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The sinner pope

The sinner pope

Patrick L. Gilger, SJ, writes on Pope Francis in The Washington Post’s On Faith.

He acknowledges the need for questions about actual change that Pope Francis will ultimately invoke (citing Mary E. Hunt’s Religion Dispatches article, and John L. Allen at NCR). But he wishes to make another point:

I want to be clear here: it’s not that these are irrelevant questions, or that they’re somehow inappropriate to ask in the context of an interview with Holy Father. And it’s not that this essay will prove that I have remained clean of some dirty mistake I am accusing Hunt or Allen of making. That is not it. It’s the fact that when Francis says of himself: “I am a sinner,” well, it changes pretty much everything. If we will let it.

The literally heart-breaking experience. This is the reason Pope Francis calls himself a sinner. It is the reason he speaks so relentlessly about mercy. It is because he knows what all women and men who live deeply an Ignatian life know, that God’s mercy reframes our interpretation of everything, institutions included. It does so because, having understood the joy of being wrong, we have learned to hold our own plans loosely so as to be better lead by God. This is what St. Ignatius means by another of his famous spiritual terms, “indifference,” he means the ability to be lead by God into the previously unimaginable. The ability to do a new thing. The ability to let mercy be more fundamental than any plans or theo-political categories….

All this to say that Pope Francis is simply not playing by the rules of the game as we know them. He’s not keeping score, not tallying up points on one side or another of a Vatican 2 “continuity vs. discontinuity” argument. Neither does he have some secret plan to reform doctrine (or to pacify the prophets among us with his charm). He simply doesn’t care about any of that. He only cares about proclaiming God’s merciful love for sinners, and letting everything else – everything – follow from that. This is how he is cutting the Gordian knot of our furiously divided theo-political discourse.

It sounds naive, doesn’t it, laid out like this. And it would be – if it wasn’t working. If there weren’t so many signs that the mercy and indifference of Pope Francis is actually helping us to stop believing that we already have all the answers, already know the plan that would save the church, this world, ourselves, if only others would do what we know to be right.

PS: Worth also re-mentioning Michelle Boorstein’s article discussed on The Cafe this past Saturday.


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Rod Gillis

From the commendation in the Burial service ( both Canadian and American) “… Acknowledge …a sheep of your own flock, a lamb of your own fold, a SINNER of your own redeeming…”

The last 20 years I was in parish ministry I routinely changed this liturgical line to to ” a PERSON of your own redeeming”. Seemed more in line with the baptismal covenant about the dignity of every human person. Enough with the sinner stuff already!

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