Today’s reading: Romans 14
Many people love Pope Francis. He seems to be talking a new talk and walking a new walk. Others wonder where he gets some of the things he says. The truth is what he’s saying really isn’t new, its straight from Romans 14. It’s more a case of what is old being new again.
Today we read:
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Do Not Cause Another to Stumble
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
What’s Paul saying here? Well, this is a reference to one of the biggest issues of the time, the ongoing debate between the Jewish-Christians and the Gentile-Christians as to how much of the old covenant law had to be retained. Paul makes clear that Christians are free from these obligations. However, he says that if another Christian’s conscience holds him to it then he should not be made to feel uncomfortable about it. Conversely, he also says that to the extent that the Jewish-Christian still thinks that the old practices should be observed they have no right to try to make the Gentile-Christians feel guilty for not doing so.
Paul is saying that these matters are largely extraneous. Both groups are good Christians seeking after the Lord. What’s important is, “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. Isn’t this exactly what Pope Francis’ “more controversial” statements are trying to convey to us in our modern times?
Remember when in discussing homosexuality it became such a big deal that Pope Francis said, “who am I to judge”? However, what Francis said was, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Isn’t this hypothetical gay person described by Pope Frances similar to the bickering Christians in today’s passage? Paul said, “Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”
The two statements express the same essential truth. We must love our Christian brothers and sisters and meet them with love and goodwill first.
The substantive difference between the two situations being addressed is what gives everyone some much consternation. Paul was addressing two groups of Christians – the Jewish and the Gentile converts. One group wants to stay close to their mosaic traditions; the other isn’t interested in that idea. Thus, Paul is not so much addressing a matter of sin as of a practice. In contrast, Pope Francis is applying this message to what are inarguably more serious situations like homosexuality, atheism, and divorce and remarriage.
Two things should be said about how Pope Francis has been applying this message. First, it is wrong to construe it too broadly as to imply that Pope Francis is okay with sin. Nothing Pope Francis has said would suggest that. In fact, Pope Francis speaks more about the Devil and his attempts to lead us into sin more than any other pope in recent memory. Pope Francis’ message is not a message to those outside the Church that sin is acceptable but rather it is directed at us, inside the Church, who have the benefit of the Church’s teaching and the sacraments, as to how we should treat others.
Second, we always must remember, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” If Pope Francis had said, “If a couple is dating and is monogamous and they search for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” would the surprise and outrage have been as loud? Or would we have more quickly and easily focused on the words “and they search for the Lord” and found a spot for forgiveness and understanding in our hearts?
Conversely, it is understandable that many good Catholics have trouble reconciling some of Pope Francis’ teaching with other concepts taught by the Church. Numerous great articles have been written on the subject and it isn’t necessary to relitigate that issue in this series. As Catholics, we can be confident that the Holy Spirit will not let the Church fall into error and the issue of the parameters of Pope Francis’ teaching will be worked out eventually. Furthermore, as Catholics, we are lucky that the Holy Spirit has sent us a Pope that is emphasizing this aspect of the Gospel. It has always been there. Whether it was in the phrase, “love the sinner, hate the sin” or in the teaching of St. Thérèse of Lisieux:
“I ought to seek the company of those Sisters who according to nature please me least. I ought to fulfill in their regard the office of the Good Samaritan. A word, a kindly smile, will often suffice to gladden a wounded and sorrowful heart.” Story of A Soul, Chapter X
This is of course, exactly what St. Paul wrote for the Romans to do, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:19). Let us then seek to do what St. Paul, St. Thérèse, and Pope Francis tell us to do, to be a Church of love and kindness first and correction second.
Tomorow: Romans 15