Pope Francis continues to boldly go where no Pope has gone before. It's no wonder he's so loved and admired around the world both in and out of the Catholic community.
With an approval rating of 85 percent among American Catholics, and 63 percent among all Americans, Pope Francis marks a new age of leadership for the church -- one that challenges ancient dogma and beliefs, upholds the fundamentals of Christianity while progressing the religion into the 21st century.
In an ever-evolving and modernized world, the faster the church stops telling people they are hopeless sinners and starts building them up, the better chance this archaic institution has to survive. And that's exactly what the Pope is doing!
This past weekend, Pope Francis yet again pushed back on the issue of marriage. He blessed 20 couples at the Vatican, who under previous doctrine, would have been banned. He welcomed 40 people from different social backgrounds, including a man about to enter into his second marriage and a woman with a daughter from a previous relationship, to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
It was the first marriage Pope Francis has conducted in his 18-month papacy. The last wedding to be presided over by a Pope took place under John Paul II in 2000. Typically speaking, the Pope doesn't officiate a wedding ceremony unless he's looking to make some kind of bigger statement, so certainly this is a reflection of the changes he has brought so far, but perhaps an even more significant indicator of things to come. The world's clergy will gather in Rome next month for the Synod of Bishops to discuss issues such as marriage, divorce and contraception. This was Francis' way of making a statement without saying a word in preparation for that event.
The issue of allowing divorced parishioners to receive communion is also expected to be discussed at the meeting next month. Right now, the Vatican doesn't allow divorced Catholics to receive the sacrament.
Candida Moss, theologian professor at the University of Notre Dame, says, "If the rules change, we would see a huge increase in the number of people eligible to take communion, therefore we would see a huge increase in the number of people going to church."
The truth is the church in America is in trouble. In this article by Rebecca Barnes and Lindy Lowry, the authors point out several facts about church attendance in America:
- Less than 20 percent of Americans regularly attend church
- American church attendance is steadily declining
- Established churches -- 40 to 190 years old -- are, on average, declining.
- In 2050, the percentage of the U.S. population attending church will be almost half of what it was in 1990.
In addition, according to a Pew Research study, the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion, or the "Nones," continues to grow at a rapid pace. The unaffiliated have increased from just over 15 percent to just under 20 percent of all U.S. adults.
Not only does the church need to thoroughly adjust its stance on social issues, it needs to keep up with a younger generation that is better educated, more sophisticated and highly skeptical. Telling them they are helpless without Jesus minus the evidence to prove it isn't going to fly.
Today's kids are challenging unsubstantiated claims, superstitions, and anything that sounds suspect. We're living in the age of the mind, where critical thinking is king, and kids aren't accepting anything without questioning what's put in front of them. It's the upward intellectual evolution of society, and its bad news for the Church.
Progress is the way of the world. It needs to be embraced and supported at every turn. The Pope has an attitude of 'onward and upward.' He clearly knows that things aren't supposed to be the same; that progress is the natural order of a healthy, growing society.
Critical thinking says we should restructure the Church by removing the medieval practices and superstitions and focus on uplifting society through lessons of personal responsibility, friendship, and charity.
Moss said, "Lots of people feel alienated from the church, they don't feel welcome there."
Galatians 3:28 says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
And that's why Pope Francis is the answer to the church's prayers, because he preaches a message of inclusion that all are welcome.