Does the Church need to adapt to modern times? Judging from the spate of headlines after Pope Francis’ “bombshell” interview, it rather seems that the modern world needs to adapt to the Church.
The secular world, for all its sophisticated modernity, seems mud stuck, hopelessly floundering and unable to see beyond its own self-polluted horizons. This lack of vision was readily apparent in the secular media’s treatment of Pope Francis’ profound insights. Out of an interview of approximately 12,000 words covering a wide breadth of topics, the media fixated on a miniscule paragraph concerning the moral teaching of the Church and ripped it so out of context that some Catholic commentators suspect this was done deliberately. Perhaps it was, though I honestly believe that the media has grown so accustomed to viewing the world and the Church through clouded secular lenses, that they have bought into their confined horizontal narrative.
In effect, the media’s reaction to Pope Francis’ words confirmed one of the main themes he was trying to express—namely that, for the Church, the horizontal without the vertical is meaningless. Pope Francis has made this point multiple times through the first year of his papacy. In his address to the cardinals at the Missa pro Ecclesia in March, Francis said, “We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord.”
Was the pope saying that the Church should cease all humanitarian activities? Absolutely not! He was emphasizing that those activities gain their fundamental meaning from the gospel of Jesus Christ. And, apart from the gospel, the Church’s social teaching loses all substantive reference.
Pope Francis’ recent interview is a continuation of this theme. The moral teaching of the Church only has meaning in reference to the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. It is through the gospel that we learn about God, His plan, His love for us, and that each human person is beloved, unique, and dignified. As Blessed Pope John Paul II stated, “The gospel of God’s love for man, the gospel of the dignity of the person and the gospel of life are a single and indivisible gospel.” For the Church to preach moral precepts out of context of the gospel from which they flow would be to rob these precepts of their fundamental meaning.
So, was Pope Francis saying that the Church should cease its defense of innocent life? Absolutely not! He was explaining precisely how the Church can reach the wounded and blinded secular world.
Think about this from a secular horizontal perspective for a moment. The problem with looking straight ahead or behind is that perspective becomes muddled around the edges. It is precisely at these edges, where secular vision loses sight, that it also loses value. Life at its weakest—in the womb, in the disabled, in the poor, and in the elderly—becomes expendable. In the center of secular vision, life becomes hyper-magnified leading to a culture of celebrity and pleasure seeking. It is only with a view from the vertical—from above—that the periphery becomes clear and the center evens out. Pope Francis wants to bring the secular world to this viewpoint, and it is only by preaching the gospel that man can be brought to those heights.
We in the pro-life movement can learn much from Pope Francis. Do we trust too much in secular processes at the expense of seeking to reorient the culture to value the human person? Do our alliances and compromises belie that we, too, have adopted a horizontal view, losing sight of the most marginalized of preborn persons—those hardest to defend especially due to the circumstances in which they were conceived? Do our alliances and compromises lead us into losing sight of the dignity of the poor and marginalized living among us? These are sobering thoughts well worth considering, and only a few that came to mind while reading through Pope Francis’ interview.
Instead of a stinging rebuke to the pro-life movement as the media categorized it, this interview stands as an invitation and blueprint to radically strengthen our efforts and unite them with the single and indivisible gospel of life.
Rob Gasper is a senior research analyst for American Life League and is the editor of ALL News.