It’s interesting to me that Pope Francis is getting so much attention in secular news reporting. The key word in the last sentence is “news.” In his famous interview with the editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal, the Holy Father was asked to describe himself. He said. “I am a sinner.” I doubt that many Popes, except for Saint Peter himself, would have answered that question in that way. That honesty takes my breath away.
Pope Francis is new; he is very different from his predecessors, especially from poor old Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. Some people, most of them gay men, see in Ratzinger a closeted gay man who has never come out, even to himself. I tend to think this may be true. If it is true, then part of Ratzinger’s problem in the conduct of his failed papacy would be an inherent inability to be honest and forthright with others. Shakespeare in Hamlet wrote the famous lines, “This above all: to thine own self be true/ And it must follow, as the night the day/ Thou canst not then be false to any man.” The negative corollary to that adage has to be that, lacking an honest self–knowledge, a person is unable to be honest with anyone else. How can a deeply closeted gay man deal openly and honestly with life? The same folks who see in Ratzinger a closeted gay man see in his often–expressed virulent homophobia expressions of the classic self–hatred of the closeted. Truth and honesty are habits of life that must be cultivated every single day. Ratzinger, in my view, clings to externals and to easy inherited beliefs and formulations to avoid the pain of honest self reflection. I am so thankful to God that Ratzinger resigned, and even more thankful that God has given us Pope Francis.
I’ve always seen myself as a mixed–up and confused sinner who gets by in life only with amazing amounts of God’s mercy. I have come to believe, after a lifetime of struggle, that sin isn’t a breaking of the law. The real sin is a rejection of God’s help, God’s mercy, God’s love. I think that is what Pope Francis believes, too. If you listen to his pastoral teaching in his sermons and in his writings, he always defines sin as a matter of love, not law. This understanding doesn’t make it any easier to be good, in my opinion. But it does clarify the goal of Christian life. I was taught that being a Catholic was following a long list of commandments and rules. I see now that being a Catholic, being a Christian, is falling in love with God and living my life in a way that keeps me close to God, my Creator, my Redeemer, my Lover.
Pax et bonum,