|Musings 20||May 2016|
MUSINGS OF THE ORDINARY (Musings 20)
Since Pope Francis released his exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” the “Joy of Love,” the Catholic and secular press have been scrutinising its contents. Some liberal Catholics are awash with glee because they read it as a clear sign that progressive Catholicism has arrived and the Church will once again become relevant in modern western secular society. In contrast, there are some traditionalist Catholics who view the Pope’s exhortation as the beginning of the end of the Catholic moral and sacramental system.
These voices seem to have been formed by the footnote in chapter 8 of the document that concerns the question of whether those who are divorced and civilly remarried without procuring an annulment may be welcomed to receive communion. What the Pope’s footnote says is:
In certain cases, (pastoral care) can include the help of the sacraments … I would also point out that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.
It has been reported that Pope Francis confessed that he was somewhat annoyed and saddened by the media fixation on this single issue.
Perhaps the Holy Father hasn’t quite grasped the fact that people hear, read and see only what they want because that is their truth, and so even if they are wrong, they are right.
So what does Pope Francis say in his exhortation?
Pope Francis gives a very good exposition of St Paul’s chapter on love in 1 Corinthians 13. He remains ‘in tune’ with the Church’s teaching on its opposition to abortion, euthanasia, and the defence of children, the elderly and disabled. He maintains the Church’s firm stance against same sex marriage and the current secular ideologies surrounding transgender and gender fluidity.
Yet it is chapter 8 that has whipped up the storm in the Western world. In order to avoid being overly influenced by what the media reports, we need to examine what the Pope has said.
- He acknowledges that modern marriage is in crisis and consequently people are hurt and wounded, fragile and anchorless in life.
- He is very sensitive to the fact that the Catholic Church is global and that the reasons for the marriage crisis differ from one nation to another. Societies’ cultures, traditions and economic conditions vary enormously across the world.
- Pope Francis is urging the Church to be pastoral in its dealings with those whose marriages or life style do not match the Catholic ideal. He is not watering down the teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman in a lifelong holy covenant. Yet he is saying that across the world, pastoral approaches will necessarily differ. One size does not fit all.
- He says that a pastoral approach must be welcoming and not excluding. We must embrace those who are in difficulty and love them, include them in the life of the Church as much as possible as they journey towards an understanding and acceptance of the Church’s ideal of marriage and other life matters.
The pastoral approach that Jesus follows with the woman taken in adultery as opposed to the legalistic approach of the Scribes and Pharisees is an example of what the Pope is encouraging.
My sermon for Passion Sunday on this passage can be found on https://www.facebook.com/ ordinariateolsc which is the Ordinariate Facebook page.
- Some people who are divorced and remarried have just flaunted the Church’s rules. Pope Francis condemns them. However there are others who are wounded but genuinely want to be part of the Church. They want to be reconciled and pick up the threads of their spiritual lives.
Pope Francis wants the clergy and people to welcome those whose lives, for whatever reason, do not match the Church’s ideal. He wants us to invite them to participate in prayer, bible study, Church charity work and play as full a part as they can with the exception of their receiving communion at this stage.
- Receiving communion is a sign of being ‘in communion’ with the Christian community, so integrating and encouraging those who are on this journey has its goal of leading them either back to or into, full communion.
This leading may well involve some of the sacraments, perhaps baptism or renewal of baptismal promises. It may mean marriage, confirmation, anointing and most certainly the sacrament of reconciliation. However, Pope Francis pointed out on his return to Rome after his visit to Mexico that the reception of communion is the final stage on the journey to reconciliation. The pastoral approach that the Pope is encouraging is very much in tune with our English Patrimony, but there are dangers that we need to be aware of. Taking a pastoral approach with people in difficult circumstances is much riskier than strictly adhering to the rules. The pastoral approach is based on the premise that one size does not fit all, but of course some people will only accept the pastoral care that gives them what they want. Pastoral care is loving, but it has to be ‘tough love’ if it is to enable marked change in a person’s situation to occur.
The reformists, for whom conscience is the final arbiter in decision making, are likely to adopt a more flexible approach than traditionalists who look to Canon Law and Tradition for the answer to a difficult situation. The reformist is in danger of creating an ‘anything goes’ scenario while the legalist is in danger of regarding the law to be the last bastion in the determination of morality. In contrast, the Church knows that all law must serve the supreme law, which is the salvation of souls (Canon 1752).
If tough pastoral care creates a messy Church, then Pope Francis would have us live in a mess in which people may come to love and know God rather than be an exclusive fastidious Church which blocks people’s road to salvation.