A non-catholic internet friend is taking the pope to task for his condom-comments. (See a good analysis of what was actually said here, or check out almost any one of the catholic blog links in the side bar.) Her concern: People might get confused. And then use it launch into 1,001 ‘what if’ scenarios.
Well, she’s sorta right, of course. But I like that we’ve got such a pastoral pope. A man who is looking at the whole person, and recognizing even the tiniest glimmer of divine spark, no matter how immersed in a wider morass.
Years ago I was teaching a parenting class series for a local crisis pregnancy center, and the question of smoking and breastfeeding came up. FYI at the time, the medical consensus was that if you were smoking 20 cigarrettes or less a day, and going outside to smoke — not smoking while you breastfeed — the benefits of breastfeeding outweighed the risk to the baby of having a mother who smoked. I don’t know whether that opinion has changed over time, but that is what it was at the time, and that is what I told the class.
So immediately, one of the moms says, “But, shouldn’t you quit smoking? Isn’t it still bad for your baby?”
And my answer was, “Of course you should.” And I made that clear: If you possibly can, quit smoking.
But what I couldn’t say in so many words, was this: Some of your classmates have come to me privately to discuss how they are working so hard to stay off crack. Out of love for their babies, your classmates are doing their best to dig their way out of a physical, emotional, and social hole so deep and so treacherous, you and I have nothing, nothing, we have ever experienced that compares to that nightmare. So maybe she’s not quite in a place where she can just completely quit smoking cigarettes yet?
–> What I see in the holy father’s newly-famous comment is this: There’s the prodigal son, and he’s starting to look around at the pods the pigs are eating, and wonder if there isn’t a better way.
Is he back in his father’s arms yet? No. But his father is standing on that hill looking out already, cheering on every tiny little thing that is one baby step on the path to reconciliation.
The holy father is not speaking about some hypothetical archetype of man. He’s got the internet in an uproar because he’s peering in at the details of a real life, of a real person living today in our world. Salvation works itself out in ordinary life. For a man mired in male prostitution, this might be what that first awakening looks like.
And you know, God is looking at me that same way, I hope. He wishes my prayer life were here ______, but really it’s only here ____. He wishes I could move past sins _____, because there are still sins ______ that I don’t even see yet, because I’m still so early on the road. But am I getting closer? Am I moving in the right direction? Then that’s something.
We have a patient pope. He holds out hope even for sinners like me. I’m good with that.