We have been blessed with another outstanding Holy Father in Pope Francis! He has an extraordinary ability to touch ordinary lives. His candor and accessibility have taken his words to places not accustom to echoes of truth and this admittedly adds the risk that his words will be re-echoed with more distortion than in times past. It should come as no surprise that controversy circles his public words like carrion birds in search of a carcass.
The mass media and blogosphere undulate with shockwaves of frenzied hysteria, hoping against hope that the Holy Father’s words are a sign that Holy Mother Church will be torn asunder. The mass media gives the impression that, as if by democratic fiat, the Church ought to conform to us. The ongoing spectacle calls to mind a parallel between the words of Pope Francis and King Solomon.
Recall the beginning of King Solomon’s most famous story in 1 Kings, 3:16: “Then two harlots came to the king, and stood before him.” One harlot’s baby was stolen by another harlot who suffocated her own baby in careless motherhood. Both claimed to be the mother of the living baby. The wise King rendered his right judgment and his words surely shocked the court.
Pope Francis’ words have had a similar effect on his audience, which is always comprised of two types of people, those choosing the culture of life and those choosing the culture of death. The rightful mother and the false mother can represent the two types in the audience, yet nonetheless both types are harlots. Harlot has a rather obvious meaning, but rendered in Hebrew, transliterated as zanah, one of its meanings is “to be unfaithful to God.” Due to our fallen nature, we are all harlots in relation to God, just like we are all thieves in relation to Christ; we are either the good thief or the bad thief on one of the two crosses next to our Lord’s.
To continue the parallel we can imagine that the “baby” in King Solomon’s story represents our “claim to truth” in understanding Holy Mother Church. The misguided harlot, who was careless unto death with her own baby, was trying to steal the living baby from the rightful mother. Just so, those Catholics who, by their own lights, place themselves in contradiction to the Sacred Teaching and Tradition of the Church try to wrest “truth claims” away from faithful Catholics who give their full assent to the Magisterium.
When King Solomon said “divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other,” those in court must have been scandalized. The King drew the attention to the life of the child and it flushed out the true mother whom he knew would wish for the life of the child over her own desires. As well, it exposed the false harlot causing her to admit that she had no regard for the life of the baby. The faithful and the false harlot, like the faithful and unfaithful Catholic, make the same claims to truth with the same words though they intend different meanings by them, because they are derived from different sources.
In like manner, when Pope Francis’ words fall on unfaithful ears, or when the media contorts his words, they can give the impression that he intends to tear the Church asunder by changing the unchangeable Church teaching. This false position is accompanied by an intractable pride, self-reference, and the disordered desire to have possession of the baby no matter who is the rightful mother. The unfaithful Catholic would see the “truth claims” about the Church destroyed before giving up his personal interpretation of Her.
The faithful Catholic, recognizing that he is not the source of all Truth, submits his “claim to truth” to the authority of the Magisterium. Similarly, the real mother has compassion for the baby and would rather see the baby live at the expense of her broken heart. She gives herself up to the authority of the king though it costs her what she holds most dear. What does Christ want from us but our broken hearts? The Holy Father is speaking to the faithful when he asks “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?” Looking deeper into his statement and its context reveals the properly ordered Christian. The best we can hope for in fraternal correction is that our brothers and sisters hear our rebuke, repent and sin no more. Our judgment ends in discerning the morality of an action and speaking of it with charity. Pope Francis’ words, hardly condoning disordered sexual activity, point to Christ’s truth: “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” The faithful harlot lets vengeance belong to the lord; the false harlot wants her own vengeance now.
Wise King Solomon pronounced “Give the living child to the first woman, and by no means slay it; she is its mother.” Just so, Pope Francis gives his official position on all matters of controversy: “the teaching of the church is clear and I am a son of the church”. On the issues surrounding same sex attraction, an examination of Pope Francis’ words in the light of Sacred Tradition reveals no departure from Church Teaching, but rather a return to the fuller truth of Christ’s mission for us.
Armed with God gifted wisdom on justice, King Solomon didn’t give a single thought to how his words would fall on the ears of the court. Similarly, the Holy Father has no need to calculate how his words might wind their way through the arteries of the mass media, even if they cause arrhythmic palpitations in the heart of the City of man.
However, in these massively confusing times, even well-formed Catholics have been tempted to question some of the Holy Father’s words, particularly those on conscience published in the Scalfari interview in La Repubblica. We ought to remember that the words in this interview had not been revised by the Holy Father, they were written from Scalfari’s memory of an “informal chat,” not from notes or a recording. Pope Francis was worried that these words might cause confusion, as indeed they have, and now we see a retraction by Scalfari, and the interview was removed from the Vatican website. Fr. Lombardi stated that “the interview is not part of Pope Francis’ Magisterium.” Antonio Socci, Catholic journalist for Libero in Italy declared that “Pope Francis’ teachings on corruption, confession, the danger of the devil, all prove that Pope Francis’ view is orthodox, and that he had not watered down the teachings of the Church.”
Pope Francis is a fisher of men and in courting souls for Christ, he casts a wide net. Though we must be ever vigilant in this age of semantic distortion, especially considering where our Holy Father is willing to tread, we can conclude that Pope Francis’ words will end oriented towards the Logos. There is no possibility that our Holy Father intends to change the unchangeable, or to recast Holy Mother Church in the image of man. Rest easy faithful Catholic, Pope Francis is a son of the Church, his positions are clear.
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Thank you! – The Editors