Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Thank you, Pope Francis

by Jennie D. Latta

 

Pope_Francis_among_the_people_at_St._Peter's_Square_-_12_May_2013.jpg

Photo By Edgar Jiménez from Porto, Portugal (Papa rock star) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The last time I prepared a piece for "Echoes from the Bell Tower," I was just back from the Second Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Philosophy of Edith Stein and the Supreme Court had just issued its opinions in the Windsor and Hollingsworth cases (the same-sex marriage cases).

I was perplexed by the Supreme Court's rulings, because they represent a third major area in which Catholic moral teaching is at variance with the laws and regulations of the United States: abortion, contraception and, now, same-sex marriage. The focus of my concern at that moment was on how the Catholic Church in the United States would respond.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan's immediate response grabbed headlines: "Today is a tragic day for marriage and our nation." My own bishop gave a more nuanced response: "The Supreme Court's rulings … were indeed disappointing and discouraging…. It is time for us to redouble our efforts to reaffirm the dignity of marriage and to stand for the truth of marriage for the sake of society and the good of our children."

I was at sea. It was not difficult to foresee that there would soon be married couples of the same sex in my courtroom and in the pews of my parish church. I expect that, at some point, I will receive invitations to attend, or even to officiate at, the weddings of my same-sex couple friends.

How should I respond? Because of the delicacy of these questions and the fear that years of hatred and persecution of gay people have engendered both in and outside the Church, it was difficult for me to find persons to talk to.

Joseph Bottums' article, "The Things We Share: A Catholic's Case for Same-Sex Marriage," created a bit of a firestorm. Those who read it to the end and/or listened to a recorded interview with him realized that the subtitle was misleading.

The article did not attempt to make a Catholic case for same-sex marriage, but instead presented the author's personal reflections on where we find ourselves now and his hope that same-sex couples seeking marriage were not simply motivated by animus against the Catholic Church.

Bottums' musings begin and end with grieving the loss of his friendship with a gay friend, which I think has the effect of highlighting how deeply and unavoidably personal questions about sexuality and sexual orientation necessarily are. Bottums acknowledges that much damage has been done on all sides, but that he is "not sure what can be done about it."

That was pretty much where I found myself, too. Not sure that I could see a way through. I felt that I was trying to balance my natural tendency toward following rules (I didn't become a judge by not following rules) against my genuine love and concern for my gay friends. I wanted someone - my bishop, my pastor, my spiritual director - to help me find another way.

In the midst of this perplexity, Pope Francis showed himself to be a true "papa" by responding to my prayer. No, I'm not one of those who have written him a personal letter, but his comments in the recent interview published by America seemed to be a gift intended just for me. The pope gave me renewed hope that there is a way through.

I'm not just talking about the sound bites that have been widely publicized, as important as they are. I am talking about the deeper message. Pope Francis tells us that we must "focus… on the essentials, on necessary things…. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant." We must begin with the message of salvation, because "the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives."

We must learn to take people where they are, knowing that we, too, need that same grace. Pope Francis emphasized his own identity as "a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon." We are all sinners. I am not the person that I was five years, or 10 years, or 20 years ago. I have changed, I have learned, all by the grace of God.

And it is pure grace. If I know this to be true of myself, it should not be difficult for me to realize that it is true of everyone around me. I must learn to see them as persons who, like me, are seeking the way of the Lord.

I must give them, and me, room to make mistakes along the way, because, of course, mistakes are inevitable. I must not only be willing to see myself as the repentant prodigal daughter, but also as the loving mother, who forgives freely and lavishly, just as I hope to be forgiven.

Thank you, Pope Francis, for reminding me that "the church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people."


i Bishop J. Terry Steib, Statement on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, West Tennessee Catholic, July 4, 2013.

ii Commonweal, August 23, 2012, available at https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/things-we-share.

iii Antonio Spadaro, S.J., "A Big Heart Open to God," America (September 30, 2013), available at http://americamagazine.org/pope-interview.

Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.


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