Although I attend Mass regularly and follow the precepts of the church, I consider myself an imperfect Catholic. I wish I weren't and that I could recapture the joyful spirituality of my youth. Alas, the world is too much with me and I have allowed politics, health and family obligations to push faith to the back of my mind. Every so often, a Pope comes to the United States and generates tons of punditry from those who haven't a clue about what the papacy is all about. I write this column not to display any superior knowledge but merely to share what I've learned from my years in parochial schools.
The Pope is only infallible when he speaks ex cathedra( or from the Throne of Peter, the first Pope) and it is only on issues of faith and morals. Everything else is his opinion based on his own life experiences. Pope Francis is being depicted as a Marxist because he allegedly speaks about global warming and redistribution of wealth. Therefore he has won praise from the leftist community even though he has condemned abortion and supports marriage as a sacrament between a man and a woman.
Those on the far right are upset by his assertion that all good people are deserving of heaven which is not how evangelicals see salvation as only for those who accept Jesus. That message is, however, what I've always been taught of Catholicism. It is only God who determines who will get into heaven.
The African priest who served the mass this Sunday reminded us that the thief who was a criminal that was crucified with Jesus was allowed to enter paradise after acknowledging the Lord. "How long did that take," the priest asked, "for a man who had been a criminal all his life to be saved?" The Pope was right when he said it wasn't up to him to judge.
When I said I'm an imperfect Catholic, I should explain that I'm not particularly pious. I prefer low rather than high masses. I no longer attend the Holy Week services that are full of pomp and Gregorian chants. I don't rush to catch glimpses of visiting Popes because I hate crowds regardless of the celebrity they're clamoring for. I've been to Rome three times and never visited the Sistine Chapel because the line was too long at the time.
When I was a columnist for the New York Sun, my editor, Seth Lipsky, always assigned me to write about the Popes and Catholic issues. I was very close with Edward Cardinal Egan who thanked me for my supportive columns on parochial schools. I was invited to a breakfast and lunch at his residence and was even asked to do one of the readings at the televised Christmas Midnight Mass. I turned him down but now wish I had been more obliging to the late Cardinal who was a good man.
I do not know Cardinal Dolan as well because he had not responded to my requests for an interviews even when I was writing for an Irish Examiner USA cover article. That may be because of a column I wrote criticizing his support of illegal immigration. I believe that the church should provide sanctuary for those in need but allowing them to acquire government benefits paid for by taxpayers is criminal.
Much of what Pope Francis has declared that many regard as leftist is being deliberately altered by the media to affirm its own left wing agenda. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times wrote that Pope Francis is a Pope for the 19th Century because of his attitude towards the ordination of women. The matter has been settled by the Vatican and is based on Christ himself who only had men as his apostles. Women who want to be priests only want power and have lost the humility the faith requires. Contrary to popular opinion, the Roman Catholic Church has always had the highest regard for women. There have been female Doctors of the Church and during the Dark Ages, the Abbesses of convents had more power than the nobles. How many of us were taught by nuns and remember their names but can't remember the pastors of our parishes. Why? Because the nuns had the biggest impact on our lives. The women's movement of the 1960's introduced pride and ambition to nuns and managed to whittle away at the religious communities that were crucial to the schools in the inner cities. These ambitions have shamefully deprived the neediest of a good and religious education and for what?
I give no credence to any report on this Pope from secular pundits or lapsed Catholics. I go straight to the source for valid translations either from the Vatican or EWTN.com. Thus I have learned that much of what Pope Francis preached he has taken from the Gospels. Americans get offended thinking that he is condemning capitalism but what he is condemning is wealth obtained on the backs of the mistreated. In the Acts of the Apostles, St. James writes: "All your gold and your silver are corroding away, and the same corrosion will be a witness against you and eat into your body. It is like a fire which you have stored up for the final days. Can you hear crying out against you the wages which you kept back from the labourers mowing your fields? The cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord"
As for his climate change entreaty, remember he comes from South America where the poor live without sewers and with contaminated waters fed with toxins from global factories with no consideration for the collateral damage done.
The Popes since St. Peter are vicars of Christ but are mere humans. We have had terrible sinful Popes who nevertheless never changed the dogma of the faith because they are not allowed to. Pope Francis is merely a vicar and is imparting the message of Christ that it is up to each one of us, not Caesar, to take care of the poor and to treat our planet with care. If each of us did that, there would be no need for big government and its ensuing corruption. Oh, and that other very important message- God loves you.