Prior to the papal visit to the United States, my college-aged son was interviewed by a major metropolitan newspaper. The reporter said she was looking for people who had taken extraordinary measures to ensure a close view of the pope while he was in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.
My son had taken some unusual channels, which included having more than a dozen family and friends involved in his ticket-getting.
Although the reporter told him that his ticket attainment was her interest, my son is convinced she was fishing for an entirely different story, one about how Catholics are fond of this pope because of the widely held misunderstanding that he will change church teachings on many of the “hot button issues.”
I found it interesting that the reporter was not interested in several individuals and families who had stories as amazing or more amazing than my son’s. My suspicion is that the reporter honed in on him because he is a college student, and she thought it would be easier to get the story she had hoped to tell.
A number of journalists unfriendly to the church know that many college students raised in Catholic households are malformed in their faith. When students arrive on college campuses, they are “easy pickings” for intellectuals who seek a change in church teachings to fit their secular, utilitarian beliefs.
Shortly after leaving home, these Catholic-raised children, who lack proper faith knowledge and logical reasoning skills, fall prey to many academics’ agendas. I think the journalist knew this and was hoping my son would answer the questions as she hoped. Instead, my son answered differently.
My son shared with me how frustrated he felt when the leading questions started after he told her about his heroics getting a papal ticket.
The reporter went on asking a completely different series of questions, which appeared steering to him: “Why do you like this pope so much?”
My son said: “Because he is a humble man.”
“Yes but why are you so behind this pope?” My son said again, “Because he is a humble man. This pope practically lives in a box.”
She continued questioning in this manner until my son sensed what the reporter was trying to get him to say, like, “I like this pope because he is going to change the regressive teachings of the church.” Instead, my son finally said, “I like this pope because he has rebranded everything this church has always taught.”
The interview ended shortly thereafter, and my son’s intuition told him she was done with him because his answer lacked the story she desired to tell.
I was most encouraged by my son’s response, precisely because I think my son answered with a deep understanding of his Catholic faith and with a sophisticated awareness of what Pope Francis’ papacy is all about.
My son knows that Pope Francis is spending his energy to teach the people of God that there are many ways to direct people closer to Christ and away from sin. The pope’s approach is just another way. Additionally, my son expressed Pope Francis’ particular gift, the way in which he loves people away from sin.
Pope Francis has a profound understanding of today’s world and is exceptionally attuned to the deeply harmed and wounded. He has a knack for finding where the human element of the church is lacking and uses those areas of deficiency as an opportunity to reach out in love to redirect the earthly suffering that comes from sin.
The church, in its fullness, is made up of all people. Each person in our human family is created differently, and therefore the church needs many different approaches to encourage God’s children to choose him and not the sin that divides us.
The Catholic Church has always done this, and Pope Francis has rebranded an approach that includes those who have not heard this mission in their lifetime. My son seems to understand what the church is about and how Pope Francis’ gifts and vision are what is deeply needed in a world currently steeped in sin and therefore blind to Christ.
Pope Francis should get much credit for doing things a bit differently during his papacy, but he is really just resurrecting an approach we were shown 2,000 years ago.
As we celebrate the birth of Christ this month, we can be reminded that he came in a time when the world was steeped in sin as well. Christ, as Pope Francis is doing today, was responsive in a way that allowed the culture of the time to be open to love of our Heavenly Father.
As a church, we should rejoice that the Holy Spirit has given us a leader, in Pope Francis, who has taken the work of Christ and rebranded that message in a way to be heard by those no longer listening.
That is really a story worth reporting on.
Betsy Kneekpens is director of marriage and family life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.