How do Catholics respond? Will Pope Francis really change things? What do you say when someone tells you that it's about time the Catholic Church got with the times?
There are wrong ways to go about responding. It isn't advisable to go into Catholic beast mode and slam the breaks on the conversation with phrases like, "Pope Francis didn't say anything like that at all," "Is there anything that Pope Francis says that isn't misinterpreted?" or "The Catholic Church is with the times, the problem is that you aren't with the Catholic Church."
Prediction: The conversation on Pope Francis that you are having will not go so hot after that.
Yet if the media and popular belief commentary sways to the side of misinterpretation, what is a Catholic to believe? How does one go about finding out the authentic core of the Pope's message, and perhaps even more importantly, communicating the authentic statement with Christian charity?
Jimmy Akin of Catholic Answers said, "“Anyone who has kept up with what Pope Francis has said and done so far will realize that we have a much more interesting pope on our hands than the caricature given to us by CNBC and Fox News.”
And oh how true. Let's peel apart the above-mentioned two issues and delve into the heart of Pope Francis...and what he really meant.
The quote/action: "When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem…they’re our brothers."
The assumption: The Catholic Church now believes and teaches that those who wish to participate
in same-sex marriages are completely fine and justified. How can Catholic judge them for wishing to love each other?
The truth: As explained in an earlier post on this blog, the Catholic Church through her teachings on Theology of the Body states the four characteristics of love as such: Free, Total, Faithful and Fruitful. Gay marriage cannot fulfill these obligations of true and authentic love.
So what did Pope Francis mean? That those who struggle with homosexual attraction are called to the Lord, and are called to chastity (Side note: People with opposite-sex attraction are also called to chastity.) All people are called to chastity, and all people who are striving for chastity deserve encouragement, since believe me, it's a tough virtue to strive for.
What Pope Francis did not say was that those who have same sex attractions should indulge in this temptation and act promiscuously. Being attracted to members of the same sex? Not a sin - a temptation, yes, but not a sin. Acting sexually on those desires? Sin. Why? Objectification of the human body, damage to the eternal human soul.
Pope Francis is echoing what the Church has always held as her teaching regarding same-sex attraction.
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
The quote/action: Actually a very recent occurrence, Pope Francis married 20 Italian couples, some of whom were cohabitating before their marriage. One of these couples had a child before their marriage.
The assumption: The Catholic Church believes that it is okay for couples to cohabitate before marriage.
The truth: Were the Pope's actions radical? Perhaps not as much as we suspect. In fact, according to the Church's teachings on marriage, the best thing for a cohabiting couple (especially a couple raising a child) is to get married. The graces from this sacrament help tremendously with marriage, and the child benefits from having a stable household with both a mother and a father figure.
In a communication meeting with the priests of Roman Parishes, Pope Francis stated that, "Sanctity is stronger than scandal."
The Bishops of Pennsylvania back in 1991 pointed out in a letter to engaged couples that, "Countless studies have shown that couples who live together before marriage have higher rates of divorce and a poorer quality of marital relationship than those who do not."
The Church does not condone cohabitation for many reasons - but not one of them is out of hate.
True love, authentic Christ-imitating love, does not shirk away from responsibility. It realizes it faults, picks itself up and begins to soldier on the journey towards Heaven.
And the decision to commit to the sacrament marriage is commendable and praiseworthy. It may take trials and trips to come to the realization of the sheer gravity of this decision.
So ultimately: Remember charity. Remember that people do not care about what you know until they know that you care.
Who better to give advice on this subject than the first Pope? I'll leave the words of Saint Peter with you:
"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer<sup class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-NIV-30440A" data-link="(A)"> to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope<sup class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-NIV-30440B" data-link="(B)"> that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." ( 1 Peter 3:15 )