The headline read POPE FRANCIS SAYS ATHEISTS WHO DO GOOD ARE REDEEMED, NOT JUST CATHEOLICS
In a few words Pope Francis has effectively dismantled over a millennium of ecclesiastical squabbling between churches and repositioned the church in relation to the world.
He was preaching on a passage in Mark where the disciples are displeased that someone outside their circle is doing good. Pope Francis said the disciples “were a little intolerant,” closed off by the idea of possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.” “This was wrong . . . Jesus broadens the horizon.” Pope Francis said, “The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation”
Pope Francis went further in his sermon to say:
"The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can... "The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!".. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.” (The Huffington Post, May 22)
This demonstrates the gospel set for this Trinity Sunday: ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.’
For too long Christians have fought with one another and with the world over what they have maintained to be the truth. Church history from start to present illustrates that. The debate in our diocese this weekend over who may be married illustrates this fact.
However as Pope Francis well knows and as the passage this morning in John’s gospel declares, God is more than we can imagine and the Spirit guides us into ever greater understanding of the mystery and purpose of God.
On Trinity Sunday we don’t explore or celebrate the doctrine of God as if God were something we could examine; we can’t do that. Instead Trinity Sunday is a reminder of how we talk and think about God: think of it as a theological grammar check. One word ‘God’ is not enough; we have to talk of the Son and inevitably in various circumstances we find we simply must talk of the Spirit. Of course when we speak of one of the ‘persons’ we find we are also implying the others: something powerfully imaged in the Rublev icon of the Trinity – where the three figures are shown so utterly in communion with each other that to speak of any one of them without implying the others is inconceivable.
We find the Trinity as an active and necessary guide in prayer: (1) we do this formally in our collects which may be addressed to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit – as the familiar doxology tends to close them. (2) We experience the Trinity more obviously in our informal prayer life and meditation: – as we contemplate the Father, so our thoughts and reflections are subtly changed as we speak to Jesus or invoke the Spirit. Each of these three modulates and transforms our prayers and our understanding. For instance, it can be that we start out thinking something about the ‘Father’ only to find later that our understanding has shifted as prayer and reflection contemplated the ‘Son’. That may be an indication of how the life of the Trinity works in us; that each of the ‘persons’ acts on us and opens us to new insights and perspectives of grace.
Our entire spiritual life is lived in the experience of the Trinity continually changing us and leading us into renewed and deeper understandings of God and what God is doing with us in our world. Each day, each year, we may think we traverse the same spiritual terrain but it is only superficially similar. In fact we progress and change all the time under the impress of the Trinitarian life: our insights and sympathies, our openness to the divine presence, our growth in humility and love are part of an endless shaping and re-shaping by the three in one. A model for describing our progression under the shaping and pressure of the Trinity might be that of Ricoeur’s hermeneutical spiral. Over time, our contemplation of God as Trinity continually works upon us; abrading some of the dead images and beliefs and honing where our understanding has become dulled – and opening us to fresh insights where we have previously been blind.
Using a similar model the 17th century poet John Donne vividly expresses this process of seeking truth through an image of a spiral ascent. It was a time of bitter divisions in the church and great confusion. In his own life he had moved from family roots in the Roman Catholic tradition to embracing Anglicanism – but all about him in Europe at the time were rival religious camps clamouring for allegiance and vociferous in their claims on the truth. In one poem he wrote with an understanding that can still speak to us today in our faith journey:
… doubt wisely; in strange way
… doubt wisely; in strange way
To stand inquiring right, is not to stray;
To sleep, or run wrong, is. On a huge hill,
Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and he that will
Reach her, about must and about must go,
And what the hill's suddenness resists, win so.