So, this is a thing at least one place on facebook. Pope Francis offers an age-appropriate message to a weeping child about the death of his father. Some Catholics, being more Catholic than the pope, beg to differ. After receiving consent to share the question asked of him, the Holy Father affirmed the young lad:
How beautiful to hear a son say of his father, ‘He was good.’ And what a beautiful witness of a son who inherited the strength of his father, who had the courage to cry in front of all of us. If that man was able to make his children like that, then it’s true, he was a good man. He was a good man.
That man did not have the gift of faith, he wasn’t a believer, but he had his children baptized. He had a good heart.
God is the one who says who goes to heaven.
A friend-of-a-friend on facebook commented:
(I)t was an out and out insinuation that unbelievers can be saved by being good (and in quite the affirmative, and not even communicating this would be a strong exception).
In the context of listening to a child, then publicly affirming the boy’s concern for his father, there can be no insinuation. This began as a personal encounter, then a pastor who was unafraid to tackle one of the most difficult questions of our faith.
The children and the audience will take away from this less fear of God and the fear of hell, and much more the idea that we can sentemenally (sic) average out how God sees us.
I suppose someone would have to be looking for bad behavior on the part of the Holy Father. I think there are front-porch Catholics who make a cottage industry of this, patting themselves on the back for their cleverness and faithfulness. Such are the people who inspire empty churches, lonely vigils with a small remnant, and issue condemnations on those who don’t put up with difficult questions, let alone the people who ask them.
Jesus did have something rather direct to say about the expectations of self-styled faithful:
“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. (Matthew 21:28-31, NRSV)
Too often the Temple Police forget some deeper distinctions. Just because a person is a believer, it doesn’t mean that their good acts aren’t arising from selfish motivations. Just because a non-believer conducts herself or himself with virtue, it doesn’t mean the act isn’t inspired by God–this is grace.
This little parable about the two sons is extremely illustrative, something any believer should be taking into careful consideration before we have a Mrs Zebedee moment for ourselves or our Christian bff’s.