The Pope is coming! The Pope is coming! Already he is in the Americas, being besieged everywhere he goes by happy, hopeful people. Our Papa is a ray of sunshine after a very long stretch of darkness. I’ve lived half a century, and Francis is the first Pope that has prompted optimism in my soul. No, the Church isn’t actually changing much, but even hearing words of acceptance, possibility and radical positioning with the poor and marginalized causes me ineffable joy. As it does in many others. This is where the Church should be going.

Alas, Francis has hinted that his papacy may be short-lived. While I sympathize and understand — being Pope must be the most exhausting position possible — I hope it will not be so. The Church needs the breath of fresh air Francis brings, and I fear that if he steps down (or God forbid, dies), the Cardinals will waste no time in reacting with a swift slamming of the door, almost certainly installing a Pope more reactionary and conservative than even Francis’ predecessors. While Francis is certainly loved, he is also feared by those who would keep the Church immured in the Middle Ages.

What else is in the news? Reaction to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on gay marriage, that’s what. Already some people are nervously squawking about religious freedom being breached. Don’t worry, chickens! The Church is not changing. Yes, civic marriage is legal for homosexuals. But they cannot receive the sacrament of marriage from the Catholic Church. The Church decides who receives which sacraments (and why). They cannot be made to change by anyone outside of the Church.

Which is not to say that homosexuals cannot receive sacraments. Clearly, they already do. Still, it’s safe to say that whether you (or anyone) is “good enough” to receive one sacrament but not another is an assessment that only the Church in its infinite mystery is allowed to make. Women, for instance, cannot receive Holy Orders. In fact, only a man can hope to attain all seven sacraments. The rest of us are excluded not by unfitness so much (though many in the Church hierarchy might argue this point) as because of things we cannot control. Because we were born women. Or gay.

Is this fair? I don’t think so. But I don’t make the rules. However, I believe I can state (as our pastor did) that the Church will not be performing gay weddings anytime soon. On the other hand, our pastor also warned me not to express the opinion I just expressed at the top of this paragraph. I will continue to do so. Because what has sustained me though all of the dark nights of the Church is my right to dissent.

Sometimes prayers are answered when you least suspect them. Francis is proof of that. Let us pray for many more open doors.

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