Lesson 14: Preparing for the Pope’s Trip– Reformation

Pope FrancisMost Protestants grew up believing we were not Roman Catholics, because they worshiped Mary and did whatever the Pope told them to do. When pushed, we would insist these are just two examples of how Roman Catholics do not follow the Bible. It did not help when our friends pulled out their catechisms to look up answers to our challenges. No matter how politely we seemed to treat them, when we left we told each other this proved that they just did what they were told.

Our Protestant catechism classes included lessons warning us not to marry Roman Catholics, because we would have to sign promises that our children would be raised in their superstitious church. We were taught that we found our identity in Luther’s doctrine that we are saved by justification through grace by faith alone and that this was raised in opposition to the Roman Catholic practice of indulgences. This was always illustrated with John Tetzel selling indulgences like trinkets with the jingle, “When the coin in the chest doth ring, the soul from purgatory doth spring.” We all sensed this was another example of how the hierarchy used the common people who blindly believed anything they were told.

So why are we so overjoyed when Pope Francis declares a year of mercy during which the sin of abortion can be forgiven? Isn’t this an indulgence granted on the whim of a pope? Why aren’t we outraged at such presumption? How come the pope is now a hero we admire for his compassion? Why don’t we throw out theological arguments showing Jesus might have given Peter the power to bind and loose sins in Matthew 16, but he gave the same power to the whole church in John 20?

I expect the reason is because a loving spirit always trumps intellectual systems. We can concoct all sorts of theories about penance, treasury of merits, purgatory, indulgences, justification, works, but they mean nothing without a loving spirit. That is exactly what Paul proclaims in the beginning of I Corinthians 13 when he writes all other Christian gifts are nothing without love.

It’s great that both Roman Catholics and Protestants can appreciate the compassionate way Francis is speaking for us all. Love heals and unites the creation. That is quite obvious when he gives priority to caring for the poor rather than stressing doctrines that divide. The whole world listens. Everyone considers repentance, changing what we have been thinking and doing.

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