This month, Pope Francis, leader of the world’s Catholics, was breaking new ground when he made the statement, “People who started a new union after the defeat of their sacramental marriage are not at all excommunicated, and they absolutely must not be treated that way. They always belong to the church.” (see Pope calls for compassion). Even more, Pope Francis goes on to say, “How can we recommend to parents to do everything they can to educate their children in Christian life, giving them an example of a convinced and practiced faith if we keep them at arm’s length from the community as if they were excommunicated?”
In essence, Pope Francis is saying remarried Catholics are not automatically removed from church membership, although the church’s rules say such couples are not allowed to receive communion. The Catholic Church permits remarriage only after a church tribunal rules that the couple’s original marriage is annulled. The pontiff understands that children of these remarried couples are watching how the church treats divorced families. What this means is Francis accepts divorced couples as members of the church and says they need to be treated as such.
This is not the first time Pope Francis has shown compassion towards those looked upon less favourably in the Catholic Church. Back in June of 2013 the pontiff made a bold statement during an interview saying, he doesn’t have any problem with the inclination to homosexuality itself. He is quoted as saying, “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?” (See Pope Francis reaches out to gays). It would seem that the pope accepts gays and lesbians as well.
It is so wonderful to have this “breath of fresh air” in the Catholic Church. Finally, the Catholic Church has a leader who is pastoral, who is welcoming, and most importantly, who is more inclusive than his predecessors have been. It seems to me, that when a church claims to follow the teachings and example of Jesus, then their actions need to reflect that. I honestly believe that His Holiness, Pope Francis is doing just that. He especially demonstrated this when in November of 2013, when the pontiff paused to pray and lay his hands on a man with a disfiguring disease. (See Francis embrace of a Disabled man) If that action doesn’t say, loving acceptance I don’t know what does.
Why is it so important for the leader of a Christian Institution to be so all-inclusive? Very simply, because Christians purport to be the embodiment of Jesus on earth, therefore the institution must act and teach as Jesus did. According to biblical stories Jesus was all-inclusive! Let us look at some examples.
Take the story of the Woman at the Well as told in John 4:7 – 26, for example. To summarize the biblical story, Jesus and his disciples were traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee. They took the quickest route which was through Samaria. Tired and thirsty, Jesus sat by Jacob’s Well, while his disciples went to a village to buy food. During his wait, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman who came to the well to draw water. When Jesus met this woman at the well, he did something atypical, scandalous really, in that he spoke to a Samaritan; a group the Jews traditionally loathed. Even more scandalous, Jesus asked the Samaritan woman to get him a drink of water, which would have made him ceremonially unclean, according to the Jewish faith, because he used the same cup or jar as the Samaritan woman.
To help understand how powerful this story is and just how all-inclusive Jesus was, we must understand that the hatred between Jews and Samaritans was intense and long-standing. Jews, who considered themselves pure, detested the mixed marriages and worship of the Samaritans. Thus, a faithful Jew would never go near a Samaritan let alone talk to one.
Mark 2:15-17 tells the story of Jesus sitting down to a meal in Levi’s house, the home of a tax collector. Tax collectors were for the most part Jewish people, and therefore they were hated by their own people. When they collected taxes they would collect the required amount of money for Rome, plus some additional money for themselves. They were considered to be extortioners of large sums of money. Plus, there was the fact that tax collectors worked for Rome, who were Gentiles (non Jewish) in the eyes of the Jews, and so they were treated similar to the worst kinds of sinners and prostitutes. So for Jesus to sit down and have a meal with one of these tax collectors would have been scandalous to say the least. Yet, it says that Jesus accepts even those most loathed by his community.
Jesus touching and healing a leper as told in In Mark 1:40-45 is another example . What makes this story so incredible is the fact that lepers were cursed, not only with a terrible disease, but also with exclusion from society. People wanted to keep far away from those with this contagious illness. Lepers lived in the outskirts of civilization and, if they came close to people, had to warn them by yelling, “Unclean! Unclean!” Yet, Jesus was willing touch and heal such a person. Was this not an incredible act of acceptance?
So as you can clearly see, the biblical Jesus accepted and included even those most marginalized by society. So to restate my point. If the Catholic church claims to enbody Jesus on earth, then it must be all-inclusive just as Jesus was all-inclusive. That is why Pope Francis is such a “breath of fresh air.” He accepts all those that have been traditionally marginalized by the church. So “Thumbs up” for Pope Francis!