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Sex. As a society, we are obsessed with sex. It is, at the same time, both widely available through Internet porn and also something hidden away and whispered about. Perhaps because it is repressed, sex has become an obsession for us. Due to our obsession, it is what we focus on in our debates about church: same-gender marriage, divorced/remarried, abortion, etc.

I recently posted a link to an article from Slate magazine titled “The Patron Saint of the Left: Why Pope Francis isn’t the liberal rock star American Catholics think he is.” In the article, the author, William Saletan, argues:

Francis isn’t trying to solve liberals’ pet issues. He’s trying to get rid of them. He said as much in an interview two years ago: “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent.” Not equivalent is his way of saying that he’s not particularly interested in enforcing sexual or family morality. If you want to know what interests him, look at what’s on his schedule in Washington, New York, and Philadelphia this week: sessions with immigrants, laborers, prisoners, and homeless people. Pope Francis is a social justice guy.

In the gospel, Jesus tells us how to live. The themes are constant: Do not judge. The last shall be first. The one who leads is the one who serves. Love your enemies. Embrace the outcast. But, like kids in class, we want to know, “Is this going to be on the test?”

So, in one gospel passage, Jesus tells us the criteria on which we are to be judged. He doesn’t mention how many Masses we go to or how many rosaries we prayed. He doesn’t mention sex at all. Rather, he says that it’s all about service. In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus tells us in words we well know:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

So, as William Saletan points out in his article, don’t expect the pope to start approving of same-gender marriage. He’s not going to change church teaching on this or any other matter. That’s not what he’s about. He’s here to tell us to not spend our energy on the little stuff on which we love to obsess.

Time is short. Our brothers and sisters are hungry, thirsty, immigrants and refugees, naked and sick. They are calling out to us, and their need is urgent.

Imagine a new church, not obsessing about sex, but rather devoting its energy towards the most needy among us and in the world. It is to this that the pope is calling us. It is something towards which liberals and conservatives can work together. It is no less than following the gospel.

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