‘Have you learned nothing from Pope Francis?”
An hour into a discussion about “renewal” in the Catholic Church — centered on a book by that name by Anne Hendershott and Christopher White — this was the last question asked from the audience. The female audience member then repeated a line from Pope Francis’ impromptu plane-ride press conference last summer: “Who am I to judge?’ His Holiness was pointing to the fact that only God can know the innermost workings of the human heart.
Another audience member wanted to bypass her question, saying, “That wasn’t a question, that was an insult.” But it might just have been the most important question of the night.
The event was open-door and was decently advertised. And yet, somehow during the course of the discussion, which frequently dealt with joy and love, at least one person in the audience saw nothing but a door being closed.
I immediately thought of my friend Austen Ivereigh, who was the first to remind me what we all know when we stop to think about it: As television viewers, as radio listeners, as readers, we tend to discount factual points or well-reasoned arguments in favor of gut feelings.
When we hear the word “civil” in the context of communications, we do ourselves a disservice and get off easy if we think it simply means being “nice.” It’s got to be about seeing the people in your audience — most of whom you’ll never personally meet — as people, as children of our Creator, as brothers and sisters. That means there’s got to be love, even in the face of extreme disagreement.
I travel a decent amount and am forever popping into Catholic churches. And I rarely find an empty one anymore. There are always people hiding in the back, right up in the front, on their knees, giving thanks, lighting a candle, praying for help, seeking peace. People are feeling welcome. Come on in, because there is love, support, forgiveness and hope inside.
Earlier this month, Pope Francis met with the leaders of the University of Notre Dame. There’s a whole lot more to Our Lady’s school than the Fighting Irish, and the pope’s focus was there. He talked about the history of the school, its mission and the “essential” need for the “uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching and the defense of her freedom.” He continued: “It is my hope that the University of Notre Dame will continue to offer unambiguous testimony to this aspect of its foundational Catholic identity, especially in the face of efforts, from whatever quarter, to dilute that indispensable witness.”
Being civil absolutely does not mean diluting the Gospel or Church teaching. Pope Francis is walking Catholics through an examination of conscience. Are we authentically living lives of Christian witness, knowing God, loving God and reaching out to him in his people, in the most forgotten and weakest among us?
Pope Francis opens doors to a faith that offers attractive, compelling answers to questions deep in the hearts of men and women. There’s a common good here: Knowing we’re made for something more and that we have responsibilities toward one another and our freedoms; this makes us leaders in the renewal of our lives, families, communities, institutions, country and culture.
The cover story is the first pope from the Americas who is capturing the attention of the world with his embrace of the sick, the wounded, the lost and forgotten. The inside story is that he offers a hardened world proposals about a kind of life that upholds human dignity and well-being. And people, even the cynical media, are listening.
The pivotal moments in Christian history have everything to do with “yes.” Leading with this -- in service, sacrifice, and communications -- benefits everyone. Many are cheering on Pope Francis with a “Yes!” The story isn’t this one man, but the source of his joy and its meaning for our lives.
(Kathryn Lopez is the editor-at-large of National Review Online www.nationalreview.com. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)