I am not a Catholic so my views on Catholicism are strictly those of an outsider. But I am a Christian, so my opinions of the church in general are formed from my own experiences. While there have been many men and women of strong faith — Billy Graham to name just one — I am beginning to believe Pope Francis may be the most significant figure in Christianity in my lifetime.
In his recent apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis leads the church away from the legalism of the Pharisees and toward the love and mercy of the savior, away from the “thou shalt not” and toward the “neither do I condemn you.”
Pope Francis makes clear he has not sacrificed the standards of his faith; just that proof of adherence to doctrine is not to be a prerequisite to it. As Jesus told his followers, he did not come for the faithful but for the lost. And in accordance with the teaching of the apostle Paul the “fruits of the spirit” cannot be harvested before the seed has been planted.
More important than turning away from legalism is the pope’s call for social justice. In a world dominated by the quest for profit, Pope Francis echoes Jesus’ instruction to the rich young man to, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”
But just as the young man walked away from Jesus, I’ve no doubt many will refuse to hear Pope Francis’ plea. Still, the pope’s willingness to denounce the naked pursuit of profit as an acceptable and just social outcome is truly a light in the darkness, a voice crying out in the wilderness.
What Pope Francis understands is that while the church may constrain men and women through law and doctrine, it is only love which changes an individual’s heart — in both the receiving and the giving.