21 February 2014

CORRECTED: Cardinal Burke: Pope Francis calls us to welcome Christ without any excuse

CORRECTION: When I first published this post, I mistakenly attributed this article to Francis Cardinal George when it was in fact written by Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke. I have corrected the attribution below and replaced the coat of arms.

In an article published today in L'Osservatore Romano, His Eminence Leo Cardinal Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Penitentiary, reflects on the witness His Holiness Pope Francis continues to give to the world. He says, in part, and with my emphases:
The Holy Father, it seems to me, wishes to pare back every conceivable obstacle people may have invented to prevent themselves from responding to Jesus Christ’s universal call to holiness. We all know individuals who say things like: “Oh, I stopped going to Church because of the Church’s teaching on divorce”, or “I could never be Catholic because of the Church’s teaching on abortion or on homosexuality”. The Holy Father is asking them to put aside these obstacles and to welcome Christ, without any excuse, into their lives. Once they come to understand the immeasurable love of Christ, alive for us in the Church, they will be able to resolve whatever has been troubling them about the Church, His Mystical Body, and her teaching.
Surely, persons whose hearts are hardened against the truth will read something very different into the approach of Pope Francis, claiming that, in fact, he intends to abandon certain teachings of the Church which our totally secularized culture rejects. Their false praise of the Holy Father’s approach mocks the fact that he is the Successor of Saint Peter, totally grounded in the Beatitudes, and that, therefore, with humble trust in God alone, he rejects the acceptance and praise of the world.
It is not that the Holy Father is not clear in his opposition to abortion and euthanasia, or in his support of marriage as the indissoluble, faithful and procreative union of one man and one woman. Rather he concentrates his attention on inviting all to nurture an intimate relationship, indeed communion, with Christ, within which the non-negotiable truths, inscribed by God upon every human heart, become ever more evident and are generously embraced. The understanding and living of these truths are, so to speak, the outer manifestation of the inner communion with God the Father in Christ, His only-begotten Son, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
In seeking to put the person of Jesus Christ at the heart of all of the Church’s pastoral activity, the Holy Father is following closely the teachings of his predecessors in the See of Peter [more].
Much has been made of the fact that Pope Francis has chosen not to live in the "luxurious" Apostolic Palace, not to wear red shoes or a gold cross, and that he hugs people and kisses babies (not withstanding the fact that his immediate predecessor also hugged people and kissed babies). In effect, a great many people are focusing simply on the externals of the pontificate of Pope Francis without looking internally, particularly when he issues a call to return to the Sacrament of Penance and speaks words that might be reported as insulting if spoken by a different Bishop of Rome. It is curious what people choose to ignore.

I suspect Cardinal George is on the right track. More often than not people set up their own obstacles before Christ and his Church which keep them away. It may be someone spoke angrily or impatiently to them and they refuse to forgive; it may be they refuse to lay aside one sinful lifestyle or another; it may be they refuse to read or hear what Church actually teaches and believe when it contradicts what they have heard or been falsely told. Those who want to accept the love and mercy of Jesus Christ will allow nothing to stand in their way of receiving his grace; but for those who simply want the Church of her Lord to confirm their own way of life, nothing will be satisfactory.  Pope Francis has gained their attention - or at least part of it - but will they allow their hearts to be moved and set aside their excuses?  In the oft-repeated phrase of Benedict XVI, will they yield to the Lord Jesus?

Pope Francis, says Cardinal Burke, continually invites people to embrace Jesus Christ. This invitation is not simply the "mission statement" of Pope Francis, but is the very reason for which the Church exists:
The programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its centre in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem.
If Christ is to be known, loved, and imitated by us, we must first remove the obstacles we have erected before him and must finally put aside our flimsy excuses.

Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, is fond of saying, "The Church does not have a mission; the mission has a Church." We see this lived out through another lens in the example of Pope Francis, which, as Cardinal explains in his article, is no different than of his predecessors in the See of Rome.

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