Top story in all your major media outlets today: the Head of the Roman Catholic Church — the Pope — opposes abortion. Why should this be sensational news?
Here’s why I think it is.
The philosopher Seneca once wrote in a letter to Lucilius (please, don’t ask me who’s Lucilius, because I really don’t know) that when you become a public figure everything you do, even the things you do behind closed doors, becomes the object of public scrutiny. It has been suggested that Pope Francis needs to wake up to this fact. I always thought that this fact is something Pope Francis understands all too well.
Pope Francis gets social media. He knows that today more than ever every word he utters will be broadcast to every corner of every room and he’s keen to the fact that each media outlet — and there are millions if not billions of them now — will present his words according to the way they want to spin it. In turn, each person will get the message and perceive it according to their own “mode of perception.” People will hear what they want to hear. Pope Francis knows this.
Francis is fully aware of the impact of his words, or perhaps better said, the impact of the distortion of his words. That distortion is simply inevitable.
Think of it this way. Have you ever played the telephone game? Now multiply that effect by every blog, every pundit article, every self-described “Vatican watchdog,” every word of mouth, and every ear that picks up on the buzz as it zips down the communication chain, which in many instances begins with a The New York Times Headline — not the Pope’s official mouthpiece, certainly not the official story.
This is something any person who wasn’t born yesterday has already figured out. Surely, any man who lives with his feet on the ground — and we’ve already established that this Pope’s feet are grounded — recognizes that this effect cannot be controlled. So, what’s a Pope to do in the face of this inevitable epidemic distortion of facts?
The Pope does what Pope’s do. He fearlessly preaches the Gospel, using all the means at his disposal. Then he leaves it to the Holy Spirit (whither he blows, no one knows!) to do the rest. Kind of reminds you of Blessed Pope John Paul II, doesn’t it? If you think about it, it should remind you of every Pope in recent memory, but we can put that consideration aside for now, and let’s focus on how Pope Francis handles the issue of abortion.
Pope Francis, not the Huffington Post, not Fox News or the Wall Street Journal, has created a stir. He’s rattled cages and even flustered those who might have otherwise been on his side. Yes, even Rush Limbaugh (and when news got back to Pope Francis that he flustered Rush Limbaugh, I’m sure he must have asked, “Who’s Rush Limbaugh?”). Didn’t he know any better? Of course he did, he’s a Jesuit! He not only knows what he’s doing, he’s very shrewd about it.
When Pope Francis said that we should not be obsessed with abortion, he made headlines and caught everyone’s attention.
Then the defense mechanism of the Church Militant feels it has to explain, “Oh that’s not what he meant.” But that is what he meant. What he did not mean was that the Church no longer opposes abortion, although that is what a lot of people thought they heard. If they were looking for some enigmatic meaning behind the Pope’s words they might have done better to understand this: There’s more than one way to be Pro-Life. We have to embrace all of it.
We have to preach the Gospel of Life constantly and consistently. From the moment of conception until it’s natural end, we must respect the dignity of human life. That is why we care for the sick, feed the hungry, console the sorrowful, aid the developing nation, reach out to the sinner, visit the imprisoned, and support the elderly. I’ve never seen or heard Pope Francis preach anything to the contrary, neither with his words or his actions.
Come to think of it, I’ve only seen this Pope standing out as the prime example of doing all these things, from day one.
So when the Pope comes out and says that abortion is “horrific,” this isn’t just out of the blue, nor is it a shift in tone. Think about it — it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
Pope Francis, for those who are watching and listening attentively, has set us a noble and beautiful example to follow. And guess what. Everyone is watching and listening. Does this surprise you?