Fr. Thomas Berg's most recent column The Pope Francis – Antonio Spadaro Interview: Three Reflections puts into context, I believe, what Pope Francis said about moral issues in his recent interview with Spadaro. At the same time, however, I have spoken with a few Catholics that got just a "little nervous" with this interview; principally because it gave aid and comfort to many secular organizations known for advancing an agenda contrary to the Gospel. But if you read what the Holy Father has to say, he delivers a message that sorely needed. Yet again, it is not so much what is said that makes many a little uncomfortable but what is not said.
In any case, this is the response I submitted to Fr. Thomas Berg. I wanted to share it with Sky View readers. Hopefully, this will bring more clarity to Pope Francis' interview:
Thank you Father for a well-balanced column. Although I think that when the comments of our Holy Father are taken out of context- hence making the mission of pastors, evangelists and teachers that much more difficult -it is true, nevertheless, that the moral commands of our Lord never stand alone in the Gospels. In the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, his teachings on adultery and lust is advanced within the greater context of Christ and his New Covenant Law fulfilling the Mosaic Law.
I think Pope Francis is trying to make the point that the context or the story of Christ cannot be omitted when speaking of moral issues. But I think what made a lot of Catholics nervous (the ones I talked to anyways) is that not only the "context or story" is missing in the Church as the Holy Father rightly states, but so is the mention or teaching of sin (or specific sins) omitted or downplayed during sermons at Sunday Mass or the instructions Catholics may hear classrooms and parish programs. It's a "both-and" approach. St. Paul, to name one Saint, knew how to talk about Jesus and tell his story. Yet, he never downplayed the specifics of sin; most notably when he wrote to the Corinthians:
“Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (I Corinthians 6:9-10)
I'll say this in addition to my response to Fr. Berg: The love of Christ is one that liberates. Yet, in order for Jesus Christ to belong to us completely and in order for us to enjoy the peace that he has to give us, there are conditions. One condition that rises about all is that we accept him into our lives on his terms. And one such term that redounds throughout the Gospel is that discipleship involves a new life and that new life- in order to take hold -needs rich soil to plants itself in. In other words, repentance always precedes true and lasting conversion.
Sherry Weddell, author of Forming Intentional Disciples, recently gave a conference at a local diocese. During her talk she shared a shocking statistics (shocking, if it is accurate). Not too long ago she was at the Vatican when Cardinal Stafford shared with that 70 percent of people that enter the Church leave (or stop coming back) within the first year. This, I believe, speaks to what Pope Francis spoke to when he suggested that the story of Christ has to be told, not just its moral imperatives. But what is also true is that repentance from sin as a precondition of being a disciple of Christ (our Lord makes this point very clearly in Luke 14, beginning with verse 28) needs to be reintroduced into our parishes and dioceses. Restoring families, marriages and souls in Christ can only had when these two components are being advances side by side.