Appleton, WI

Feb. 2: In Joy and Sorrow With Fr. Bill

Recently Pope Francis had a special audience with the President of Iraq. I would like to be a fly on the wall in these meetings between Pope Francis and world leaders. There is much protocol that I don’t always appreciate and I suspect doesn’t matter that much to Pope Francis either. There is always an exchange of gifts. What on earth do you give a Pope and what does a Pope do with all of those gifts? The President of Iraq presented Pope Francis with a replica of the Code of Hammurabi. This code for good and right human behavior appeared six centuries or so after the historical story of the Israelite people and God’s covenant with them in the form of the Ten Commandments. It is interesting to note that all ancient societies had some kind of code to help people live together in harmony and peace.

Pope Francis presented Iraq’s President with three of his writing: specifically, his encyclical letters titled the “Joy of Love” and “On Care for our Common Home” and the “Document on Human Fraternity.” These three documents are templates, if you will, among others, for understanding Pope Francis’ vision for the Church and our world.

In regard to the “Joy of Love,” some have struggled mightily with Pope Francis’ openness to ministering with compassion and sensitivity to our sisters and brothers who have experienced a divorce. Pope Francis struggles with the blanket ban on divorced people, who have not sought an annulment of their marriage from the Church, to receive Jesus in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Again, it is so important to hear the unique stories of persons who have experienced marriage and divorce. Is it so that a wife, abandoned by her husband, remarried for many years to a faithful husband, the only father her children know, and unable to put together the specifics of a case for annulment because the event happened so long ago, should be forever banned from receiving Jesus in the Eucharist? I like to think of Holy Communion as medicine for the wounded. Who is worthy to receive Jesus? We all admit “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…” Anyway, something to think and pray about, don’t you think?

Of course, there are also some who struggle with Pope Francis’ notion that to refuse to address climate change is an ecological sin, as stated in “On Care for our Common Home.” The debate seems to center around whether or not global warming is caused by human beings or is a phenomenon that happens naturally. Just another one of those controversial issues that has become more political than it should be! The witness of the young Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, should get the attention of all of us. She bears up mightily under such unjust ridicule!

Pope Francis admitted to Iraq’s President that of the three pieces of reading he presented, the one closest to his heart is the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” signed in the United Arab Emirates, on February 4, 2019, by Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahman Al-Tayyeb, and Pope Francis. I found this revelation from Pope Francis very intriguing. The document is four and one-half pages long and is certainly worth a read! The purpose of all religions is to connect people to the divine and to bring people together in peace and harmony.

There are many notable sections in the document. Let me pull from the document two quotations:

“The first and foremost aim of religion is to believe in God, to honor Him and to invite all men and women to believe that the universe depends on a God who governs it. He is the creator who has formed us with His divine wisdom and has granted us the gift of life to protect it…We condemn all those practices that are a threat to life such as genocide, acts of terrorism, forced displacement, human trafficking, abortion and euthanasia.”

“We resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility, and extremism nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood. These tragic realities are the consequence of a deviation from religious teachings. They result from a policitcal manipulation of religions and from interpretations made by religious groups who, in the course of history, have taken advantage of the power of religious sentiment in the hearts of men and women in order to make them act in a way that has nothing to do with the truth of religion…We call upon all concerned to stop using religions to incite hatred, violence, extremism and blind fanaticism, and to refrain from using the name of God to justify acts of murder, exile, terrorism and oppression…”

Again reading the whole document can be a powerful reminder of the hope deep in the hearts of all human beings!

Father Bill +