I continue to like Pope Francis. A lot.
He's Roman Catholic, and I'm an exceedingly low-church Pentecostal, but so far I've agreed with almost everything I've heard His Holiness say.
We speak the same language, even though he tends to talk mainly in Italian.
I was reinforced in my affection for him while doing an online search of his name for another column I had considered writing.
My Internet query pulled up a piece from the Huffington Post called, "Bombshell Pope Quotes," a compilation of some of Francis' pithier observations.
Here are a half dozen of them, with my own responses:
1. "Who am I to judge a gay person?"
Yes. Or, as St. Paul puts it, "Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand." It's really not my job, the pope's job or any other Christian's job to judge anybody.
Our job is to love others. Let God sort them out. God's the only one who knows a person's heart. I don't have to endorse everything a particular human does in order to love him. Heck, I don't even endorse everything I've done, but I still love me, don't I?
2. "And I believe in God, not in a Catholic God, there is no Catholic God, there is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor, but God, the Father, Abba, is the light and the Creator. This is my Being."
As I said, I'm a Holy Roller. Francis is a Catholic. That's all fine. But our God transcends denominational quibbles. This is the God who, as St. John tells us, "so loved the world." The world is way more than Catholics and Protestants combined. God also loves Jews, Muslims and agnostics. He loves dogs, mules and cranes. He loves oak trees and milkweed. He is love personified.
3. "The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you."
My advice, gentle readers: Always, always, always flee anybody whose religion consists of embracing 1,000 niggling laws. Jesus' message delivers us from all that.
"It was for freedom that Christ set you free," St. Paul warns us on this subject. "Therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." Jesus says God's rules can be boiled down to, "Love the Lord" and "Love your neighbor."
4."We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time."
Beware also, gentle readers, of those obsessed with one hot-button "sin." If their whole relationship with God consists of fighting contraception or beer-drinking or liberalism or fluoride or (fill in the blank), they're actually telling you way more about themselves than they realize. Again, God is bigger than that.
5. "You know what I think about this? Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered a nd thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy."
Francis was speaking of popes and their advisers. But we're all susceptible to the delusions of our egos and the sycophants who feed them. Ministers especially — be we Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox — need to daily remind ourselves that we are but dust. We're silly and vain and should never allow ourselves to forget it.
6. "A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: 'Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?' We must always consider the person."
Amen. Nobody is just one thing: a man, a Democrat, a drunkard, a hero, a homeless person, a schoolteacher, a Republican, a Jew, a Hindu.
I'm a preacher, but I'm not just a preacher. At any given moment I'm also a husband, a father, a grandfather, a neighbor, an employee, a football fan, a country music fan, a Wal-mart customer, a medical patient, a traveler, a voter — the list goes on and on.
Everyone's an individual. Everyone's multi-dimensional. Everyone's fearfully and wonderfully made. Everyone has a unique history and a rare story to tell.
God sees us that way and loves us. It would be nice if we learned to see each other that way and love as God does.