Monday, April 11, 2016

Amoris Laetitiae: Responses (and Reactions!)

Photo by Michael Makri, sdb.
My social media feeds were filled over the weekend with all sorts of posts and comments about the new document on marriage and family life. Some, like Bishop Barron's post, were first-glance kind of summaries (also see this great interview and these follow-up questions). Others were harsh, resentful, even suspicious critiques of a document that didn't stress what the writer would have stressed, or say it the way the commenter thought it should be said. Some readers seemed to almost deliberately read the document looking for faults, and applying the Pope's words to extreme situations they were not meant to address, as if he were (for example) giving divorced-and-remarried persons permission to freely decide for themselves whether or not to receive the Eucharist. (I will probably not answer this myself, but here is one unimpeachably orthodox priest's response to issues related to the divorced-and-remarried.)

I have to admit, though, that there were things in the document that took me aback, too. Like this:
In such difficult situations of need, the Church must be particularly concerned to offer understanding, comfort and acceptance, rather than imposing straightaway a set of rules that only lead people to feel judged and abandoned by the very Mother called to show them God’s mercy. Rather than offering the healing power of grace and the light of the Gospel message, some would “indoctrinate” that message, turning it into “dead stones to be hurled at others” (Amoris Laetitia, n. 49; the context is dire poverty).
Yowzers! Who is he talking about? I don't really know anybody who would do that! Come on, Francis, lighten up! 

And then this weekend I heard a story that gave me a very different perspective. It wasn't a marriage situation. It wasn't even within the past twenty or thirty or forty years. In this case, which took place over sixty years ago, an entire family and all their future generations was alienated from the Catholic Church because of the inflexibility of a single person, a Sister, in finding a way to accommodate an expectant mother in a life-or-death situation. That sister's undue attachment to rules and regulations took precedence over the desperate need of a family who was unable to pay for the prescribed treatment. (Their Jewish doctor paid from his own pocket, saving both lives.) The parents are now dead, but families' memories of harsh treatment or intemperate words can live on for decades.

This is the sort of thing Francis has to address: not just people currently in "irregular marriages," but all those couples and families and grandchildren from decades past, from a time when shunning was the accepted response to a situation of divorce and remarriage (or of single motherhood).

I think Francis also has to deal with an even more insidious set of beliefs: the "beliefs" people receive from the mass media when it attempts to put Catholic teachings into headline-length snippets or sound bytes:
The secular media are not the only ones to blame for the confusion. There are devoted Catholics who do not understand the Church's teachings as well as they think who add to the confusion by publishing some of the very same misconceptions listed above: but since they do so as banner-waving Catholics, it really does seem to confirm the secular narratives. This is getting to be a serious problem, because some of those poorly informed Catholics are really adept at using social media!

My two cents: I believe that it is because Catholic life has in our day been reduced to the once-a-week observance of the Sunday precept that exclusion from sacramental Communion seems to be exclusion from the Church itself. Pope Francis is, in Amoris Laetitiae, inviting all of us to expand our notion of what it means to be an active Catholic: it goes way beyond Sunday Mass, which is, as it were, the foundation or wellspring from which all the other expressions of faith come forth.

In Amoris Laetitiae, Francis is asking all of us to broaden our understanding of the life of the Church; to open our doors to the marginal members, or to those who still feel there is no room for them in the assembly of the presumedly perfect. One way we can begin to do that is to extend our parish life outside the hours of Mass and the property lines of the Church--to "go out" as Francis keeps insisting. And to go out together: those in the Communion line and those working on getting there through a profound journey of discernment, spiritual direction and prayer. He also (repeatedly) urges families to pray together daily; to develop a genuine family spirituality and make their homes real domestic churches where the one Church of Christ is present, manifest and active.

Just a reminder: You can read the whole lengthy document online so that you do not depend on others to tell you what Francis said; you can also sign up to reserve your copy of the paperback edition from Pauline Books & Media (it will cost $11.95 and ship--God willing--on May 2).


Anonymous said...

One benefit of being an empty nester is having time to read these documents and to pray over the ensuing chaos stirred up afterwards by those with agendas.

I read the link you provided and as a sponsor in R.C.I.A. have also listened to the stories others in our church have shared about their own pain and trouble. As difficult and long as these situations are to work through, with God's grace and a good Pastor there is light at the end of the dark valley if people persist but sadly many prefer to do their own thing, to give up and challenge teachings rather than change their situation. We all prefer a quick fix, don't we? And it never helps when a pastor counsels parishioners to turn a blind eye and follow their own often poorly informed consciences. Disobedience is never the answer.

I also found some of OHF's comments odd and felt they tarred with too broad a brush. As for whole generations affected by inflexibility, as in the case you mention, we have to be careful when judging the past through today's experiences. My own grandfather left the RC Church when my dad and uncles were children, so it did take until I was an adult for our family to return (again, thanks to the grace of God and the Daughters of St. Paul). It's easier to throw in the towel and turn a back on the church rather than learning about our heritage but there again, Grace, if we're open to it.

It helps enormously to have and to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, to be clear on our teachings, to read scripture daily and grow in our understanding. That is something each of us can do on our own and need not make excuses for remaining uninformed. As you say, so much misinformation in the media and shared among ourselves further perpetuating discord - has the marks of the evil one stamped all over it.

As an individual and as part of the Body of Christ, I can certainly encourage a person who expresses interest in returning to full communion, but how do I respond when their response is that they prefer the evangelical mega church they're now attending, with its emphasis on hand clapping music and comfy theater seating, as in the case of a good friend?

I think you nailed the need to move forward with understanding, support, the need to grow in knowledge of our faith and to share and encourage each other. I also think we have to keep in mind that there are some in the hierarchy who would prefer to change 2,000 years of teachings faithful to our Lord in order to placate a counter culture. Wherever we're not clear about the meaning of what we're reading, whether while reading the actual document or other peoples synopsis of it, we need to look at the current official teachings which also provide explanation - i.e. order a copy from a source such as Pauline Book & Media. And let's not forget to pray. Order a new rosary and wear it out with prayers for our church, OHF and all who are in difficulty. -Jean

Sister Anne said...

Thank you, Jean, for sharing so much wisdom!

Sister Anne said...

Thank you, Jean, for sharing so much wisdom!

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I went on too much, apologies for that. You know how it is in a family, we might have opinions and things to say to and (oh dear) about each other, but let someone on the outside step into the discussion and we tend to stick up for each other? I feel that way about our faith and our Church family in relation to media and internet sensationalism/misinterpretation.

It's said the Pope has two bodies, one mortal, the other immortal, that of his Petrine Office. It's fine for Papa Francesco to pontificate (pardon the pun) at our family gatherings all he wants, but we owe another degree of attention and respect to him as holder of the keys. We live in difficult times, my prayers are for everyone to know the love and peace of Christ. -Jean

Anonymous said...

Too bad women aren't good enough to be ordained. There are lots of them out there who are qualified other than their gender. There aren't enough celibate men to do the counseling for the sheep who want it.

Sister Anne said...

Pope Francis says that's clericalism!
And then there's this observation from John Allen (who's really on to something): "To promote leadership by women in Catholicism, you don’t have to make them priests, you just have to get out of their way." (From yesterday's Crux:

Anonymous said...

Pope Francis has since stated that too much attention has been paid to the issue of divorced/civilly remarried Catholics and reception of Communion, when more emphasis needs to be placed on the family, particularly the damage caused by divorce. I haven't yet read any comments on ordination of women so I think he's right about fixation on the one topic. In Protestant churches where women are ordained there isn't the hoped for growth in congregatioins, rather many communions are disintegrating. As for married priests in our own RC Church? Would we have more priests or would we have more but divorced priests? Who is to say they would escape the scourge of divorce?

Just imagine the scenario of a married female RC priest faithfully welcoming as many children as God sent her, on back to back maternity leaves? What would that do to a parish? -Jean