I gave in to temptation this week and took one of those silly Facebook quizzes. It was something about which literary character I most resemble. I got Atticus Finch, from To Kill A Mockingbird. In the description of the character, one line jumped out at me:
Someone who is as forgiving as they are morally inflexible.
This resonates with me for very personal reasons, but it dovetails nicely with the Holy Father’s week. It was the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and Pope Francis spent almost all of his breath on what Christian unity will require of us. To be more specific, he said, “Christian unity will not be the fruit of subtle theoretical discussions in which each party tries to convince the other of the soundness of their opinions.” Rather, he wants us to encounter others and challenge them. This certainly gives some context to his comments on annulments this week.
What the Holy Father’s statements have to do with the description of Atticus Finch is simple. To be agents of Christian unity, Pope Francis wants us to esteem mercy as much as we do Truth. How are we to do this? Stop legalizing the faith, for one.
In no uncertain terms, Pope Francis is telling us that we won’t win friends and influence people if all we are doing is engaging in doctrinal pissing contests. But he is not advocating the rejection of doctrine or its manipulation. Not at all. I think what he’s saying, first of all, is that we need to first get right with our own beliefs. Either we need to have the moral inflexibility of true conviction, or be open to the possibility that we are wrong–and that someone will someday prove it. Regardless of which way you lean, you need to be at peace with your direction. That peace is crucial to having a meaningful encounter with another person.
Once we have peace, it’s easier to start an encounter. We can spend more time listening. We can spend more energy empathizing. Only then can we challenge, and be challenged. The challenge Pope Francis speaks of is not a verbal one. It is a challenge to act: to live in imitation of Jesus, who unites us all in Himself.
Of course, it’s equally important that we actually care about encountering others outside of our tiny universe. Never mind the strength of our convictions. If other people aren’t as important to us as we are to ourselves, what’s the point of unity?
So in the spirit of Pope Francis’ call for Christian unity, throw a party with some friends. Engage each other, preferably with a bottle or three of wine. May I suggest an inspired vintage?
While you are at it, share your thoughts on one last remark of the Holy Father:
It is one thing to pass on the faith, and another to teach the matters of faith. Faith is a gift: it is not possible to study Faith. We study the things of faith, yes, to understand it better, but with study [alone] one never comes to Faith. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, which surpasses all [“academic”] formation.
In context: Pope Francis is explaining why the strength of your faith is determined by how strong the faith is of the “woman who raised you.” And they say that the Church doesn’t value women…