders.

Enjoy the picnic.  Have a great week!  Peace.

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