Problems with the New Evangelization (Guest: Msgr. Charles Pope)

In an age where lots of Catholics talk about the New Evangelization while millions leave the Church, how should we share the Catholic Faith with others?

Crisis Point
Crisis Point
Problems with the New Evangelization (Guest: Msgr. Charles Pope)
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Guest

Monsignor Charles Pope is the Pastor of Holy Comforter – St. Cyprian Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. and in his spare time is involved with Catholic media and lectures across America, and has attracted many readers from across the globe through the internet.

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Transcript

Eric Sammons:

In an age where lots of Catholics talk about evangelization while millions actually leave the church, how should we share the Catholic faith with others. That’s what we’re going to talk about today on Crisis Point. Hello, I’m Eric Sammons your host, editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine. Before we get started, just want to encourage people to hit the like button to subscribe to the channel, let other people know about it. Also, you can subscribe to our email newsletter. Just go to crisismagazine.com, put in your email address and we’ll send you our articles every day into your inbox. Or you can follow us on social media, @crisismag. Okay, I’m very excited about today’s guest, Monsignor Charles Pope. He is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Catholic Church in Washington DC. In his spare time, which I can’t imagine he has much, but he is involved in Catholic media and lectures across America and has attracted many readers from across the globe through the internet. Welcome to the program monsignor.

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Thanks for having me on.

Eric Sammons:

You have been on the internet for quite some time because I remember back in, I want to say almost 20 years ago maybe, first hearing about you reading your blog. I mean, your blog’s probably been at multiple iterations of it at this point, right?

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Yeah, there’s a lot of, at one time I think it was, oh gosh, I started podcasting in 2005, which was pretty early.

Eric Sammons:

Oh yeah, it’s very early.

Msgr. Charles Pope:

My homilies, and then beyond that, I was asked by the diocese in 2009 to start participating in a diocesan blog to try to reach people, and it ended up just, all the other writers fell away and it just ended up being me. So the diocesan blog became Monsignor Pope’s Blog, and I haven’t been able to blog as much as I’d like recently. My health and other things have been problematic, but at the end of the day, I still do. I’m still out there and I just finished a book on, I’ve sent off to TAN publishers that they actually asked me to consider writing it, it’s on the hell there is.

Eric Sammons:

Oh, wow, okay.

Msgr. Charles Pope:

In terms of evangelization, we got to get back into the business of being biblical and warning people. Jesus warned about hell all the time.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, that fits right into what we’ll be talking about today because kind of this whole new evangelization we talked about and the reason I, okay, this is a little bit embarrassing, but the reason I thought to invite you on the podcast, ’cause you had a blog about my book, The Old Evangelization, and I was like, well, my goodness, if he’s going to write about my book, I need to have him on the podcast.

Msgr. Charles Pope:

It’s a great book, you nailed it man.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, and I think that’s something, let’s talk about first though, just kind of your own passion for evangelization. I know, I mean, that’s the one thing that, ’cause I actually lived in, as you know, I lived in the Washington DC Archdiocese as well years ago when you first started blogging, and I think I spoke at your parish one time even many years ago about evangelization, and so tell us a little bit about your own passion for evangelization. Because obviously we both think that all Catholics should want to evangelize, but that’s just not true, and so what gives you the passion that you’ve always had for evangelization?

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Yeah, it starts with Psalm 119, the longest Psalm in the book, is a praise of God’s law. Lord, your law is so precious to me. It’s more precious than gold, silver. It’s more precious than honey from the comb. I just, Lord, I love your law. And so I’ve always been enthusiastic. Since the time I entered the seminary, I was amazed when I went into the seminary. It was a troubled time in the church. It was in the early eighties, and I went into the seminary and I’d been poorly catechized like a lot of kids that grew up in the seventies. I was born in the sixties, but I was a teenager in the seventies and felt banners, goofy stuff, bad catechesis. So when I went to the seminary, I don’t think, Eric, I could have told you all 10 commandments, so I could have probably come up with some of them, but that’s how bad it was.

But when I went into the seminary, started to just have this stuff laid in front of me, even if poorly at times by some of the professors. I was utterly amazed at just the magnificence of this teaching, biblical and the church fathers, and I was like, wow. And I got really excited and I felt angry too because I’ve been deprived of so much of this and I just got this passion to want to share it. It really is, I thank God for this gift. It is a gift to just love his law, to love his teachings, and I love Catholic teaching and I think it’s so right.

Eric Sammons:

That’s what happens when it comes from God, right?

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Yeah. And so I’ve always had that enthusiasm and it’s just something that I know comes from God because it’s never wavered in me. I’ve always had this enthusiasm and I get very quickly indignant and angry, especially when clergy and fellow clergy of mine misrepresent the truth. Nothing makes me angrier. I remember Paul has a line in there. He says, I might not fill with indignation when the faithful are misled, he’s just, yeah. So it’s a passion and it has the anger side and the joy side and hopefully everything in between to keep it balanced. But that’s where it all began for me, to just get out there and just answer and speak the truth and answer the critics.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, I’m glad you mentioned that about anger because that’s something I think all, like those of us who are trying our best to evangelize and kind of embrace all the church’s teachings, is that’s the danger is that we do have anger, and of course anger can be dangerous. It’s not a sin in and of itself. Obviously our Lord had anger at times, so it can’t be a sin in and of itself, but it is definitely dangerous. You’re playing with fire sometimes, and I’ve written about this myself about how it’s okay to be angry if it’s something to be angry about, but how do you balance that with the joy then? Because obviously, being ticked off all the time isn’t going to bring anybody into the church, but at the same time, ignoring all the problems isn’t either. So how do you balance that anger with that joy when it comes to talking to others about the faith?

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Yeah, as a younger priest, I had to especially confront that anger piece. And I remember I had a spiritual director at the time, a Franciscan over at the monastery, and he was quite a character. He’s kind of a chain smoker, he had a gruffy talk like he’s from Brooklyn, New York. And he says, you’re kind of angry, aren’t you? I said, yeah. Let me ask you a question, do you love those people? I was talking about my parishioners. I said, yeah, yes I do. He said, no, you don’t. You’re just giving me the answer, ’cause that’s what you’re supposed to say. So I got annoyed. I eventually admitted, okay, well, I tolerated them. I know I really love them. So he said, I want you to go back there and get on your knees and pray to God, say, give me some love for them.

He says, when you love them and they know you love them, they’ll listen to you. But right now you’re at odds with them. And they know that. Again, it was kind of a crazy parish to be sure that I had my first assignment, but they were good people. I learned to love them. So I think it’s got to be love that keeps the anger at bay. It keeps it a healthy anger, let’s put it that way. And then it brings the joy and the zeal. And I was also blessed just in my parish assignments to be largely assigned to African-American parishes where there’s just a lot of joy in the liturgy.

And I love the old traditional Latin mass, but I also love the new mass. I love them for different reasons, and the new mass provides a lot of opportunities for expression. And I just saw joy and they kind of call that out in me too. And so I always say to my people here, for you, I’m your pastor, with you, I’m your brother, but from you, I’m your son. Because I’ve been in this parish a good long time and they’ve really helped me to grow up in Christ, and I am grateful to them.

Eric Sammons:

You have been there because I think you were there, we lived there 15, 20 years ago. How long have you been at your parish here? Like 20 years, something like that?

Msgr. Charles Pope:

18, yeah.

Eric Sammons:

18, okay. And it’s in downtown DC, not too far from the Capitol, right, if I remember correctly?

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Yeah. There’s a kind of residential area behind the Capitol, a lot of row houses and stuff, and that’s kind where we are in Lincoln Park. It’s part of Capitol Hill and it’s a good parish. The whole neighborhood is changing constantly, so there’s challenges to evangelization. But I do think pastor stability is a key element of evangelization. If it’s a good match, leave it alone. I don’t move priests just to move them. I don’t know what that was all about, that thinking, but I don’t think that, it’s a very traumatic thing for pastors to be changed both for him and for the communities that are affected. And it’s tough. And so I say, why mess with a good thing, so I wanted to stay here, and particularly because there was a transition. This neighborhood, which was once solidly Black when I first came, is now a very, very mixed kind of neighborhood.

But here’s a key element of evangelization, and you helped us with this, Eric. When I got back here, there was a small Black community. When I say I got back here, I had also been assigned here before in the nineties, in the early nineties. When I got back here, we had a small Black community, about half the size when I left, and they were sort of hunkered down in an increasingly white community. And I said, you know, we got to evangelize. And people were kind of threatened by that because they don’t look like us, they don’t, but to their credit, these good people here heard me.

And I said, look, the entire parish, the entire world is divided into parishes and we have parish boundaries and everyone inside that boundary belongs to us, whether they’re Catholic or not, or even Christian or not, I’m their pastor and this is their church and we’re responsible for them. So I gave them the boundaries, north to F Street, south to Pennsylvania Avenue, left to 11th Street off to the river, they’re all ours, and we got to go call them to Jesus, and they took it up. And you came to help us, ’cause you had done some door-to-door evangelization.

Eric Sammons:

That’s right.

Msgr. Charles Pope:

So you gave us some training and we set to it, and my gosh, we were very intentional there for a few years in going door-to-door, and we don’t do quite as much of that now, but we’re trying to do more strategically, we don’t just go block by block. When we hear new people are moving in, we’re trying to be strategic. But I don’t want to go on too long here, but I want to just say that somewhere in all of that, being a member of this parish, I wanted to see them through because I didn’t… If we’re going to make a transition to reflect the neighborhood a little more, it has to be gentle and people can be very easily hurt, especially with ethnic and racial tensions in our country being as they are. And I thought it was very important for someone to be on site like myself, who knew and loved the tradition that was here and didn’t want to just throw all the switches down, this is a new reality.

So I built on what we had, and so we’ve made room. We still have a beautiful gospel mass and gospel choir, and we still do that aspect of our tradition and our heritage, but we’ve also welcomed new people, so we have some quieter briefer masses, for some of the new folks. We started an evening mass. When we went door to door, we found out that people were looking for an evening mass. And so we started that and that’s been very helpful. And anyway, I could go on, but the point is that we went out into the neighborhood and we met our neighbors. So in that evangelization, it was a kind of friendship evangelization to start saying to them, look, we’re here for you. We’re your neighbors and you’re our neighbor.

And we started to have some other events in the parish that were, not everybody’s ready to sit in a church pew with us on a Sunday morning, but maybe they’ll come to a concert. So we had a concert series and some other ways to get people into the church, which is a beautiful building, and to just begin a conversation. And so little by little now, the parish kind of looks like the neighborhood. Here comes everybody, it’s a very diverse congregation with a solid African-American core, but much more diversity. And I think that’s, well, you look out your door, out your window and you see people and you love them, and you want them to know Christ, and so you go to work. I’m a little shy, that’s my biggest struggle. I’m not the type to run out the front door and say, hey, have you heard of Jesus?

Eric Sammons:

I think it’s one of the things that people think, like to evangelize somebody you have to be this great extrovert, just like that. And I’m not one at all either. I don’t want to go, I mean, it’s funny talking about the door-to-door, probably remember Father Connolly, he was the one up in St. John Newman in Gaithersburg where we were doing it. And he was very much like, okay, here’s our boundaries. He found the map. I mean, it was funny because nobody even knew when we got there what the boundaries were. And he’s like, okay, we’re going to find them. What are the boundaries of the parish? And this is our mission field. And he was saying, it’s my duty as the pastor, these are souls in my care, whether they’re Catholic or not, whether they come to mass or not, they’re in my care by canon law, so to speak.

And so we’re going to reach out to them. But it’s funny ’cause we did door-to-door a number of years, and I tell you what, every single time I was so nervous beforehand. And so just like, because I’m just not, it’s not my personality to walk up to strangers and start talking about anything, much less talking about something that might be very personal to them, but always in the end it ends up being a wonderful experience. Really, I mean, the Lord blesses it greatly. And so I’m always, it’s kind of like when you go into confession, nobody wants to go into confession, but you all love coming out of confession. It’s wonderful then, so…

Msgr. Charles Pope:

That’s it, yeah, Amen. By the way, pray for Father Connolly, his health is very poor right now.

Eric Sammons:

Oh, okay, I will, definitely.

Msgr. Charles Pope:

He’s suffering a lot, yeah.

Eric Sammons:

Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. I knew that he had some health issues earlier. I did not know it was still going on, so yeah, I definitely will. Yeah, we could do an old-timers thing for all the DC people we know. I want to take a step back a little bit now and talk more on a wider level. When we talk evangelization, the Catholic Church, the term new evangelization always comes up because that’s kind of been the thing since John Paul the Second in the eighties, this idea of a new evangelization. The problem is that I think it’s got, it’s a definition different for everybody who thinks about it. Nobody knows exactly what it is. We tag everything, new evangelists, we have this general idea. What would you say is kind of the new evangelization, both kind of how JP2 meant it, but also how it actually is in practice?

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Yeah, I would say that I think that term new evangelization kind of got hijacked in a way that neither John Paul or Pope Benedict who often sometimes used the term meant it. The new evangelization isn’t just about using the internet and coming up with some new way of framing the message. It’s only indirectly that, the new evangelization is that the mission field is not of people who’ve never heard of Jesus Christ. C. S. Lewis said that, he wrote this all the way back in 1948. He said that Europe now is, some people say we’ve returned to Paganism, but he said, I wish we had, at least Pagans had some belief in natural law and still thought there were gods out there, even if they were flawed notions.

But he says the modern Europe, ancient Europe was a virgin awaiting her husband, but modern Europe is an angry divorcee. So we’re not so much proposing the gospel to people who are not, never heard of it, we’re reproposing it to a people who are very, many of them very cynical and solidly rejected Christ or their perception of the church, and we have to repropose with that kind of an audience in mind. Now, that’s ultimately I think what the new evangelization was meant to be about, but it’s just sort of devolved into this mishmash of being nice and saying pleasantries and not really proposing the gospel at all.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, there seems to be a lot of focus on the means in which the gospel is shared. Like the technology, oh, we have to be on YouTube, we have to be a podcast, video blogging, which obviously you and I both do, so it’s not we’re against that, but that’s more just, that’s a side issue. That’s not really the focus, but all we have through these new ways, but it seems to me a lot of new evangelization, and I think you’re right, by the way, I think the core point that JP2 particularly was making was the only reason it’s new, because as Catholics, we should actually have an instinctive reaction against new things.

I mean, we should at least be like, hold on a second, let’s just wait. But I think you meant the fact that it is a new situation and it’s the first time in history that we’re evangelizing people who likely are baptized even, or at least their parents were baptized, they come from a Christian background of some type. Whereas before, it’s like, when you did evangelization, you’re going to the new world where nobody’s ever heard of Jesus or you’re going through like the Roman Empire, nobody’s heard Jesus, so I do think that’s the core point. And what would you say are kind of the real problems of the new evangelization as it actually is being practiced? You mentioned the being nice part, but how does it fail, ’cause obviously it’s not great success, otherwise we wouldn’t have millions of people leaving all the time, but what are the weaknesses of it?

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Well, I think, to be honest, Eric, I think we’ve talked ourselves into irrelevancy. We’re irrelevant to most people because, well, let’s just say, let me just take an example of maybe an analogy of a doctor. Let’s say you’re suffering with something really bad in your leg, let’s just say, and you go to the doctor and the doctor, you are welcome, welcome to our doctor’s office. Welcome, meet the nurses and welcome, welcome. You say, yeah, okay, doc, can I talk about my struggle here? Yeah, yeah, well, doc, I think I’ve got gangrene or something here in this leg. It’s looking bad. He goes, oh, that’s very judgmental.

We don’t talk about disease here. It’s just a different way of having a leg. And little by little, the guy starts to think, doc, take care of this gangrene or I’m going to die. And he says, oh, we don’t talk about unpleasant things here. So at some level, when you go to the doctor and he’s not serious about disease and aggressively dealing with it, you’re going to sort of say, well, what use is this? And so somewhere along the line it became sort of a bad thing to talk about sin, to talk about hell or judgment that we’ll all face one day. It just became, well, we don’t want to do that. That’s not welcoming language.

It’s just not, well, we just don’t talk about that. Well, but if you don’t know the bad news, the good news is no news. And we don’t ever talk about the bad news. Now, not to just talk about the bad news, but to show, isn’t it fabulous, look, here’s the kerygma. This is my street version of the Kerygma. You got it bad and that ain’t good, but there is a doctor in the house and his name is Jesus. If you will let him go to work in your life, he’ll fix the mess you’ve made and the mess you are. But the point is you got to start out by saying you need him and you need the church and you need sacraments because you probably are going to go to hell if, you don’t stand a chance if you just blow all that off. And we don’t talk like that.

Jesus did, but we don’t talk like that. You can imagine Jesus going into a typical evangelization committee meeting in a suburban parish and it would go something like this. Well, welcome to our meeting of the Evangelization subcommittee, and we are here to welcome a guest today, Mr. Jesus? Yes, yes, my name is Jesus, yes. Well welcome Mr. Jesus. Now, the first order of business is that we’re going to set up a theme for the year. Does anyone have some ideas of a theme? And Jesus, after crickets, Jesus says, well how about repent and believe the gospel. Mr. Jesus is it? We don’t use words like repent here. That is not a welcoming term. So we need to get you to our three-day training, and you will understand, we don’t talk about things like repentance and sin. Now of course, I could goes on like that, but the point is that, I know I’m playing the fool there, but at the end of the day, it’s not so far removed from the truth.

Eric Sammons:

No, it’s not. It’s not. Yeah, I remember, so after I left DC, I was down in Florida as the director of evangelization for a diocese, and I’d meet with parishes. And what I found was often it would be like you said, committee members, sometimes it’d be a priest or the pastor, but always it was anything that was suggested, the first thought was, will the people be offended by this? Will they be upset about this? Will this, and part of this was, I want to say was some good intentions in the sense that people are leaving the Catholic Church, they don’t want anybody else to leave.

And they’re like, the last thing we want to do is give people a reason to leave because they’re already leaving. I don’t think they understand the paradox that actually by challenging them, you’re going to get people coming. So I understand that there’s some of that, but I mean so much, it was driven by are we going to upset anybody? And I was just like, yes, you are going to upset some people. I mean, that’s not your intention, but it is, it’s the step before they actually come to Jesus, so to speak. And so I do think it’s very true that that’s very accurate of how a lot of parishes, that that’s their thinking on it.

Msgr. Charles Pope:

And as I say, we are sort of becoming irrelevant to most people because if you just go to the doctor and all you hear is pleasantries, well, why bother going there? I can get pleasantries anywhere else and pay a lot less. Yeah, I can join a bowling league for the kind of social welcoming stuff that sort of poses as evangelization today. All are welcome. We all are welcome to repent, either message of gospel and repent, yeah. But that second part gets left out. It’s like all are just welcome. For what?

Eric Sammons:

I don’t know if you saw the article in Associated Press last week about Catholic churches in America becoming more conservative, and I did a podcast about this earlier this week, but one of the things it mentioned was, like they gave an example of a parish in Madison and they started talking, the new pastor came in and started talking about hell a little bit. And so some people, some old-timers were offended and some of them left. And that is actually why a lot of people don’t talk about hell or anything like that because the fact is people will leave. But how do you balance that? I guess the question is how does hell come into this? What the hell are we talking about here? Where does hell come to this and what is that balance between, you are going to drive some people away. The fact is people will leave if you talk about hell. So why do we need to actually talk about it and how does it then attract people?

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Yeah. Well, we need to talk about it because it’s what we’re being saved from, from eternal separation from God. And we certainly want to be able to talk about hell. Now, I think part of the way we have to discuss it is that I think there are some real honest, good questions that people have about hell. What do you mean? Why would an all-loving God let people carry forever a part from him in this dreadful place called hell? And so I get the difficulty, at least now, because sadly today we sort of trivialize God. He’s sort of a nice guy and he doesn’t mind all this stuff that you priests get all worked up about. He’s a good fellow. So we sort of trivialize God, but that’s a separate issue. But at the end of the day, with that as a background, people become even more incredulous about hell.

I would say it’s the most common heresy, even in pew sitters, largely reject it as a possibility. Even a current Holy Father hopes, it’s the idea that, well, maybe it’s empty. Well, okay, I mean, how can we have gone through the 20th century with all the carnage and think that hell is empty? I don’t know. But anyway, I guess we can wish anything we want. But the question is, I think he speaks to people’s sort of attitude today, and it makes most of what we do irrelevant, ’cause if we’re all just going to go to heaven at the end of the day, why bother going to church? Who needs sacraments? Maybe I’ll get a little bit of an extra booster shot, but at the end of the day, I can do with it or I can do without it. Why bother? So I think somewhere along the line we stop saying to people, you are lost.

You’re dead in your sins without Jesus. And if you don’t come to him and do what he tells you to do, receive the sacraments, listen to his word, pray and let him go to work in your life. You’re probably not going to make it. And we don’t talk like that. Now, Jesus, most of his parables were devoted to this very topic. Arguably 21 of the 38 parables are about judgment and the fact that some make it and some don’t. There’s wise versions, foolish versions, there’s wheat, there’s tears, there’s others on the right, those on the left, the sheep, the goats, I could go on, the guys who go to the wedding feast, those who don’t. And even the prodigal son story, that second son, the father comes out and pleaded to him, come into the feast and he won’t come in. And the story ends because you and I have to end it.

Eric Sammons:

Now, how do you get by, I feel like, okay, so for people who have been receiving the sacraments, living a Catholic life, I feel like most of us, we realize that, man, I really need Jesus because I am a just complete mess. I know where I’m destined for if I don’t have Jesus. But that’s not the common feeling among most people because there’s a certain almost therapeutic covering that most people are like, well, okay, I might not be Mother Teresa, but I’m not Hitler, and I’m basically okay. And our weaknesses are kind of said, well, you’re okay. Don’t worry about it. Everybody’s human. How do you kind of fight through it because what I find is a lot of people, they just don’t think they’re that bad of a person, and they’re told all the time, it goes against your self-esteem to think that you’re that bad of a person. So how do you jump through that to get them to understand the actual reality of where they are?

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Yeah, I think we have to repropose the doctrine on hell by basically saying, first of all, hell does not exist because there’s a mean, angry, grouchy God trying to keep people out of heaven. Hell exists because of a God who deeply reverences our freedom and will not force us to live in his kingdom and to love what he loves or who he loves. He’s very serious about our freedom, so much so that I’m scared that he’s, because a lot of stuff goes on that God doesn’t intervene in because he’s serious about our freedom. Now, so a lot of times you say, okay, okay, Father, but everybody wants to go to heaven. I says, no, no, they don’t. They want to go to some make-believe heaven. So what I try to do is to explain to people, look, Heaven is not just any arbitrary place. It’s the place where the kingdom of God exists in its fullness.

And there are many values and things in the kingdom of heaven that a lot of people today don’t want a thing to do with, for example, chastity, or the loving of your enemy, forgiveness. There’s a lot of people that don’t want, they don’t want to forgive, they want to have vengeance. They don’t want to love their enemy, they want to kill their enemy, chastity, please. And so all of a sudden, magically, when they die, they’re going to want to go into heaven where all those things are celebrated, probably not. And so I think we have to put it back on us and say, Jesus puts it this way, he says, here’s the judgment in question that the light has come into the world, but many prefer the darkness. They prefer the darkness. It’s sad, but a lot of people just don’t want the holiness that God is offering.

And that’s a very sad reality. Our hearts are messed up, but again, God isn’t going to force it. So we have to, I think, put this question of the reality of hell back in our own court and say, I’m making decisions for or against the kingdom. I’m either going to be rejoicing in the light or I’m going to be hating the light. And so to those who hate the truth, the truth seems hateful. And we hear a lot of that today. People shake their fist. I’m not so worried, Eric, about people who struggle, but they know how to get to confession and they’re humble about that, I’m worried about, and their number is huge, of the defiant.

I will not be told what to do. There’s nothing wrong with what I’m doing. And they call good or no big deal, what God calls sin and they just will not, and suddenly they’re going to want to go into heaven where God says, hey, something very different than what they think. I don’t think so, and God won’t force it. And that’s the sad reality, the saddest reality, I think, Eric, about hell is that most people in hell would be more miserable in heaven. That is very sad. By the way, you might remember C. S. Lewis book, The Great Divorce.

Eric Sammons:

Oh, one of my favorites, all-time. I mean, if you asked me what’s my top five books outside the Bible, that’s definitely in the top five.

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Yeah, and you know well in that book, basically there’s this group that comes up from hell to tour heaven, and most of them get back on the bus for hell. I think only two of them decide to stay put. And that’s because there’s just a lot of reasons people don’t want what God is offering. He’s not going to force it.

Eric Sammons:

It is amazing, ’cause God created us for him and to be with him forever in heaven. He created us to be with him forever. And yet he also was like, I’m going to allow a place where if you don’t want to be with me forever, it’s going to break my heart, so to speak, break my heart, but I’m going to let it, I’m going to let you live in a place where you won’t be with me forever. And of course, that then creates hell in a sense. And the reason it’s so horrible and so awful isn’t because God was like, okay, let’s make it as bad as possible for these people. It’s more just like that’s what life is like without God. I mean the thing is here on earth, although we can feel like sometimes it’s hell here on earth, the fact is we still have God present here and active, and therefore it’s nowhere near as bad as hell will be where he’s not present.

That’s the whole point of hell is it’s the absence of God. You mentioned about the church being irrelevant, and I think that is very true that we’ve become irrelevant in our society. So many people just don’t even care what we think or what we do because like you said, it’s just like we don’t seem to care ourselves. But I also would say, wouldn’t you, I think it’s worse than that in some cases, and I think it’s self-inflicted like the scandals. How do we evangelize, I mean, okay, you have a perfect example there. Being a Washington DC priest with McCarrick being there, I mean, it hits close to home for you that we have this man who was a monster and the scandals of him, it being covered up and all that. We don’t have to rehash the details, but the point is how do you then tell people, oh, it’s great to be Catholic while they’re like, aren’t you the people who let this guy do these things and of course there’s other examples, he’s not the only one, just the most prominent one. How do we get through that barrier?

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Well, I think first of all, we get through it by accepting that God can make a way out of no way. Now, he shouldn’t have to, but he can. And I’m amazed that even with all the things you just mentioned about McCarrick and everything else in this diocese, I can say this, we’re ordaining 16 men this year to the priesthood, and you got…

Eric Sammons:

I know some of them, they were at my parish when I lived there. Good men, good men.

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Yeah, and they’re good men. And I’m amazed at what God can still do despite how often we’ve messed up the church. And I think the church is a miracle. When you think of how long would the church have lasted if it were depending on human beings, 20 minutes maybe, max, Jesus ascends to heaven and the whole thing’s off. No, I think it’s obvious that the church is a miracle and that God can work, now again, he shouldn’t have to. We need to reform ecclesia semper reformanda, right? The church is always in need of reformation, but we need to keep working on that. But I have to say, we can’t be too discouraged ourselves because people still, we have sometimes vigorous numbers of people in RCIA who still come who want to know more about the church. I tell you, it’s an astonishing miracle that people show up at the door anymore.

And I’ve often said to the people in the pews, I said, I want to thank you because with all the terrible scandals in the church, you come every Sunday and you’re saying basically, I have to look past some stuff to find Jesus. But he’s here and you still see him despite the foolishness and stupidity of so many leaders in the church and how poorly we’ve handled these things. I’m just glad, but let’s be honest, Jesus was found in strange company when he was with us. He often scandalized the religiously observant of his day by keeping strange company.

So yeah, and then one of his bishops went bad, Judas. So I think it’s been that way all the way along. So while I don’t want to minimize it, and it is a factor, I don’t think we should let it become too much of a factor because God just shows us over and over again how he’s able to work with even this foolishness and just trust him. Go out and preach, teach. And if somebody pulls that card and say, well, there’s something more to the church than that, and it’s something, but you’re not going to, I’m surprised how little I hear that, really.

Eric Sammons:

Right. I remember some Mormons, actually when I was living in Maryland, some Mormons came to our house and I always invite them in because I would try to evangelize them. And we were talking, at one point, they’re talking about, oh yeah, do you know about these, some terrible popes in the past, stuff like that. I said, hold on a second, if you really want to know about terrible popes, just sit down. I’ll give you a longer list than you know. I mean you know of a couple, I know of more. I know worse things than you do. I said, if you really want to know. I said, but that of course, to me, in a God way kind of thing, that’s a deeper proof for the divine nature of the church, ’cause we’ve had some bad leaders and Catholics and laymen for centuries now yet we still keep on plugging away.

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Yeah, the church is a miracle. It really is.

Eric Sammons:

Another thing that, here’s something that I feel like is a real problem in modern evangelization, I think it infects the new evangelization a lot, and that’s the ecumenical movement. And I want to be clear about what I mean by that. I’m not saying we don’t work together with non-Catholics. The pro-life movement is a perfect example of a great ecumenical movement of people. And I think we work together with our Protestant brothers and sisters, our Orthodox and even non-Christians on ending abortion. But I think what I’ve seen is in the official ecumenical movement, there’s such a allergy to saying things of the nature of like, well, Catholicism is true. We are the fullness of truth and these other religions are not, and that we do want everybody to become Catholic. It’s like you say that ecumenical dialogue meeting and you’re not invited back to the next one. And I think it infects a lot of parishes, a lot of places. How do Catholics get the proper attitude towards ecumenism that doesn’t harm evangelization?

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Yeah, I think that there’s a problem that we have today with this idea of endless dialogue, discussion that goes on forever, and there doesn’t really seem to be a goal. I think that, by the way, originally the word dialogue was much more vigorous in Greek, dialogos, means it’s a vigorous defense. It means to hurl words across. And so it was not just talk. It’s a vigorous, it’s like when Paul is before them in the Areopagus or when Paul is before Herod and so on, he’s doing dialogos. He’s hurling words of vigorous preaching. This has been lost today.

And I think it’s so infected the whole thing that we all want to just be nice, and it’s all about these things that I think at some level, I think largely we should, well, working on common projects that, like you said, makes sense but in our ecumenical dialogue and stuff like that, I think it’s just lost its ways. It wasted time. I think if we could have a real ecumenical dialogue, it would be, I’ll give you an example. I had a wedding a few years ago of a young lady, and she had, her father was a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor. I don’t know if the listeners know about the Missouri Synod Lutherans, but they got the old time religion.

Eric Sammons:

Yes, kind of the conservative, yeah, definitely hardcore Lutherans.

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Yeah, and the rest of us are going to hell. In fact, he came to the wedding and he said he had to have two guards on either side of him, two men literally to guard his soul going into a Catholic church. That’s how, and so I broke the ice in the following way, I said, hey, it’s good to meet you. Your daughter’s told me a lot about you, because she had left the Missouri Synod Lutheran church. Anyway, I said, you probably think I’m going to hell, don’t you? And he goes, yeah. I said, you know what? I respect that.

Eric Sammons:

There you go.

Msgr. Charles Pope:

And that’s the kind of thing that I don’t hear from anyone anymore. I don’t think I’m going to hell but I said, I respect that you love your faith enough to really hold that this is the only way, and I don’t think we’ve done this, but all I want you to know is I respect that. And so there can be, I think some dialogue and discussion, anyway, come to the, at the end of the wedding, he warmed up a lot. I gave a good solid biblical sermon on weddings and marriage, and he says, I ain’t never heard that in a Catholic church. And I said, well, now you have. And we sort of parted friends in the sense of, but I think that sometimes if we can at least, the way you build up mutual respect is by being what you are and saying what you believe. And there’s this, the sort of rule when you go to these ecumenical dialogues you’re not supposed to talk like that. Well, I don’t see how we get very far that way.

Eric Sammons:

And it’s not even true friendship between the two people either. Because I remember…

Msgr. Charles Pope:

It’s flattery.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, years ago when I was actually involved somewhat with some ecumenical work and stuff like that, I had a guy I worked with who was Jewish and a practicing Jew, not just culturally. And I remember we had great discussions and he was totally, we didn’t step on eggshells around each other. Like when it came to be Christmastime, he’d say, hey, merry Christmas, hope you have a good Christmas. He’s not like, okay, it’s like things like that, and he knew exactly what I believed and I knew exactly what he believed. And we were open about it.

And we didn’t feel like, oh, no, I might offend him if I say something like I believe in Jesus. I believe he’s the Messiah. And the same with him, and I felt like he could say things about Judaism to me, and he knew I wasn’t going to be upset about it just because I disagreed with it. And that was kind of an eye-opening thing for me because I’d gone to some ecumenical dialogue situations where it was all just kind of surface, don’t really say anything. And here I am having this nice good relationship with this Jewish man that’s founded on, okay, this is what we each believe. We’re not afraid to say it in front of the other one. And I was like, okay, one is working here and one is not. One is worthless, it’s a waste of time.

Msgr. Charles Pope:

I think you’re right. A lot of the one-on-one stuff works better than sitting in committees and talking.

Eric Sammons:

Right, okay. One of the elephants in the room, probably the biggest elephant in the room is, it appears, it seems to me and to a lot of people that Pope Francis does not want us to evangelize. And so here we have this whole discussion on evangelization. We’ve been talking for a while, Catholic evangelization, and yet I know there will be people who will think, but your own Pope doesn’t want you to or Catholics say, but the Pope seems to not want us to do that. And there’s been a number of examples. I mentioned some of my books and articles, and how do we just, I mean, what’s our response to that? Are we supposed to evangelize? Is there something we’re missing about what he’s saying? Is there something that we need to do differently? How do we look at that?

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Eric, this is a tough situation that we’re in today when we have to sometimes say, I think the Pope’s got this wrong. Now again, we put all the disclaimers out there. We love him, we pray for him, but he’s not an oracle. Not everything that comes out of his mouth is golden. A lot of it’s an opinion. He says, sermons should not be longer than 10 minutes. Well, take that to Africa. They’re not, a ten-minute sermon would be like, you’re just exposing the title in 10 minutes. That’s just crazy. And in my context, a ten-minute sermon, no, no. I mean there’s an expectation here of a longer sermon. So I think he talks like that. He throws his opinions out and just, that’s all they are. They’re opinions. I think that when it comes to the evangelization, it touches a little more because there are some policy things that could be done by him that I think I haven’t noticed that he’s done, but he seems to suggest that there’s something evil about proselytizing. I don’t even know, how would he define the word?

So I think basically what we have to do, when he talks like this is say, that’s an interesting opinion, and just ignore it or just get on with what we got to do. I mean, our Lord couldn’t have been clearer. If Jesus says, go to all the nations and teach them and baptize them, that’s what I’m doing. And if the Pope says, no, you shouldn’t be doing that. Well, I’m sorry, I think Jesus overrules and we just have to do what Jesus said. I have been in the rather unpleasant situation of having to sort of say, I think, if it’s true that the Pope has said, da, da, da, da, well, here’s what the teaching of the church actually is, and that’s what we go with. And I have to, it’s awkward, very often when I have a hard thing to say to the congregation, I give them a signal. I said, y’all, I love you too much to lie to you, put on your seatbelts, here it comes.

But I do. I love them too much to lie to them. And there have been some things that I’ve had to correct publicly that have been said, or to simply say, well, maybe with disclaimers, of course, I don’t go against him personally. I do think that we’re in a situation where we have to sort of say nice opinion there. I don’t agree with it, and we’re free to disagree with that, and I think we should keep evangelizing and largely ignore the opinion. I don’t know why he is this way. It’s very sad. And we’ve seen some incidents where he even scolds people who bring converts, it’s really weird. And it’s kind of like the anti-gospel. Jesus says, go and he says, don’t go. Well, I see Jesus, Pope Francis, I think I’ll go with Jesus.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, right, exactly. It seems to be pretty clear. And I think that is sad because we do have a command from our Lord to evangelize, and so…

Msgr. Charles Pope:

It’s not one.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, right, exactly. So I think we need to do it, and obviously there’s times where people do poorly and do it in history and today, but that doesn’t get us off the hook that we can’t. One last question I want to ask you is, give some practical advice for the Catholic and the pew. They feel this command, they’re like, okay, I do want to obey it. What are some practical ways, the advice you would give them, how they do it, maybe in their parish or in their neighborhood, but especially in the parish level where, okay, their pastor’s not against it, they’re not for it, but should they go up to their pastor and say, I want to do this. Should they just start doing it? I mean, what should be step one practically for them to get started?

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Well, I think the demeanor always should be joyful orthodoxy. Without joy, there’s not going to be a lot of progress. You can be a grouchy unorthodox, you might get a few converts, but I think…

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, my wife sees that part.

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Okay, so the joyfully Orthodox Catholic is that, I think that’s the first thing. I think that before you go and ask pastor permission to set up a program, I mean, the idea is that, I have some people in my parish who just have this infectious joy and they bring people and it’s just do what you do. In other words, you don’t need permission to just talk to your friends, your family, co-workers and they see something in you. How does it, Peter puts it in his letter, always be ready to answer, for the joy or the hope that they see in you. Well, that presupposes, they see a joy and a hope in us. So first thing is, African-American Catholics are way above average when it comes to this. I’ll go over to the Safeway here in the neighborhood and they say, pastor, you got a word for me today.

And they’re very open about religion or at the water cooler, whoo, the pastor was smoking the joint. The whole place was jumping to, what did your pastor say? And so there’s this sort of ability to bring, when the deacon or the priest says, go, the mass has ended. He’s not saying, go home and watch the game. He’s saying, you’re now commissioned to bring this message to people you know. And so, whoo, you wouldn’t believe what I heard in church today, an excitement and joy. I think, before you go to any level of just saying to the pastor, you want to start a program, just do what you already can do, which is just be a joyfully Orthodox, talk about your faith. I find wearing little pin, these little pins and things like that are conversation starters or even just when you’re out talking to people, people ask you a question 8, 9, 10, 12 times a day, how you doing?

And we always just say fine or something, that’s an evangelical moment. That’s when you can say to them, I’m blessed and highly favored, or I’m more blessed than I deserve. How are you doing? Well, the Lord has blessed me. You’re signaling somebody that you’re in touch with God. And very often, when you answer like that, they answer back with, and you can start a discussion. Now, I’m not saying it happens 10 times a day that way, but you’re sending a signal. I’m about the Lord. And so those kinds of things I think is where everybody should begin and they don’t need any permission to do it. I do think that if it comes to setting up a different program or something like that, I think again, if you can build trust with the pastor, he knows he can trust you. I can’t imagine a pastor who wouldn’t try to say, well, let’s do something to bring this about.

But I think that’s just going to depend on each setting and situation. But if you’re already doing this evangelization, then just gathering other people to do it with you is a wonderful idea. I wish I could say that the lady that I know had that same kind of initiative, they usually don’t, they wait for the pastor to come up with a program. I always say to them, now, look, shepherds don’t have sheep, sheep have sheep, and so we got to all be part of this. But nevertheless, I think that, maybe you can answer the question, I think better than I could in terms of, because you’ve seen a lot more examples of how this works in parishes, so I’ll leave that part to you.

Eric Sammons:

And I do think though what you said is right, it really is, it has to come down to the one-on-one, the friendship evangelization. I think, I remember I read a book by a Protestant, this was 30 years ago maybe. It was about friendship evangelization. It really was very practically a very good, made a lot of good points of just that one-on-one idea, I like your idea of when people ask how you’re doing, not just answering with fine, but give a kind of signal, like you said. Because what I find is, one of the advantages that priests and religious have when they go out, when they’re dressed as priests and religious is people will, they know immediately, okay, this person, they might come up to whereas most of us we’re just dressed normally and so it’s not like that happens. But if you do that, if you say things like, I’m blessed or whatever, that does then open up conversations, I think.

And just little things like I was at the hospital the other day and seeing somebody, and the nurse was expecting and her first baby, and I just was making a big deal of it. I mean, because sincerely, I mean, I really did think it was a big deal. And I was saying how great it was. And asking her about it and just saying, that’s a real blessing. And I wasn’t saying that thinking, oh, I’m trying to evangelize. I really just was saying it’s a real blessing, and that’s how we should think about things like children, especially in today’s world, we’re very anti-child and everything. And also one thing I kind of feel like, I feel like every year, if at Easter, when RCIA people get received in the church, if there’s nobody there that you’ve helped influence to be there somehow, you should kind of feel disappointed, as a lay person.

I think as a lay person, it’s like, yeah, I mean every year we should have it as a goal. Like next year’s Easter, I want to have somebody’s there who’s coming to church or what have you that I helped along the way. Not that you’re trying to take score or anything, but just that, yeah, there’s somebody there that I helped along the process in some way. So I think just having that attitude as well is very good. And that comes before, and then things can get a little more organized. And as you know, we’ve done door to things like that, I think those can be good things, but I think just on the individual level, I think is where we’re really, it’s the most important.

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Amen, yeah.

Eric Sammons:

Okay, monsignor. So again, the book that you are writing is on hell, correct?

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Yes.

Eric Sammons:

When do you expect it to be out?

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Well, I’m going to guess, it was just in the initial, I sent the manuscript in. And so that goes back and forth. I would imagine within six to nine months it’ll probably be getting ready to be published.

Eric Sammons:

Okay, very good. And that’s from TAN?

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Yeah. And yes, it’s the working title, I don’t know what’ll be the final title, The Hell There Is. And what I want to try to do is thoughtfully approach some of the, a lot of really good people I know just are kind of dismissive of that idea. And so I’m trying to talk to people to explain that, like we were saying earlier, it’s not just Hitler who goes to hell, it’s normal people, like in The Great Divorce, we were talking about that book. Ordinary people, a guy can’t forgive a guy who murdered a friend of his, and how did you get to heaven and a woman who’s idolized her son so much that he’s God, and anyway, she leaves angry at God. I mean, these are ordinary people who, and I think it’s very sad that many people today do not prefer, so the goal of the book is to just kind of say to them, you see, this isn’t so remote after all, and it’s something that we need to really work at and say, Lord, I really want to choose you, and I want to be clear about that choice.

Eric Sammons:

Very good. Well, I look forward to it coming out. I’m sure it’s going to be great. Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it. I think this, it helped a lot of people out there and just try and encourage Catholics. I know it’s a little bit foreign to us sometimes, but we really are commanded by our Lord to share the gospel.

Msgr. Charles Pope:

Amen.

Eric Sammons:

Okay, until next time, everybody, God love you.

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