The Raphael Remedy

The Pope and Our Dysfunctional Christian Family

by | Apr 15, 2015 | Relationships

When Pope Benedict announced his retirement the Catholic world was abuzz. I wrote “Be Careful You Don’t Become the Next Pope” in response to what I saw were astounding displays of fear and pride. Many pledged to “police” his every word and action and boy, they’ve been true to their promise!

What occurs to me is this: As Christians we are a family. The Pope is our Holy Father and the Church our mother.

Imagine a human family in which a child (or a bunch of them) decided that their father could not be trusted, and whenever a disagreement or misunderstanding with rules or traditions arose, those kids took to their computers and lambasted Dad with criticism and unsolicited advice.

Just picture it: Dad said we can’t watch R-rated movies.

“In yet another blunder by Dad, he now says R-rated movies are off limits. We can’t watch them in the house and we can’t watch them in the movies. Now, when the lawn is in such bad shape, Mom’s cooking needs improvement and the little ones are running amuck on sugar, Dad should perhaps take care of those things before imposing such ridiculous limitations on the rest of us. Just because there is immoral sexual content, foul language and graphic violence that may keep us up at night, he should not stand in judgment of the actors, directors and producers for their artistic expression. Moreover, disallowing us, his adolescent children, from forming our own moral attitudes and opinions smacks of pure intolerance.”

Now, let’s be clear, a lot of kids do this…but could it be that we, as a people of God, have set that example and tone? Simcha Fischer had a great piece in The National Catholic Register recently: It’s Silly Season for Catholics who Bash Francis on Climate Change (Thank you, Simcha!)

With the Pope’s encyclical due out on climate change, bloggers are sharpening their wits with criticism for an encyclical that hasn’t yet been released. Fear. Distrust. Pride. I’m sorry, but it’s getting to me and I think there’s something psychological behind all of this…and spiritual too, of course.

We need to understand that our position as Christians, of all denominations, is one of relationship. We are in a privileged relationship with God as our Father in heaven. We’re not part of a voting body or political party. We are children, brothers, and sisters in Christ. And our family is downright dysfunctional!

In a healthy relationship we don’t always agree on everything and we may even have some heated arguments and conflicts. That’s normal. Communicating about them is healthy and necessary, but ground rules make all the difference in the world. If you, as a married couple have a conflict, discussion, prayer, and respect for the viewpoint of the other are critical to a healthy and productive outcome. Keep it private. If you need help, talk to a priest or Catholic therapist who respects marriage and can help you work it through. But when spouses bash one another and let others weigh in with invective to add fuel to the fire, or they involve the children forcing them to take sides, it gets toxic quickly and can do irreparable damage.

We need to be very aware of our pride. We may have strong feelings and opinions about a matter…and we may believe we’re right. But there is always another side, another perspective. When we approach one another with true respect, we don’t make assumptions of bad motivations. We need to remember the goodness of the other person. And if they are older and wiser, trust that maybe there’s more to their rules and actions than meets our teenage eyes. But too often, we’re like 3 year olds who think that Daddy, who tells us not to run across the street, is really just trying to keep us away from the candy store.

Now I have profound respect for Christians of other denominations. I see them as my brothers and sisters in Christ. I firmly believe we have more in common than not and need to stick together as a family in this world that militates so much against all that we hold dear as Christians. But I have to say that the Reformation didn’t help us. It was a Christian divorce of sorts. It fractured the unity of the Christian family. Were there abuses going on in the Church that Martin Luther was reacting to? Sure. There are plenty now. But once the concept of going out on our own and doing it our way was legitimized in the Body of Christ, it shouldn’t be so surprising that it’s been legitimized in our homes. Or maybe it’s the other way around these days. Maybe our fractured families or absent and abusive fathers have made the idea of rebelling against our Holy Father…and our Heavenly Father, more viable.

Being part of a family is a messy business. There’s conflict. There’s weakness. There are hurts. There’s disappointment and plenty of angst. But we’re still a family. Now I understand that sometimes separations are necessary and unavoidable. Serious abuse cannot be ignored and may necessitate such action. And too many marriages are entered into lightly or under duress, without adequate understanding or psychological maturity. But once a family is formed it’s still, and always will be, a family. Dad is Dad no matter whether Dad and Mom are still together or not. Siblings and even step-siblings remain family, no matter what separations occur. Family rifts, grudges, and unforgiveness are a plague on the human family.

When you’re tempted to publicly police the Pope, or even your bishop for that matter, think about it. Are we building the Body of Christ that way? Are we strengthening the family? Sure, it’s okay to wonder, debate and even question, but maybe, just maybe, this Holy Father, who’s been guaranteed the power of the Holy Spirit in matters of faith and morals, might have some inside knowledge and perspective we don’t fully understand. Let’s pray for him and for one another. There’s power in numbers. We need to stick together and stick it out. God, our Father is in control after all.

Allison Ricciardi, LMHC
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