Father Jonathan Morris is an American Catholic Priest, currently serving in the Archdiocese of New York. He is probably best known as a contributor and analyst for the Fox News Channel. Last weekend, in the interview captured in the video below, he was asked to comment on recent news-making statements from Pope Francis, urging more understanding for homosexuality. Father Jonathan’s commentary included him reading a touching letter from his sister, who, he explained, “was legally married, in the eyes of the law in Washington D.C.,to another woman earlier this year.” What I heard through Father Jonathan moved me deeply and in a fully unexpected way.
Since I’m an Evangelical Christian and not Catholic, I don’t look to Pope Francis, as my spiritual leader. So, when Father Jonathan said, “He (Pope Francis) is inviting us, he is inviting me, he is inviting Christians to give a new emphasis on mercy, oncompassionate kind expression of the Gospel of Jesus and that means changing the way we’re doing things.”, I was skeptical. I wondered if the change he was encouraging was doctrinally sound. However, listening to what Father Jonathan shared about his correspondence with his sister, regarding the Pope ‘s statements, convicted me. Here’s a summary of what Father Jonathan had to say on this:
“I received a note from my sister this morning. She was legally married, in the eyes of the law in Washington D.C., to another woman earlier this year. That’s created all sorts of difficulty … my family and how I relate to it. I don’t believe in gay marriage. She knows that. We have a great relationship, she and I. But she wrote this little letter to me this morning. Do you mind if I read just a little bit of it? I’ve never talked about this publicly but I asked her permission, she said ‘yeah‘, she said (in her letter):
‘All of this is to say that my first feeling, when reading the Pope’s interview, is that I felt like I was listening to the voice of Jesus, a Jesus I could believe in. I have had extreme difficulty in opening a Bible over the past number of years; I get knots in my stomach.‘ But then she goes on to say this, and I haven’t seen this coming from the Left or the Right very well. She expressed this well. She said, ‘Yesterday, while I experienced Jesus through Pope Francis’ words, I would have been disappointed, if after reading the whole interview (12,000 words), it didn’t include anything more than what the news cycle has been talking about, gay marriage, etc.‘ She says, ‘It was filled with radical empathy, radical love, radical humanity while not at any point watering down the Pope’s understanding of objective truth. The news clippings conveniently left out the parts about moral consequences flowing from the simple profound radiant message of the Gospel.‘
This is my sister, who is legally married to another woman, experiencing Jesus in a way that I haven’t been able to communicate to her as well as I should have. … Maybe the Church has something to say to me even though I’m not perfect. In this interview, when they asked Pope Francis, Who is Jorge Bergoglio, that’s his name before he became Pope, he said, ‘Jorge Bergoglio is a sinner. That’s not a tagline, that’s who I am.‘ If the Pope can say that, I should be able to say that and I do and I think that should be an open door to all sinners, all of us. … He’s opening up a conversation like it’s never been opened up before.“
Although I did come away from listening to Father Jonathan convicted about, as he said, “(giving) a new emphasis on mercy, on compassionate kind expression of the Gospel of Jesus …(meaning) changing the way we’re doing things”, I didn’t feel that I’d been given the whole message yet. That was especially true of knowing what changes to apply. Later that same weekend, while getting ready for church Sunday morning, I heard the following Bible study by Pastor Dave Rolph, of Calvary Chapel Pacific Hills and it completed the message for me. Before going on, let me note that the video below runs about 47 minutes, so you might want to read the comments I’ve made following the video and come back to take in the full Bible study later.
This study is from John 21:15-19. In summary, Pastor Dave teaches that, although at this point Peter had been with Jesus more than once since His resurrection, this Scripture covers their first real opportunity to be alone and to talk about Peter having denied Jesus three times before His crucifixion. They were on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. There was a little beach there and Jesus said, in essence, “Peter, let’s go for a walk, I want to talk to you.” The focal point of Pastor Dave’s study is when Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” and that, when Peter responds positively, Jesus instructs him to, “Feed my lambs.” According to Pastor Dave, Jesus’ question really is, “How much do you love me?” and His direction is, “Show it by taking care of those I died for.“
With this in mind, Pastor Dave says we should be asking ourselves, “Is my love for Jesus changing the way I live, in terms of helping others in a way that’s different than if I didn’t love Jesus? How far am I willing to go for Him? What kind of sacrifices am I willing to make for Him?” Moreover, Pastor Dave says that, to answer these questions, we first need to determine, “What are my ‘these‘? What matters more to me than my love for Him?“
In effect, this was my walk on the beach with Jesus and the”these” He wanted to discuss with me was my continuing to treat some sinners, those He died for, with less “emphasis on mercy, on compassionate kind expression of the Gospel.” Having been confronted with my “these” in this regard, I realized that my answer to the question posed by Pastor Dave must be that my love for Jesus changes the way I live, in terms of helping others in a way that’s different than if I didn’t love Him.
Actually, this was an answer I’d been seeking for quite a long time. You see, somewhat like Father Jonathan, I have my own personal story of a loved one whose gay relationship created difficulty for me. I’d like to tell you a little bit about that too, so you can better see how this fits in for me.
My loved one was my best friend in my last years of high school and my first years of college. Socially, we pretty much did all the things guys our age did in the mid to late 60s. In high school, we double-dated with our girlfriends, we would go to parties and dances to look for girls and along the way, we would sneak a few beers any time we could. To earn money we both needed for college, we took jobs working together at an upscale neighborhood grocery. Otherwise, our college social life was similar to what we did in high school. We ended up pledging the same fraternity and for quite a long time, we dated girls who were dorm roommates. In our Junior year, it seemed we were finding ourselves spending less time together. I was aware that he was spending more time with some of the older more “artsy” fraternity brothers, including an alumnus who he seemed to spend most of his time with. It wasn’t long before I heard that he had moved in with this guy and that they were in a homosexual relationship. I can tell you that this (then) 19 or 20-year-old Protestant Midwestern boy had no idea what to think of that. Eventually, I was invited to the home where he was living. I don’t remember much about the visit except that I was very uncomfortable. I wasn’t there long and I don’t recall making any specific statements of disapproval but I think it was clear to my friend that I disapproved. That’s the last time I recall us having contact in college. A few years later, around 1972 or 1973, after I moved with my Wife and Daughter to live and work in the State Capitol, I heard that my friend was living and working there too. So, I reached out to him and we set a time for me to drop by where he worked, in order to catch up with each other. Our visit was brief but we instantly reconnected and though we lived on opposite sides of town and our young lives were very busy, I was certain we would start getting together again, as our schedules allowed. A few weeks after our visit, my friend’s Father called, wanting to know if I’d heard from his Son. It turns out that he was missing and when his Dad found my local contact info in his address book, he made that call to me. After several months, it was learned that an accident had befallen my friend. He ended up in a river that flows through that city just before it froze over in the winter. He wasn’t found until the following spring thaw. My next contact with my friend was when I served as a pallbearer at his funeral. He died when he was only 24 and ever since then I have grieved over not at least having said to him, “Though I may not approve of everything in your life, you’re my friend and I love you.”
Of course, we don’t get to back and change history, as I wish I could in this instance. Maybe the best we can do is to learn from our history and try to do better going forward. Honestly, though, I wasn’t comfortable that even the words I wish I had spoken to my friend were enough. And, I remained uncertain about this until Jesus took me for my walk with Him on the beach, to talk about this. He told me that I need to love His sheep in the way that He showed His love, through Pope Francis, to Father Jonathan’s sister. That is, to be “filled with radical empathy, radical love, radical humanity while not at any point watering down (my) understanding of objective truth, … (including the) moral consequences flowing from the simple profound radiant message of the Gospel.
I’d like to say that this is the only topic that I needed to hear about during a walk on the beach with Jesus but it isn’t. Far from it. And, I would welcome that loving attention, from my Savior, to each and every area of my life where His touch is needed. However, the answer He gave me on this topic applies to many areas of our lives. A good place to start identifying these areas is to ask, as Father Jonathan’s sister seems to be asking, “What’s causing me to get knots in my stomach whenever I open the Bible?” Other likely places can be found by considering, “What bitterness are we clinging to over something that happened in the past (with a spouse or parent or sibling or child or friend or …)? Regardless of where we look in our lives, we all need to consider what are our “these”, do we love Jesus more than “these” and can we show that by lovingly taking care of those He died for?