Fr. Britto's Blog

The Way of Compassion

At the end of last year cable news channels and other media outlets were vying with each other to prepare lists of the best and the worst, of the most significant and the most banal stories of 2013. Interestingly one story kept appearing on the top of most lists with uncanny consistency. It was the story of our new Pope. Audiences of CNN voted Pope Francis as the most important personage of the year just as TIME magazine was declaring him the Person of the Year and featuring him on the cover. It is not unusual that secular media have been captivated by Popes before. In fact other Popes have graced the covers of important magazines. However, no other Pope has captured the imagination of both Catholics and non-Catholics so rapidly. Certain polls showed that almost 75% of all Americans and 88% of Catholics had a positive opinion of the new Pontiff.

Interestingly about 8% of Catholics have reservations about Pope Francis. Probably this small number had a positive view of the previous Popes. It is my hunch that in their estimation the present Pope is not conservative enough. Some of his statements – both in his historic interview with the Jesuit magazine, La Civilta Cattolica and his off-the-cuff remarks on the return flight from Rio – have caught these good Catholics off-guard. From what I have read, it would seem that some faithful were not happy with the Pope’s historic assertion, “Who am I to judge?”

In his defense, I have to assert strongly that the Holy Father has consistently expressed and defended the Church’s teaching on life issues just as the other Popes have done previously. The day after his historic interview was made public, Pope Francis in no uncertain terms condemned abortion while addressing a group of Catholic gynecologists and obstetricians. In its latest issue, Columbia magazine (run by the Knights of Columbus) has published an article that demonstrates how over the years he has defended Catholic teaching on the culture of life and how he has repeatedly condemned the culture of death. Let me reproduce a statement that Cardinal Bergoglio, who eventually became Pope Francis, made in Buenos Aires in 2010:

The moral problem with abortion is of a pre-religious nature because the genetic code of the person is present at the moment of conception. This means that a human being already exists. I separate the issue of abortion from any religious concept. It is a scientific problem. To not allow further progress in the development of a being that already has the entire genetic code of a human being is not ethical. The right to life is the first human right. Abortion means killing someone who cannot defend himself.

By pronouncing those historic words, “Who am I to judge?” the Pope has provided an important lesson in our approach to people. Those words embody the correct pastoral method and reflect Jesus’ own attitude. In His ministry Jesus never condemned any one. To the woman caught in adultery (John 8) Jesus says: “Neither do I condemn you. Go in peace and sin no more.” He criticized the Pharisees not because they were sinners; he took issue with them because in their selfrighteousness they refused to see their need for conversion. Even as He preached the high ideals of the gospel, Jesus always welcomed sinners with compassion.

This way of compassion should be adopted by every Christian, by every priest, by everyone serving in the Church. We recognize the evils of abortion and the degradation of our permissive and promiscuous culture. We cannot turn a blind eye to all the bad things that are perpetrated everyday in our society. However, we do not dismiss anyone because they committed those acts or call those individuals evil. God does not throw away a person just because of the sins he or she has committed. There is always hope for forgiveness.

In his own loving way, Pope Francis has outlined the path the Church should follow in dealing with those inside and outside her fold. We are called to propose virtue, not to enforce it. As priests we are not ordained to be quality control inspectors. I have often said that the Church is not Club Med where people go to show off their perfectly-shaped bodies; we are Cook County General where all of us need the Eternal Physician to a lesser or a greater degree. Hence we must be a people of compassion. We uphold the ideals of the gospel; we do not police them. We leave judgment to God. He alone knows the hearts of people. He alone knows fully their history, their motives and their struggles. His understanding is beyond comprehension and His mercy knows no bounds.

Besides, we should pay close attention to Jesus’ words: “Do not judge and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned.” In another place the Lord says that the measure we use against others will be used against us. That is why I would like to be very generous in my approach to others so that when I come to the Pearly Gates the Eternal Judge will make greater allowance for my sins and failures. The Way of Compassion is the way to go. It is not only the way of Jesus, the way of the gospel. It will also serve us well in time and in eternity.

May we all follow the Way of Compassion that Jesus preached and that Pope Francis so effectively practices! I wish you God’s abundant blessings in this New Year.

Who is Fr. Britto?

Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.

After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...

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