Recently, my stereo just didn’t sound right: I was playing good music but it wasn’t coming across well. Then I realized some of the settings needed adjustment: the tone and balance were off kilter. Once they were re-set, the sound came through beautifully.
In much the same way, Pope Francis’ recent remarkable interview is not calling for a change in doctrine but for a change in tone and balance. When the Holy Father said, ““We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” he was talking about balance. He is not suggesting any change in the Church’s teaching on these matters but is making it clear that, if those are the only issues the world hears us talking about, we will simply be tuned out.
Here’s an example. If you Google the words “U.S. bishops, gay marriage,” you will find 32 million hits. If you Google the words “U.S. bishops, gun violence,” you will find about 6 million hits. That’s 5 times more conversation about gay marriage than gun violence. That’s a lack of balance. In Chicago, where I live, gun violence is a frightening reality and yet, you’ll rarely hear it addressed from the pulpit or in the church bulletin.
As far as tone, Pope Francis is concerned that “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.” He wants our tone to be more focused on healing mercy. What does this mean in practical terms? Let me offer 2 examples.
First, a friend recently told me that she went to confession and confessed that she had missed Sunday Mass. She added that she went to Mass on Monday. The priest chided her saying, “Well, if you think that somehow makes it better…” She felt humiliated. The priest’s focus was small-minded and focused on the rules. Yes, attending Mass on Sunday is how we observe the 3rd Commandment. But the woman has seen fit to go to confession over this transgression, is seeking forgiveness, and expressing the fact that her desire for the Eucharist drove her to go to Mass the following day. A change of tone would be for the priest to focus on healing rather than on the rules.
Second, the homily I heard this weekend focused on the Gospel reading and the notion that we cannot serve both God and money (mammon). The priest began by talking about how there is a war being waged in the heart of every human being. This was a good start…our loyalties are torn and our attention often a diverted away from God. Instead of acknowledging how difficult this struggle can be and illustrating how healing it is for us to make God the center of our lives, he proceeded to simply state that we can’t be divided and that we must focus on God. It amounted to a moral finger wagging. In essence he was saying, “there’s a war going on in your heart and there shouldn’t be! You should be focused solely on God.” Pope Francis wants our tone to be less on telling people what they should do and more on acknowledging people’s pain and inviting them to be healed by God’s mercy.
Tone and balance: if we can shift those, we can make a huge difference. It’s what Jesus did: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Mt 5:17.