Years ago Pope Francis sent shock waves through our little hobbit hole when he met with a pack of Protestant leaders and more or less told them to get to God where they're at. After all, we had lost almost everything we had to become Catholic, and set ourselves on a future path in which my main retirement plans rest on doing a Fred Sanford after my last day on the job.
It doesn't sound like much of a problematic statement I know. It sounds pretty darn nice of him, not to throw fire and brimstone down on a bunch of non-Catholic Christians. It seems completely ecumenical and the type of outreach I remember from Pope John Paul II that made Catholicism seem approachable to my Protestant eyes back in the day.
And yet there was something bothersome the way Pope Francis said it. Whenever I mused on Pope John Paul II's outreach to us "Separated Brethren", it always seemed in the broader context of wanting us to come back to full communion with the Catholic Church. He - and others at that time - may have praised us Protestants and affirmed us and celebrated us and, heck, even said Catholics could learn from us. But it was always done around the greater point that for all we have, we don't have it all until we have it in communion with Catholicism.
When Pope Francis said that to those Protestant leaders, however, and when he has made similar statements about Islam, Atheism, or just about any particular religious belief system, I never feel it is in such context. It sounds to me, and certainly sounded to us then, that he is more or less saying Catholicism is a right fine option; but it's merely one of many fine options out there in the world where the topic or religion is concerned.
What really seems to matter when Pope Francis speaks is not so much being a fine Catholic, or even a fine Christian, but being a fine citizen of the world. To that end, he seems most concerned about people being too rigid about their religion, especially their Catholic religion, while he demands nothing but rigidity when it comes to a host of sociopolitical movements and agendas sweeping the modern world, such as Global Warming, or Immigration, or Covid lockdowns, or economic justice.
Let him talk about those things and Pope Francis comes across as having all the tolerance of a Jack Chick tract. Rigid doesn't even begin to describe it. Same with judgmentalism. He may not judge when it comes to things like abortion or gay sex, but let someone even question a dominant global narrative about police brutality, Global Warming or Covid restrictions, and Pope Francis is Johnny-on-the-spot for those advancing those agendas with not only condemning the lack of obedience of dissenters, but even suggesting how wretched and evil they are in their very hearts. I'm not sure the 700 Club went that far.
But again, none of it is ever for Catholicism, or believing in Jesus, or caring about the Holy Spirit, or even caring about Heaven or Hell. He may speak to the evils of abortion or that sex is best served between a man and woman in marriage. Those topics and other Catholic teachings he speaks on, and even affirms them at different times as well as their importance. But if you disagree, I get the impression he wouldn't lose sleep over the fact. He might even welcome you with open arms if your problems are only with a Triune God or the Real Presence.
But question the dominant leftwing narrative about Global Warming, or suggest that perhaps tightening border security is a valid way to handle an immigration crisis, or question the latest narratives about Covid, then it's like watching Jerry Falwell in a mitre. Which brings me back to my original question for Pope Francis.
If I had only one choice, which would be more important: that I be a devout and practicing Catholic, even if I question various (predominantly liberal) political and social narratives, or that I dismiss the Gospel and the Catholic tradition while cleaving unto the various socioeconomic policy proposals and agendas of global secular liberalism. Which one would Pope Francis want? I know what I should assume he would want. But whether it's me or him, I'd be lying if I said I know for sure.