I'm not Catholic, but I go to a Catholic church. My husband is Catholic, and my kids were baptized in the Catholic Church. I love the Basilica I go to. I have not always felt this way about Catholic churches or any church community, for that matter.
Growing up, I went to a variety of churches, Methodist, First Christian, Presbyterian and non-denominational. My dad was a seminary student when I was born and went on to be a Presbyterian minister for a time.
I have never, not once, doubted the existence of my God and the teachings of the Bible. I have a steadfast faith and a running conversation with my Lord. I do not pretend to be a perfect Christian, but it is ever my goal to be more like Christ in my attitudes, words and actions.
When I walked into the Basilica of St. Mary in downtown Minneapolis back in the fall of 2003, shortly after moving to the Twin Cities, I immediately felt it; a peace and joy so pure that tears came to my eyes. It's the feeling you get in the presence of God. It's the feeling I get every time I walk through those doors.
I knew this was the place we belonged. I have never felt like a non-Catholic there. I simply feel welcome. At the Basilica everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, is welcome to come through those doors to worship; to find peace and love and joy and redemption. We sit among people of every color and financial status and background.
At the Basilica people are not judged; they are comforted, they are prayed for, they are helped, they are loved, as Jesus would do. The poor, the hungry, the needy, the socially chastised, the broken, the lost are welcomed and cared for with open arms, hot coffee, a sandwich, a prayer and a plan to get to them back on their feet, healthy, in a home, clothed, re-employed, etc.
That's how I think it should be. From what I have observed over the course of the last 10 years, the Basilica follows the example of Jesus.
I have never especially cared about what goes on at the Vatican. The Pope and his enclave didn't seem to get it; they were out of touch with reality of what the people needed and how to reach the people and care for the poor, the sick, the hungry, the hurt of the world.
And then came Pope Francis. I was impressed from the start. Of course, there were detractors and people who didn't agree with bucking the system. I, generally a skeptic, kept waiting for Pope Francis to show his true colors; be swayed by the lavish historical tradition of the pontiff; don the royal robes and start looking and acting like all the popes who have come before him…. he hasn't.
Pope Francis just keeps on doing what Jesus would do. He doesn't seem to miss a beat; living life as a humble servant, without gilt thrones and luxurious robes, going out into the world, making contact with untouchables, severely reprimanding and removing those in his herd who step out of line and forget who and what they represent by building $41 million shrines to themselves, etc. Pope Francis encourages the world to love and not hate.
He has angered some "conservatives" with his statements regarding abortion, same-sex marriage, etc., saying "Who am I to judge?" But I would argue that he is right. It is not our call to judge others. We are to live as Jesus did.
Jesus hung out with the poor, the criminals, the diseased, the afflicted. He spoke truth and showed love and patience and mercy. This is no easy feat. If we all did this, we'd live in a different world.
Jesus DID NOT shove his beliefs down the throats of those he met. Instead he told them stories; stories they could relate to; people listened. Jesus NEVER once told anyone what they believed was wrong and that he was there to change their views.
Instead, he lived simply, shared what he had, did the right thing and shunned no one, inviting them to follow him.
I just read an article from the New York Times on how "conservative" Catholics are upset with the new Pope in which a Catholic blogger was quoted as being angered by a statement made by the Pope to an atheist. Pope Francis basically said we all have our own ideas of good and evil and that we must follow the good and fight the evil as we conceive it. In response, the blogger said, "What kind of a Christian tells an atheist he has no intention to convert him?"
I would argue that the very first Christian himself would not tell a nonbeliever that it was his intent to convert him. I would imagine Jesus would have been hospitable, engaging this fellow in conversation, breaking bread with him and they would each have had a go at explaining their positions. I would surmise that when they parted ways, regardless of whether the nonbeliever had a change of heart, Jesus would have been kind and courteous, sending him away with blessings.
That is the kind of person he was. And this is the kind of Leader Francis seems to be. I, for one, am praying for his good health and safety in order to do much good, touch as many hardened, hurt, discouraged, scourged, rich, poor, blessed, those with a voice and those without, spreading joy and comfort and peace and hope throughout the world.
Over the years, churches and religious organizations have formed opinions and posted edicts of how to act and what to say and whom to judge and whom to hate and who will go to heaven and who won't. Man is not God.
A Christ-like life is really quite simple and yet so difficult.
And who are any of us to judge? Over and out….