MY INITIAL THOUGHTS ON CHAPTER 8.
HAS ANYTHING CHANGED?
Dear brethren in Christ, with the recent publication of the highly anticipated, and much-prayed for Church document, the Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, AMORIS LAETITIA (The Joy of Love), on the Love in the Family, numerous posts and articles have been published in the internet, especially from some Catholic sectors, expressing their disappointment over its lack of clarity regarding the controversial topic on the reception of Communion by divorced and remarried couples and from the mass media who erroneously reported that divorced and remarried couples can now receive Holy Communion, as simple as that (!).
After a very careful reading of chapter 8, “Accompaniment, Discernment and Integrating Weakness” which deals with the above-mentioned topic, here are some personal considerations:
HAS ANYTHING CHANGED regarding
the Church’s position on the Communion of the divorced and remarried brethren?
I WOULD LIKE TO ASSURE THE READERS OF THIS PAGE OF THE FOLLOWING:
- From the DOCTRINAL viewpoint on marriage and family AND THE SACRAMENTAL DISCIPLINE regarding the reception to Communion of the divorced and remarried couples, NOTHING HAS CHANGED.
- Pope Francis reaffirmed the Church Magisterium’s teaching on marriage and family on different occasions.
- “THE CHURCH REALIZES THAT ANY BREACH OF THE MARRIAGE BOND ‘IS AGAINST THE WILL OF GOD’…SHE CONSTANTLY HOLDS UP THE CALL TO PERFECTION AND ASKS FOR A FULLER RESPONSE TO GOD (AL 291).”
- “CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE, AS A REFLECTION OF THE UNION BETWEEN CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH, IS FULLY REALIZED IN THE UNION BETWEEN A MAN AND A WOMAN WHO GIVE THEMSELVES TO EACH OTHER IN A FREE, FAITHFUL AND EXCLUSIVE LOVE, WHO BELONG TO EACH OTHER UNTIL DEATH AND ARE OPEN TO THE TRANSMISSION OF LIFE, AND ARE CONSECRATED BY THE SACRAMENT, WHICH GRANTS THEM THE GRACE TO BECOME A DOMESTIC CHURCH AND A LEAVEN OF NEW LIFE FOR SOCIETY. SOME FORMS OF UNION RADICALLY CONTRADICT THIS IDEAL, WHILE OTHERS REALIZE IT IN AT LEAST A PARTIAL AND ANALOGOUS WAY (AL 292).”
- “Saint John Paul II proposed the so-called ‘LAW OF GRADUALNESS’ in the knowledge that the human being “knows, loves and accomplishes moral good by different stages of growth”. THIS IS NOT A “GRADUALNESS OF LAW” but rather a gradualness in the prudential exercise of free acts on the part of subjects who are not in a position to understand, appreciate, or fully carry out the objective demands of the law. For the law is itself a gift of God which points out the way, a gift for everyone without exception; it can be followed with the help of grace, even though each human being ‘advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God and the demands of God’s definitive and absolute love in his or her entire personal and social life . (AL 295).”
- “IF SOMEONE FLAUNTS AN OBJECTIVE SIN AS IF IT WERE PART OF THE CHRISTIAN IDEAL, OR WANTS TO IMPOSE SOMETHING OTHER THAN WHAT THE CHURCH TEACHES, HE OR SHE CAN IN NO WAY PRESUME TO TEACH OR PREACH TO OTHERS; THIS IS A CASE OF SOMETHING WHICH SEPARATES FROM THE COMMUNITY (CF. MT 18:17). SUCH A PERSON NEEDS TO LISTEN ONCE MORE TO THE GOSPEL MESSAGE AND ITS CALL TO CONVERSION. (AL 297).”
- “ IN ORDER TO AVOID ALL MISUNDERSTANDING, I WOULD POINT OUT THAT IN NO WAY MUST THE CHURCH DESIST FROM PROPOSING THE FULL IDEAL OF MARRIAGE, GOD’S PLAN IN ALL ITS GRANDEUR (AL 307).”
- And in a previous paragraph: “DIVORCE IS AN EVIL AND THE INCREASING NUMBER OF DIVORCES IS VERY TROUBLING (AL 247). “
- Furthermore, THE ROMAN PONTIFF DID NOT LEGISLATE NEW LAWS AND NORMS, ESPECIALLY REGARDING THE RECEPTION OF COMMUNION OF OUR DIVORCED AND REMARRIED BRETHREN, NOR DID HE ABROGATE PREVIOUS NORMS ON THE SUBJECT MATTER TAUGHT BY THE CHURCH, but rather, as we shall see later, encouraged a very delicate and careful guidance and discernment of the objective situation of couples who find themselves in an irregular situation.
- “IF WE CONSIDER THE IMMENSE VARIETY OF CONCRETE SITUATIONS SUCH AS THOSE I HAVE MENTIONED, IT IS UNDERSTANDABLE THAT NEITHER THE SYNOD NOR THIS EXHORTATION COULD BE EXPECTED TO PROVIDE A NEW SET OF GENERAL RULES, CANONICAL IN NATURE AND APPLICABLE TO ALL CASES (AL 300).”
- From the PASTORAL viewpoint, I would dare say that NOTHING HAS CHANGED as well.
- THE CHURCH TAKES ITS MORAL LAWS AND NORMS SERIOUSLY, BUT IS AWARE THAT NOT ALL MORAL RULES AND NORMS COULD COVER EACH AND EVERY ACTION AND CIRCUMSTANCE OF THE LIVES OF HER FAITHFUL: THAT WOULD BE IMPOSSIBLE. Besides, it would reduce Christian life into a mere fulfillment of norms and obligations and moral life, a burdensome fulfillment of an infinity of laws, instead of a radical following and identification with the Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
- For centuries, IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE PRAXIS OF THE CHURCH THROUGH THE PRUDENT AND DISCERNING EFFORT OF HER FAITHFUL PASTORS WHO, BY UPHOLDING THE CHURCH’S DOCTRINE, TAKE AS WELL INTO ACCOUNT ALL THE CIRCUMSTANCES, including THE MITIGATING FACTORS IN EACH CASE in which the FAITHFUL encounter themselves, most especially in the borderline and complicated situations, so as to help them conform to God’s doctrine and fulfill His Will. This shows that the Church, while giving the appropriate importance to Christ’s doctrine and norms, take her faithful, persons of flesh, bone, and blood, seriously as well, as a mother would do to her children, knowing the debility of human nature.
WHAT HAS CHANGED THEN?
Rather that dealing with change, I would speak about the document’s CAREFUL INSISTENCE AND REMINDER TO TAKE CARE OF THOSE WHO ARE IN AN IRREGULAR SITUATION WITHIN A SPECIFIC CONTEXT AND PERSPECTIVE.
In my opinion, it is where a real development can be seen in Amoris Laetitia in so far as the pastoral approach to couples in irregular situations is concerned: Amoris Laetitia exhorts the entire Chruch community, especifically the pastors, to a MORE UNDERSTANDING, SENSITIVE AND ACCOMPANYING APPROACH and the RENEWED ATTITUDE AND ENCOURAGEMENT TO DISCERN THE SITUATION OF THE MORE DIFFICULT CASES AND SITUATIONS IN WHICH SOME INDIVIDUALS FIND THEMSELVES IN ORDER TO GRADUALLY BRING THEM CLOSER TO CHRIST’S CHURCH AND ARRIVE AT LIVING THE FULLNESS OF THE IDEAL OF THE CHURCH’S DOCTRINE ON MARRIAGE WITHIN THE CONTEXT, PERSPECTIVE AND FRAMEWORK OF THE MERCIFUL LOVE OF CHRIST: COMPASSION and CONVERSION.
WITH THIS IN MIND, WE CAN SAY THAT ALTHOUGH NOTHING HAS CHANGED FROM THE DOCTRINAL AND DISCIPLINARY VIEWPOINTS, “EVERYTHING” HAS “CHANGED” FROM THE VIEWPOINT OFTHE PASTORAL APPROACH, KEEPING IN MIND THE
(1)RENEWED CONTEXT, PERSPECTIVE;
(2) FRAMEWORK; (3) AND SETTING PROMOTED BY POPE FRANCIS IN THE DOCUMENT.
THIS IS A DEVELOPMENT IN TERMS OF MORE SENSITIVITY ON THE PART OF THE ENTIRE CHURCH COMMUNITY IN CONSIDERING THE PERSONAL CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE INDIVIDUALS WHO FIND THEMSELVES IN AN IRREGULAR SITUATION.
1. CONTEXT AND PERSPECTIVE:
Pope Francis and the Bishops are aware that all are called to perfection and a fuller response to God. But they are aware of the human frailty and the situation of her children as well , especially the weaker ones. In this regard, the Church, as a Mother, cannot ostracize them and expresses her loving concern to accompany and take care of those who are in most need without sacrificing her teaching.
- “Although she constantly holds up the call to perfection and asks for a fuller response to God, ‘the Church must accompany with attention and care the weakest of her children, who show signs of a wounded and troubled love, by restoring in them hope and confidence, like the beacon of a lighthouse in a port or a torch carried among the people to enlighten those who have lost their way or who are in the midst of a storm’ . Let us not forget that the Church’s task is often like that of a field hospital (al 291).”
- All these and the entire chapter as well should be read in the context of the LOGIC OF MERCY and the PRIMACY OF CHARITY without sacrificing the evangelical ideal and the Church’s teachings: “WITHOUT DETRACTING FROM THE EVANGELICAL IDEAL, THERE IS A NEED TO ACCOMPANY WITH MERCY AND PATIENCE THE EVENTUAL STAGES OF PERSONAL GROWTH AS THESE PROGRESSIVELY APPEAR”, MAKING ROOM FOR ‘THE LORD’S MERCY, WHICH SPURS US ON TO DO OUR BEST‘ (AL 308).”
- “At times we find it hard to make room for God’s unconditional love in our pastoral activity. We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That is the worst way of watering down the Gospel. It is true, for example, that mercy does not exclude justice and truth, but first and foremost we have to say that mercy is the fullness of justice and the most radiant manifestation of God’s truth. For this reason, we should always consider “inadequate any theological conception which in the end puts in doubt the omnipotence of God and, especially, his mercy (AL 311).”
- With the above idea in mind, the document warns us against the tendency to put an etiquette, to categorize and sideline and hence causing an ecclesial and social stigmas to our brethren who are living in irregular situations.
- Amoris Laetitia, however, affirms that: “The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment” (AL 298).
- “The Church’s pastors, in proposing to the faithful the full ideal of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching, must also help them to treat the weak with compassion, avoiding aggravation or unduly harsh or hasty judgements (AL 308).”
- There are particular situations which after a very careful analysis of all the circumstances involved and the necessary effort in each case of the couples living in irregular situations to conform to the Church’s doctrine on marriage, with the previous contrition required for absolution and putting all the prudent measures to live as “frater et soror” and avoiding scandal, could very well receive Communion. NOTE THAT THIS IS NOT A NOVELTY, BUT HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE PRAXIS OF THE CHURCH (cfr. Familiaris consortio n. 84).
2. INSISTENCE IN THE RENEWED ATTITUDE AND ENCOURAGEMENT TO A RESPONSIBLE PERSONAL AND PASTORAL DISCERNMENT OF PARTICULAR CASES:
Pope Francis clearly pronounces and exhorts us to a RENEWED ENCOURAGEMENT TO UNDERTAKE A RESPONSIBLE PERSONAL AND PASTORAL DISCERNMENT OF PARTICULAR CASES FOR THEIR REINTEGRATION:
- “IF WE CONSIDER THE IMMENSE VARIETY OF CONCRETE SITUATIONS SUCH AS THOSE I HAVE MENTIONED, IT IS UNDERSTANDABLE THAT NEITHER THE SYNOD NOR THIS EXHORTATION COULD BE EXPECTED TO PROVIDE A NEW SET OF GENERAL RULES, CANONICAL IN NATURE AND APPLICABLE TO ALL CASES. WHAT IS POSSIBLE IS SIMPLY A RENEWED ENCOURAGEMENT TO UNDERTAKE A RESPONSIBLE PERSONAL AND PASTORAL DISCERNMENT OF PARTICULAR CASES, ONE WHICH WOULD RECOGNIZE THAT, SINCE ‘THE DEGREE OF RESPONSIBILITY IS NOT EQUAL IN ALL CASES’, THE CONSEQUENCES OR EFFECTS OF A RULE NEED NOT NECESSARILY ALWAYS BE THE SAME (AL 300)”
- From the viewpoint of Moral Theology, Amoris Laetitia reminds us anew, to overcome an erroneous LEGALISTIC approach, what the Encyclical Veritatis splendor calls THIRD-PERSON ethical perspective to bring us to a FIRST-PERSON perspective.
- General rules exist, but MORAL DISCERNMENT IS NOT A MERE APPLICATION OF GENERAL RULES TO PARTICULAR CASES: THIS WOULD BE A LEGALISTIC AND CASUISTIC APPROACH which would lead to an unjust consideration of a particular situation.
- The moral evaluation of a case should take place from a FIRST-PERSON perspective, in which the pastors (couples and everyone) should place themselves in the real situation of the couples in question, and consider all the necessary factors, to arrive at an authentic grasp of the moral object in question, the intentions and the circumstances and prudently arrive at an objective comprehension of the case in question.
- In this regard, Pope Francis reminded the ministers of some long-standing moral principles (nn. 301-306), including the mitigating factors, which would help in discerning the objective situation of our brethren who find themselves in an irregular situation and help them as well in their individual conscience to be “enlightened…, formed and guided by the responsible and serious discernment of one’s pastor, and to encourage an ever greater trust in God’s grace. Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. In any event, let us recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized (AL 303). “
- For this to occur, SENSITIVITY, SINCERITY, HUMILITY AND PRUDENCE are required be it from the couples in question who reflect on their own situation and the pastor who discerns their particular case.
3. FRAMEWORK AND SETTING:
- Accompaniment, discernment and reintegration would be only be possible WITHIN THE FRAMEWORK OF TRUTH, JUSTICE, LOVE AND MERCY ALL COMBINED.
- “This offers us a FRAMEWORK and a SETTING which help us avoid a cold bureaucratic morality in dealing with more sensitive issues. Instead, it sets us in the context of a pastoral discernment filled with merciful love, which is ever ready to understand, forgive, accompany, hope, and above all integrate. That is the mindset which should prevail in the Church and lead us to ‘open our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society’. I encourage the faithful who find themselves in complicated situations to speak confidently with their pastors or with other lay people whose lives are committed to the Lord. THEY MAY NOT ALWAYS ENCOUNTER IN THEM A CONFIRMATION OF THEIR OWN IDEAS OR DESIRES, BUT THEY WILL SURELY RECEIVE SOME LIGHT TO HELP THEM BETTER UNDERSTAND THEIR SITUATION AND DISCOVER A PATH TO PERSONAL GROWTH. I ALSO ENCOURAGE THE CHURCH’S PASTORS TO LISTEN TO THEM WITH SENSITIVITY AND SERENITY, with a sincere desire to understand their plight and their point of view, in order TO HELP THEM LIVE BETTER LIVES AND TO RECOGNIZE THEIR PROPER PLACE IN THE CHURCH” (AL 312).”
- The important concept here is gradual REINTEGRATION of the wounded families, families with remarried spouses, into the life of the Church and this is A LONG JOURNEY which involves the CONVERSION of the persons concerned.
- Does this signify that they will be allowed to receive communion? NO. Receiving Communion would be the last thing, provided that there is prior conversion and respecting the Church’s sacramental discipline on the subject matter as taught in Familiaris consortio, n. 84.
- This question was already answered by the Pope himself in an interview done during his trip back to Rome from Mexico. The Pope said:
“Being integrated into the Church does not mean “taking communion”. I know remarried Catholics who go to Church once or twice a year: “I want to receive communion!”, as if communion were a commendation. It is a matter of integration… the doors are all open. But one cannot just say: from now on “they can take communion”. This would also wound the spouses, the couples, because it won’t help them on the path to integration. These two were happy! They used a really lovely expression: “We do not take eucharistic communion, but we do find communion by visiting people in the hospital, in this or that service…”. Their integration is there. If there is something more, the Lord will tell them, but … it is a journey, it is a path…. (Pope Francis’ answer to the question posed by NBC correspondent Anne Thompson. See full text in https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2016/february/documents/papa-francesco_20160217_messico-conferenza-stampa.html)”
- Hence, the mass media reports claiming otherwise are baseless.
Furthermore, some have criticized the “absence” in the paragraph text of the necessary “frater et soror” requirement in order to receive absolution in particular cases and would only appear as a footnote (n. 329 in particular) commentary which was criticized as out of context (GS 51 on periodic continence).
- However, reading between the lines, I think that the Pope had in mind the difficulty of living periodic continence, knowing the frailty of human nature, even among couples in regular situations, what more would it be to live complete abstinence as in the case of those divorced and remarried brethren. From a pastoral viewpoint, a sincere contrition on the committed falls and a determined disposition to begin again would be sufficient to receive absolution with the consequent reception of Holy Communion. No one in this world is a saint and everyone is a sinner. But what counts in God’s eyes, and that of His pastors who act in persona Christi during the sacramental absolution, are the sincere contrition and disposition to begin all over again to pursue the struggle with more humility, love and fervor.
Others, on the other hand, have pointed out “loopholes” in the document, with or without basis, questioning the orthodoxy of the document, in so far as the pointed-out “loopholes” do not match their wishes or criteria. Nevertheless, we should never lose sight of the most important fact which, though obvious, could easily be overlooked due to the influence of passion.
WHAT THEN IS THIS IMPORTANT FACT? THE DOCUMENT DEALS A LOT MORE THAN THE SENSITIVE TOPIC ON WHETHER THERE WAS A CHANGE IN THE CHURCH’S DOCTRINAL AND PASTORAL APPROACH TOWARDS COUPLES IN THE IRREGULAR SITUATION (perhaps, aggravated by the mass media sensationalist stance, following or not an ideological agenda, to disrupt, consciously or not, the Church’s unity in the public arena).
4. HENCE, WE MUST DELIBERATELY AVOID A MYOPIC READING OF AMORIS LAETITIA IN ORDER TO CENTER ON WHAT IS REALLY ESSENTIAL.
- It is about, above all, THE BEAUTY, GRANDEUR AND JOY OF LOVE IN THE FAMILY. IT IS ABOUT THE LOVE IN ALL THE FAMILIES, PARTICULARLY CHRISTIAN, WHICH PERHAPS, ARE MUCH MORE NUMEROUS THAN THOSE WHICH COULD BE CONSIDERED AS IRREGULAR.
- In this regard, the beautiful, striking gems which outstandingly shine in the document and which merit our closer attention, and are real ANTHROPOLOGICAL AND BIBLICAL DEVELOPMENTS of what have been written so far in the Magisterial documents regarding the subject matter are the chapters dedicated on CONJUGAL LOVE and ITS DIFFERENT DIMENSIONS: in particular,
- as CONJUGAL LOVE (CHAPTER 4: LOVE IN MARRIAGE);
- which is FRUITFUL (CHAPTER 5: LOVE MADE FRUITFUL);
- NURTURING (CHAPTER 7: TOWARDS A BETTER EDUCATION OF CHILDREN )
- and called to “GROW AND MATURE” (CHAPTER 9: SPIRITUALITY OF MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY) through the daily struggles of all the members of the family, starting from the spouses, towards THE FULFILLMENT OF “ITS NEVER- ENDING VOCATION BORN OF THE FULL COMMUNION OF THE TRINITY, THE PROFOUND UNITY BETWEEN CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH, THE LOVING COMMUNITY WHICH IS THE HOLY FAMILY OF NAZARETH, AND THE PURE FRATERNITY EXISTING AMONG THE SAINTS OF HEAVEN.”
Dear readers, brethren in Christ, let us thank the Holy Father, all the Bishops and all those involved in the publication of this document with our continuous prayer and fidelity to the teachings of the Church’s Magisterium, convinced that it is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, who acts in the Church and her pastors and who is the source of all her efficacy.
Let us also entrust to the Holy Family of Nazareth, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, all the spiritual fruits of this document, but above all, all the families in the world.
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ORIGINAL PHOTO SOURCE: https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-vNYvWWJvk-o/VwlDGQ2sMJI/AAAAAAAARY8/7kRW9yuRzn0kdnBSHPcpbIx4xqz39PDGQ/s1600/954px-Canonization_2014-_The_Canonization_of_Saint_John_XXIII_and_Saint_John_Paul_II_%252814036966125%2529.jpg
 Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981), 34: AAS 74 (1982), 123.
 Ibid., 9: AAS 74 (1982), 90.
 Relatio Synodi 2014., 28.
 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (24 November 2013), 44: AAS 105 (2013), 1038.
 Perhaps out of a certain scrupulosity, concealed beneath a zeal for fidelity to the truth, some priests demand of penitents a purpose of amendment so lacking in nuance that it causes mercy to be obscured by the pursuit of a supposedly pure justice. For this reason, it is helpful to recall the teaching of Saint John Paul II, who stated that the possibility of a new fall “should not prejudice the authenticity of the resolution” (Letter to Cardinal William W. Baum on the occasion of the Course on the Internal Forum organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary [22 March 1996], 5: Insegnamenti XIX/1 , 589).
 Ibid., 51
 This is also the case with regard to sacramental discipline, since discernment can recognize that in a particular situation no grave fault exists. In such cases, what is found in another document applies: cf. Evangelii Gaudium (24 November 2013), 44 and 47: AAS 105 (2013), 1038-1040.
 Bull Misericordiae Vultus (11 April 2015), 15: AAS 107 (2015), 409.