Monday, June 27, 2016

Apologies

"Simplicity"
- in my meditation garden -

Yesterday, as he made his way back home from a papal visit to Armenia, Pope Francis told news reporters aboard his plane that Christians owe apologies to gay people and to others who have been offended or exploited by the church.  The pope said:

I believe that the church not only should apologize
to the person who is gay whom it has offended,
but has to apologize to the poor,
to exploited women, to children exploited for labor,
and it has to ask forgiveness for having blessed many weapons.

Fr. James Martin, an American Jesuit priest and magazine editor, called the pope’s apology to gays and lesbians, “a groundbreaking moment,” and I think he’s right.

When I was a boy I was always taught that, above all other people on the globe, the pope was the icon of perfection. The pope was the one person who always had it right and so that’s why we were supposed to listen to whatever he said. So, for me, that image of a pope saying, “we got it wrong and we should apologize to the people who have been hurt by us” was indeed “groundbreaking” in many significant ways.

It seems to me that one of the greatest pitfalls of any “belief system” in any institution is to fall into the trap of thinking: “what we believe is the certain truth and what others outside our system believe is false.”  Religious believers, those who follow the tenets of any spiritual path and even atheists can easily delude themselves into thinking that, “unlike people in the other camp who follow a different way, we are the ones who have discovered the perfect way.”

This is why I found the pope’s call for apologies so groundbreaking yesterday—it called all sorts of believers (not just Catholics or Christians) to be humble enough to realize that no one ever has has it “perfectly correct.”  We all make mistakes, we are all flawed, we are all in a process of learning and evolving; and so, offering “apologies” is indeed a necessary discipline along the way.

Franciscan priest and author, Richard Rohr, puts it this way:

The demand for the perfect is the greatest enemy of the good

If we can’t say “I’m sorry,” because we have such high esteem for always having it right, we are stuck in a rut and can never thrive along any spiritual path.

As I’ve reflected on yesterday’s “groundbreaking” apology aboard the papal airplane,  it also came to me that apologizing to those whom we have wronged is also a way of esteeming and raising up those who have been put down,.

Pope Francis is the first pope to take his name after that of the renowned 13th century saint, Francis of Assisi.  Following in the “way” of Jesus, Saint Francis taught his disciples to live a life of “simplicity.”  Richard Rohr explains what this rule of “simple living” means:

When you live simply
you find a natural solidarity with people at the bottom or the edge
because you stop idealizing the climb
and find there is no top anyway.

The pope’s call to apologize to those who are at the bottom or at the edge of society is in fact a call to “live simply,” the very same call Jesus himself issued to any who would follow in his “way.”

There is no shame in saying “I’m sorry,” in fact it is a badge of honor.

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