Yesterday an interview with Pope Francis published in a Jesuit publication began to get coverage in the English-speaking press. In short, he said it was time for the Roman Catholic Church to shift its focus from abortion, gay marriage and contraception. He said that the (Roman) Catholic Church needed to find a new balance. To that I say, “Bravo and huzzah!”
Now I’d like to suggest that the same thing, or at least the same sort of thing, could be said of most other Christian traditions, and I will step up to include my Episcopal/Anglican tradition as well. For years and years, it seems to me that we have been far too centrally focused on “issues” instead of being focused on (I’ll use a word here some of my tradition blanch at) discipleship – the nurture and encouragement to follow Jesus Christ in order to know the transforming love of God. I could have used evangleism, but that too sends many into recoil-mode.
Let me leave no doubt that Christians should be involved at the deepest levels in conversations and actions regarding abortion, gay marriage, contraception, ending racial and gender discrimination (or discrimination in any form), helping to eliminate poverty and hunger, and establishing access to quality health care as a basic human right. My list could go on. You get my point. But ….
But these should flow naturally from the lives of a Church that seeks to bring the lifegiving, love-giving message of God as found in and through Jesus Christ. That is “the balance” about which I believe Francis, the Bishop of Rome, is speaking. I know it is the balance toward which I am committed.
It is very interesting to me that this news should break in the midst of a week when we observe the feast day of E. B. Pusey. One of the foundational triumvirate of the Oxford Movement in the Church of England, Pusey’s resolve to restore the focus of the Church to the development of the fullness of faith in, and the reconciliation of, each person, as well as the Church itself, changed the course of post-Reformation Anglican Christianity. The fact that Pusey stayed in the Anglican tradition when John Henry Newman left for the Roman Catholic tradition had a huge influence on many, and prompted them to not “cross the Themes for the Tiber.”
For a very long time we, the Church, have seemed focused on everything but inviting the intentional conversation about coming to know the love of God and the depth and fullness of life to be found in that love. All the other stuff, I believe flows from that. St. Paul, the patron saint of our Cathedral, rightly points out that faith without works is dead, but the unique essence that the Church can, and I believe should, focus on is the bringing of people into a vital and life-giving relationship with God in Christ. Then, from that faith will emerge those “greater works than these” that Jesus so plainly said his followers, his disciples, would accomplish.
Just some thoughts in a Friday morning.