Kathryn Lopez: A new spin to an old message
"People won't remember what you said as much as how you made them feel." My friend Austen Ivereigh, co-founder of Catholic Voices in England (full disclosure: I am the director of the American branch), writes in his book, "How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice."
Can you think of a better illustration of this than the still unfolding story of the papal transition in the Catholic church? On his recent visit to Rio, upwards of 3 million young people flocked to him, praying, attending Mass and frolicking on what was dubbed "Popacabana" beach for a weekend. And when he left, the media really started paying attention.
On the plane ride back to Rome, the 76-year-old pope had open exchange with the reporters traveling with him.
"Who am I to judge?" he said, in response to question regarding homosexuality. And with that phrase, a deluge of commentary followed.
His now-famous remark was consistent with church teaching and reflected Pope Benedict's stance, but it seemed to come as a shock to many. He was very clear to talk about sins, not crimes. While making clear that sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful, he also heralded a great resounding truth of Christianity: The church is for sinners who truly seek redemption.
What the world is so fascinated by in Pope Francis is the combination of love, self-sacrifice, humility and truth-telling that marks authenticity and a new era for the church. The world is starting to take note.
He also talked on the plane about women, how they are a vital part of the church, which is itself a mother. He used the phrase "theology of women," words that may just end the tragic misunderstandings about the church's view of the female gender.
Writing on the dignity and the vocation of women, the late Pope John Paul II declared: "The church gives thanks for each and every woman: for mothers, for sisters, for wives ... for women who watch over the human persons in the family, which is the fundamental sign of the human community; for women who work professionally, and who at times are burdened by a great social responsibility ... ". The church believes that the "feminine genius" unleashed can be a transformative leader and presence.
Or as former Pope Benedict communicated to me, echoing Paul VI at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council: "The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling."
There's liberation in this proposed worldview of the church. People deserve to hear about this alternative lifestyle.
A new, healthy day may just be dawning, where we might welcome real religion again. This dynamo of a leader, a man who sees the divine spark in every child, woman and man, is getting the world's attention.
On a plane ride, Pope Francis cut through preconceived notions and made people feel a little more comfortable with Catholicism. There's more to know. And he may just succeed in telling the story, making the pitch, about what is at the heart of the church, making choices about a love that never ends.