Monday, May 8, 2017

What Does It Mean To Be Clean Of Heart?

Is it permissible to disagree with a pope who is also a saint?

I have for some time been uneasy with some of the points in Pope John Paul’s  “Theology of the Body.” Don’t get me wrong –there is much good here, but….

One of those points is interpretation of the sixth beatitude: “Blessed are the pure of heart…”

In his General Audience of April 2, 1980, Pope John Paul interpreted Mt 5:8 (“Blessed are the pure of heart...”) as reference to human sexuality. He related that beatitude to “the possibilities of the human heart with respect to concupiscence of the body” (Man and Woman He Created Them, 23.6).

In the Sacra Pagina series, Daniel J. Harrington’s The Gospel of Matthew sees Ps 24:3-4 (“Who may God up the mountain of the Lord?...The clean of hand and the pure of heart, who has not given his soul to useless things, what is vain”) as the background for the beatitude. Harrington says, “Neither a reference to sexual-ritual purity nor to single-heartedness, ‘pure of heart’ characterizes people of integrity whose moral righteousness extends to their inmost being and whose actions and intentions correspond” (p. 79).

In the Anchor Bible series on Matthew (commentary by W. F. Albright and C.S. Mann), the beatitude is interpreted as a purity of heart which focuses on the Divine. They wrote, “The Aramaic word would here be dakhin, ‘broken, humble, contrite’” (p. 47).  It is about a single-mindedness  as a pre-requisite for the vision of God as emphasized by Philo in his On The Contemplative Life (ii 473).

Catechism of the Catholic Church interprets the beatitude rather broadly, as reference “to those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God’s holiness, chiefly in three areas: charity; chastity or sexual rectitude; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith” (2518). The Catechism refers the reader to 1 Tim 4:3-9 and to 2 Tim 2:22 in footnotes to the area of “charity” (let the reader judge whether exegesis of these two passages supports the area of charity).

The Catechism refers the reader to 1Thess 4:7, Col 3:5, and Eph 4:19 in footnotes to the area of “chastity and moral rectitude” (let the reader judge whether the references are of necessity implied in the beatitude’s expression “pure of heart”).

The Catechism refers the reader to Titus 1:15, 1 Tim 1:3-4, and 2 Tim 2:23-26 in footnotes to the area of "love of truth and orthodoxy of faith" (let the reader decide whether these footnotes are necessarily an exegesis of the beatitude).

The footnotes promote behavior appropriate to the Gospel and to the Kingdom but the reader must ask whether the Catechism’s application necessarily explains what is meant by the expression “pure of heart.”

There is to be sure a history of interpreting the beatitude in terms of chastity, but today’s scholarship questions that exegesis.

Church father Chrysostom gave this  interpretation: “By the pure are here meant those who possess a perfect goodness, conscious to themselves of no evil thoughts…” and then adds, “For as there are many merciful, yet unchaste, to show that mercy alone is not enough, he (Jesus) adds this concerning purity.”

Augustine interpreted the beatitude in terms of  Wisdom 1:1 (…"seek him in integrity of heart…"), explaining that the fool seeks to see God with a bodily eye while in truth He is seen only by the heart (Catena Aurea, Thomas Aquinas).

Trappist monk Fr Simeon (Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis ) of St Joseph’s Abbey, Spencer, Massachusetts , explains: “’Purity of heart’ is a quality that restores to a person the state of full grace and joy that Adam and Eve had before their sin. The Greek term katharos alludes to the Jewish rituals of purification, so that ‘clean’ here means not only ‘morally upright,’ ‘free of base thoughts and actions,’ but especially refers to a heart that has been removed from the realm of the profane and consecrated to the service of God, a heart in some sense made into a vessel to receive the presence of God” (Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, Ignatius  Press, 1996, vol.  1, p. 199).

Luke Timothy Johnson critiques John Paul’s use of “pure of heart” for leaving the impression that Matthew 5:8 refers to chastity “when he knows full well that the beatitude does not have so restricted a sense” (The Revelatory Body, William B. Eerdman’s, Publishing Co., 2015, p. 5).

There is much good in John Paul’s theology of the body, though it is on occasion difficult for me to understand, but application of the sixth beatitude as pointedly a matter of sexuality may well be judged as an escape into “proof texting” and such exegesis questionable.

There is more to “purity of heart” than sex.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Prejudice Divides Church, Country, Families

By definition prejudice is prejudgment.

Human beings are endowed by God with intellect and will. The intellect is the spiritual power by which  we know; the will is the spiritual power by which we choose. By nature the intellect is geared toward truth; by nature the will is geared toward good.  We have, however, the ability to ignore truth and choose evil.

Thinking things through and trying to determine what is true can be challenging. Both require significant effort and time. Often we will by-pass the effort and jump to a conclusion. It is the reason why we have to respond,  “No, not necessarily,” to people who say that they are entitled to their own opinion

An opinion results from thinking things through. One is entitled to his own opinion only if he or she has put forth the effort to arrive at the truth. The chief distinguishing characteristic of the human animal is the ability to think. Entitlement to opinion depends on using intellect and will to determine what is true and good.  Refusal to seek truth and good undermines that characteristic which makes a human being “homo  sapiens.”

Prejudice or prejudgment can be helpful or harmful. Prejudgments based on wisdom or experience can safeguard life. Prejudgments that are arbitrarily applied to life, people, or experience can be harmful and fall far from the truth.

Wisdom requires a person to submit his or her prejudgment to rational assessment. Prejudgments that are prejudicial are generally understood to be pre-conceived opinions which are not based on reason or actual experience. 

Prejudice can undermine race relations, religious affiliation, political policy. Prejudice can promote sexual discrimination, nationalism, intellectual and linguistic bias.

Many of the divisions in the Catholic Church, in the United States, or in family relationships are founded upon prejudgments.

Prejudice leads to a “them versus us” attitude. The “out group” must be wrong because they do not see things as the “in group” sees them. It is found in the attitudes of conservatives versus liberals, Republicans versus Democrats, in-laws versus the nuclear family.

Pope Francis has been decried as an anti-pope, and no matter what Gospel he preaches, he will be dismissed or condemned by some members of his own Church. President Trump has heard calls for his impeachment, and no matter what  leadership he provides, he will be rejected or proscribed by some citizens of his own country. “Uncle Joe” has been rejected, and no matter what good he may do, he will be disowned and damned by some of the family.

If the enemies of Pope Francis or President Trump or Uncle Joe base their assessment on prejudgment without assessing the possibility of good in their adversaries they have failed to submit their attitude to a search for truth and good. They demean their own humanity.

Such a search may confirm the original conviction, but such a search is likely to come closer to an honest and open evaluation of the “out group.”  Such was the lesson of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or of Harper Lee’s To Killing A Mockingbird.

Spiritual writer Eckhart Tolle has said, “Prejudice of any kind implies that you are identified with the thinking mind. It means you don’t see the other human being anymore, but only your own concept of that human being. To reduce aliveness of another human being to a concept is already a form of violence.”

One way to heal the divisions in the Church, in our country, in family relations is to acknowledge our tendency toward prejudice and come together with civility and patience to meet the enemy and discuss the differences. If our country is polarized to the point that partisan-politics sabotages the good of the nation, then the words of Scripture and Abraham Lincoln ("House divided cannot stand") serve as a sobering cry for remedy. Re-assessment of individual and communal prejudice is a healing balm for the sores of society.

The documents of the Second Vatican Council resulted from 2500 bishops’ coming together and discussing their differences.  Born of heated debates, of political maneuvering, and intense compromise, the Constitutions and Decrees of Vatican II set the direction for the Church to follow for decades to come. The experience of differing people and differing ways of being Church came together and helped heal in a large way centuries of misunderstanding, conflict, and short-sightedness.

The US Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the Bill of Rights are further evidence of the benefits which come from using reason, debate, and compromise to defuse fiercely held prejudgments "in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty."

Dorothy Day's mentor Peter Maurin urged people to work for a "common unity," which he further explained can become "community." Whether the goal is promoting the Gospel or preserving the nation or protecting family life, participants in any of these endeavors must acknowledge what is true and good even in the midst of their differences.

What is presented as "news" on major cable networks is often prejudice passed off as "expert" opinion. Ridicule, insult, disrespect, contempt, slander, dishonesty are symptoms of prejudice. It might be that Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social communication promote immediate, emotional reaction, and retard honest assessment.  The pressure to respond instantly takes precedence over reason. Even the left-leaning political critic Alexander Cockburn acknowledged that the first law of journalism is to confirm prejudice rather than contradict it.

The Gospel calls us to respond with love in every situation and setting, and the love which Jesus taught is ultimately the choice for good. It is the result of repentance (re-thinking) and then choosing what is good. It is the application of those two spiritual powers of intellect and will which characterize and specify our human nature.

You can hear the song from South Pacific:  “You’ve got to be taught to hate and to fear…to hate all the people your relatives hate, you’ve got to be carefully taught.” Prejudice is the great divider. It may be the reason for Jesus’ prayer, “That they all may be one…”


Monday, January 30, 2017

Re-assessing Liturgiam Authenticam and English at Mass

How I welcome the news that Pope Francis has formed a commission to re-assess Liturgiam Authenticam, the instruction issued in 2001 by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

It was this directive which caused translators to change from using the so-called “:dynamic equivalence” in translating to  the so-called “formal equivalence.”

In effect dynamic equivalence is the effort to translate into terms and expressions which convey the intent and meaning of the original language. Formal equivalence is translation of the words and grammatical structure of the original., even if the result be somewhat awkward.

To use a home-spun (some may say “extreme”) example, imagine how best to translate from English into German the expression, “The old man kicked the bucket.”  If I render it “Der alte Mann trat den Eimer,” will the German-speaking person understand what the English expression intends? It would be clearer, less likely to be misinterpreted, if I translate it simply as “Der alte Mann starb”--the old man died.

Liturgiam Authenticam instructed translators, “While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet.”

While the Vatican Congregation which issued the document included many wise instructions and appropriate cautions, and did insist on the responsibility of local Episcopal Conferences to oversee the translation work, the Congregation nevertheless insisted that the translation be submitted to the Vatican for approval before the translation could be printed and authorized for use.

In 2011 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the new translation of the Mass (labeled “the third typical edition”) as “The Roman Missal.” Most Catholics will recall some of the changes, such as,  “And with your spirit” instead of “And with you.” Or “…begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father” replacing “begotten, not made, one in being with the Father.”

Some (not all) priests have struggled with the new translation. Some of the presidential prayers (collect, prayer over the offerings, prayer after communion) are convoluted, awkward, tongue-twisting, and a challenge to interpretation.

The structure of the Latin language differs from that of English, especially to the ear of US citizens. The collect for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time challenges interpretation: “Almighty ever-living God, whom, taught by the Holy Spirit, we dare to call our Father, bring, we pray, to perfection in our hearts the spirit of adoption as your sons and daughters, that we may merit to enter into the inheritance which you have promised. Through our Lord…”

That modifying clause “taught by the Holy Spirit” logically (theologically) refers to “we,” but in this sentence construction sounds as if it is attached to “whom” who it turns out is "God.”

Another common complaint is the frequent and rather gratuitous use of the word “merit.” Good theology suggests that we can do nothing to “merit” God’s inheritance. The Letter to the Ephesians (2:8-9) clarifies, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.”

Many priests who studied Latin and remember the days of the Latin Mass have confirmed that it was easier to understand the Latin than it is to understand the English as it is translated according to the mode of formal equivalence.

ICEL (the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, the committee set up in 1963 by English-speaking Episcopal conferences to translate liturgical texts of the Roman rite) prepared a new translation of the Roman Missal in 1998, but the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship rejected the new version, likely in part because they already had plans in progress for Liturgiam Authenticam, which was published in 2001.

Pope Francis’ call for a commission to re-assess Liturgiam Authenticam and the probability that responsibility for translations will be more fully restored to Episcopal Conferences provide hope that the Roman Missal as we know it will be revised and the translations of our prayers will come more from our culture and our hearts than from a slavish word-for-word rendering of a foreign text.

Little has been revealed about the new commission, but Archbishop Arthur Roche, the secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, is reported to be the commission president. Roche is an English-speaking prelate, a former president of ICEL,  and is thought by many to be more open to such a re-assessment of Liturgiam Authenticam than perhaps Cardinal Robert Sarah, the prefect of the Congregation.

The decision to re-visit the translation and Liturgiam Authenticam does not imply the document had no value. It does reflect, however, Pope Francis’ recognition of the need to respect the responsibility and authority of  Episcopal Conferences.

Of course, there will be backlash. Some have already warned that the words said over the chalice of Jesus’ blood “which will be poured out for you and for many” must not be rendered (as previously) “for you and for all.” They said that “for all” causes confusion. It might be said that “for many” is far more confusing. Did Jesus shed his blood for all or for a restricted many? A truly formal equivalent translation of the phrase should be “for the many,” an expression which means “for everyone.”

I welcome the news and the new commission. Now we must pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Though it will be years before the work of the commission is implemented, we see some light at the end of an otherwise dark tunnel. If  lex orandi, lex credendi (“how we pray displays what we believe”) is a valid theological, liturgical, dogmatic principle, then we will have taken a decisive step in saying what we believe and believing what we say.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

What Will The Church Of The Future Be Like?

The well-respected theologian and expert at Vatican II Karl Rahner, SJ, proposed in 1965 that the Christian of the future would have to be a mystic or he will not exist. And his reference to mysticism meant “a genuine experience of God emerging from the very heart of our existence.”

He predicted that Christians would live in a diaspora situation, that is, as a “relatively small minority,” and nowhere would there be a Christian nation which would lead people to embrace the Christian faith.  A Christian of the future will be Christian because he has a personal experience of Jesus and makes the deliberate choice to follow him as Lord. Culture or society will not be sufficient to lead one to Christ.

“The Christians,” he said, “will be the little flock of the Gospel, perhaps esteemed, perhaps persecuted…The Church is the sacrament of the salvation of the world even where the latter is still nor and perhaps never will be the Church.”

Rahner did not spell out what I have written below, These possibilities are purely of my own imagining --hunches, if you will, about what the Church of the future may be like. I am not a sociologist, I have no crystal ball, I claim no gift of prognostication. And yet trying to read :the signs of the times,” I suggest that

By 2020 Pope Francis II will try to emulate Pope Francis I and carry on his work.
Smaller parishes will be administered by lay leaders.
The Roman Curia will be in need of reform.
Dorothy Day will be added to the Church’s Hall of Fame (canonized a saint).
The Roman Missal of 2011 will be under revision.

By 2025 women will be serving as deacons in many parishes, especially in the missions.
Religious orders of Sisters will experience renewal and growth.
The number of Catholic parochial schools will have declined significantly.
Most bishops will no longer wear miters.
The Roman Curia will be in need of reform.
Catholicism will identify more with social justice issues than previously..

By 2050 a majority of the Catholic priests in the United States will be of African origin.
The Third Vatican Council will be convoked to reaffirm the direction and reforms of Vatican II.
Priestly celibacy will become optional.
The Roman Curia will be in need of reform.

Even though it is said that the future is the hardest thing to predict, what do you imagine the Church of the future will be like?

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Challenge Of Implementing Amoris Laetitia

The start of a new year fuels speculation about what it will hold.

The election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States (some say he is the  44th since Grover Cleveland was both the 22nd and 24th) already challenges prediction.

The surprises in Pope Francis’ leadership of the Catholic Church are likely to continue as he promotes a less legalistic and more pastoral approach to the Church’s mission and ministry.

One of the certain challenges for episcopal conferences and individual dioceses will be how to implement Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, his exhortation on family life, especially chapter eight, commonly entitled “Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness.”

Most of this apostolic exhortation focuses on the gift of married love and the blessings of family life. Pope Francis and the bishops of the two synods on family wanted to offer support and encouragement to husbands, wives and their children in light of God’s plan and the Church’s teaching. At the same time they also addressed the trials, troubles and failures which threaten this basic building block of Church and society.

Having affirmed that breaking the marriage bond “is against the will of God,” Pope Francis’ exhortation also acknowledged the weakness of many members of the Church. He confirmed that “the Church must accompany with attention and care the weakest of her children” by restoring in them both hope and confidence. The Church’s task, he said, “is often like that of a field hospital” (# 291).

He noted that the bishops who participated in the Synod on the Family (the  14th ordinary general assembly of the synod of bishops, October 4-25, 2015) did not fail to acknowledge that even in civil marital situations which do not correspond to the Church’s teaching on marriage the grace of God can be found  in such constructive elements as the courage to do good, to be caring toward one another in love, to be of service to the community around them  (## 291-92).

The synod bishops and the pope’s exhortation recall Pope John Paul II’s teaching on the “law of gradualness,” which acknowledges that people grow at different rates in their understanding, appreciation and implementation of the objective demands of the law (# 295).

It is in awareness of this phenomenon and in the light of divine mercy that the Church chooses to take the path not of rejecting but reinstating people in situations of weakness and imperfection.

The synod and the pope agree that the Church has the responsibility to help people in marital or cohabiting situations outside its teaching to come to an understanding  about grace in their lives and offer them assistance toward the fullness of God’s plan for them (cf # 297).

Even more challenging for the Church and her ministers is to acknowledge situations “where, for serious reasons, such as the upbringing of the children, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate” (# 298).

There is in some cases, of course, the possibility of a Church-granted declaration of nullity.  Or, as the exhortation suggests, there can be situations calling for the application of “the discernment of pastors,” perhaps a reference to the unnamed but sometimes used “internal forum” (cf # 298).

The exhortation cautions against making those in such situations to feel that they are excommunicated.  Catholics who divorce are not excommunicated, nor are Catholics who divorce and remarry under excommunication.

Pope Francis explained, “If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned, it is understandable that neither the Synod nor the Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases” (# 300).

Bishop Robert McElroy met the challenge of implementing Amoris Laetitia for his San Diego, California diocese by calling for a local synod and responding to recommendations raised during the six months of meetings and discussions.

According to the report in the National Catholic Reporter (Nov18-Dec 1, 2016), the San Diego synod issued 15 recommendations, offering support for family life and a response to those who are divorced and remarried. Among the recommendations are creation of a diocesan office for family spirituality which would develop resources for ministering to families, including “the divorced, single-parent, widowed, deployed, deported, special needs, multi-generational households and LGBT.”

In his own pastoral letter “Embracing the Joy of Love” (which set the stage for the diocesan synod), Bishop McElroy challenged San Diego Catholics to develop a culture of  invitation, welcoming, and hospitality for families of all kinds, and to offer support to those who are divorced.

Other dioceses across the country and around the world will likewise read, study and embrace Amoris Laetitia and develop ways to help families, as Pope Francis put it,  “to grow and mature in the ability to love” (# 325).

Monday, December 5, 2016

Advent Trees

Sometimes we’re just too close to something to see it well. It’s that adage about not being able to see the forest for the trees.

It’s when we step back that things come into better focus, or we see more than first we could imagine.

Aging does that. Seniors tend to become nostalgic about the people, places, and experiences they used to know. It’s often a pleasure to review old photos or videos, re-read old letters and cards, return to sites we used to haunt.

Many of us know the :”if only” experience. If only I had spent more time with so-and-so. If only I had appreciated the kindness, wisdom, or relationship I was offered. If only I could see a face, hear a voice, share an experience with someone now gone.

The wise say, “You can go back to the place, but you can never go back to the time.” And given the speed with which venues change, even going back to the place as remembered is often impossible.

Two important lessons emerge from our regret that the past is past and cannot be made present: 1) we should recognize and cherish the people and places around us now; and 2) we should be understanding  when those we cherish now do not see us often enough or share themselves with us as we wish.

For sometimes we’re just too close to something or someone to see the big picture. It reminds me of the response of that blind man in Mark 8:22-26. Jesus put spittle on the man’s eyes, touched him, and asked, “Do you see anything?” And the man replied, “I see people looking like trees and walking.” And Jesus had to lay hands on the man’s eyes a second time before he could see everything distinctly.”

The waiting and preparing of the Advent season, the theme of light and the coming of the Christ all conspire to invite us to step back and see life and church and relationships more distinctly.

Many of the people of Jesus’ day could not see him for the messiah he was. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. And Jesus replied, “A prophet is not accepted in his native place” (cf Lk 4:22-24).

If we can’t see the forest for the trees, it isn’t surprising we can’t see Christ because of the way we celebrate Christmas.

Monday, November 21, 2016

It's Happening Again (Still?)

One of the major obstacles Jesus had to confront in spreading the Good News was the legalism of the official religious leaders of his day.

On one occasion Jesus did not do the prescribed washing before eating (Lk 11:38). On another occasion, on a Sabbath, his disciples plucked heads of grain (Mt12:2). Also on a Sabbath Jesus cured a man’s withered hand (Mk 3:2). And on any given day of the week he could be found eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners (Lk 5:30) or a Samaritan woman (Jn 4:7-9).

The Pharisees challenged Jesus and his disciples for their failure to observe the law. When Jesus responded by asking whether it was lawful to cure on the Sabbath (Lk 14:3), and then challenged their pride in seeking places of honor (Lk 14:8) and called them hypocrites and blind guides, they began to plot against him (Lk 6:11).

 They made “a formal act of correction of a serious error.” They said, “There are six days when work should be done. Come on those days to be cured, not on the Sabbath day” (Lk 13:14).

Not all of the Pharisees opposed Jesus. John says that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night (3:1-2). Luke says that Joseph of Arimathea, who claimed Jesus’ dead body, was a member of the Sanhedrin (23:50). It takes, however, only a few opponents acting in bad faith to foment divisions.

We can surmise the reaction of the scribes and Pharisees who brought the woman caught in the act of adultery and made her stand in  the middle only to have Jesus offer her compassion and understanding without condoning her failure (Jn 8:1-11). It must have been clear to them that Jesus was undermining Mosaic teaching and long-standing tradition.

They stood on the solid ground of irreformable moral principles. Under different circumstances they would have likely judged it their responsibility to request a clarification lest there be widespread confusion  leading people into error. Jesus was causing a tremendous confusion about what is an intrinsic evil, about the state of sin and about the correct notion of conscience.

The Pharisees believed they had a responsibility before the people for whom they were religious leaders. For them to remain silent about these fundamental doubts would be a grave lack of charity. No wonder, as Jesus continued his teaching, that his opponents picked up stones to throw at him” (Jn 8:59).

It is, of course, undeniable that Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia (Love’s Joy) has led to much discussion, debate, and differences of interpretation. Chapter eight quickly became the focus of attention. It addresses the issue of the permanence of marriage and the frailty of people. It urges pastoral care for those in marriages not sanctioned by the Church, most especially the divorced-and- remarried.

The teaching in Amoris Laetitia is Pope Francis’ response to the discussions on “the family” which took place during the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in October of 2014 and the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October of 2015.

These Episcopal synods do not seek unanimity of thought, do not legislate, do not necessarily present infallible teaching. A synod, as Pope Francis reminded the bishops at the opening gathering, is “a protected area where the Church is experimenting with the action of the Holy Spirit.”  It is an effort of the Church leadership to be open to the guidance of the Spirit so as to be faithful to the Gospel and to be Christ-like in applying the Gospel in the contemporary world.

Pope Francis wrote that he thought it appropriate to issue this exhortation in order to collect the contributions of the two synods on the family and to include “other considerations as an aid to reflection, dialogue, and pastoral practice.” This document on love in the family is presented “as a help and encouragement to families in their daily commitments and challenges.”

Amoris Laetitia re-affirms the biblical and Church teaching on the permanence of marriage. It confirms traditional teaching on marriage as a sacrament, on the necessity and characteristics of genuine love, on the erotic element of marriage, on the challenges to family life.  The document does not reject former teaching nor introduce teaching that is new. It is, however, an application of the truth of the Gospel to the present age. It sometimes re-captures insights that may have been neglected.

In that critical and criticized chapter eight, Pope Francis said that when the synod bishops discussed how to deal with couples in so-called ‘irregular situations,” the synod fathers reached a general consensus which he said he supports, namely, “In considering a pastoral approach towards people who have contracted a civil marriage, who are divorced and remarried, or simply living together, the Church has the responsibility of helping them understand the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives and offering them assistance so they can reach the fullness of God’s plan for them.”

He went on to say that “the Church acknowledges situations where, for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate.” He was referring to statements made by Pope John Paul II (for example in his Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, September, 1981) and Vatican II’s Gaudium et spes, #51, where the council fathers acknowledged that “where the intimacy of married life is broken, it often happens that faithfulness is imperiled and the good of the children suffers…”

Pope Francis also points to situations where a husband or wife unjustly abandons the spouse, and the abandoned party enters into a second marriage for the sake of the children fully convinced that “the previous and irreparably broken marriage had never been valid.”  He immediately affirms that this is not the ideal which the Gospel proposes, but he notes too the statement of  the Synod Fathers which insists that “the discernment of pastors must always take place ‘by adequately distinguishing,’ with an approach which ‘carefully discerns situations’” (Amoris Laetitia, # 298).

Most Catholics are aware of the possibility of a Church-sanctioned declaration of nullity when the Marriage Tribunal judges consider the circumstances of the couple and the apparent marriage and find it fatally flawed. Some Catholics are aware of the application of  “internal forum” when sufficient evidence cannot be compiled to satisfy the judges and overturn the presumption that the marriage is valid. Amoris Laetitia (## 298-305) seems to be referring to this solution or one like it.

The exhortation specifically addresses the need to avoid “the notion that any priest can quickly grant ‘exceptions,’ or that some people can obtain sacramental privileges in  exchange for favors” (#300). At the same time the document warns pastors to avoid simply applying moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives” (#305).

Pope Francis acknowledged that “neither the Synod not this Exhortation can be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases….Priests have the duty to ‘accompany (the divorced and remarried) in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop.”( Ibid, #300).

But more directly Pope Francis insists that “it can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace….Therefore while upholding a general rule, it is necessary to recognize that responsibility with respect to certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases.” (Ibid, ##301, 302).

There is, then, no template applicable to every couple or situation. Life is a lot messier than the application of law. Grey areas exist, and some critics of the pope and the exhortation cannot accept the ambiguities and discernments which must be factored into judging individual cases.

When a handful of critics among the hierarchy demands that Pope Francis answer their doubts, when they go public with their criticism, and when they threaten him with the possibility of making “a formal act of correction of a serious error,” it is possible to conclude that they are short in due discretion and humility and view the faith and moral standards through a legalistic prism . They see things simply in black and white and fail to acknowledge the grey areas and ambiguities of real life. Other hierarchs have welcomed the exhortation’s distinctions and direction. (The four prelates demanding that Pope Francis answer "yes" or "no" to their five questions concerning Amoris Laetitia are all cardinals: Carlo Caffarra, Raymond Burke, Walter Brandmiller, and Joachim Meiser.)

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, as cardinal-designate, said that Amoris Laetitia cannot be reduced to a question of “yes” or “no.”  Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC, described Amoris Lateitia as a call for a compassionate pastoral approach and one that is “in continuity with the teaching of recent popes.”

A tendency toward legalism among some church-people is understandable when we consider that the Church’s law code has 1752 entries. The final entry, however, includes an acknowledgment that “the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the church, is to be kept before one’s eyes.”  It is reasonable to expect that there be critics of the document’s attempt to include both dogmatic, canonical and pastoral theology. Amoris Laetitia is Pope Francis’ effort to bring a sense of balance and apply them in real life situations with orthodoxy,  justice and  mercy.

This supreme law echoes what the Roman philosopher and lawyer Cicero said a hundred years before the coming of Christ: "Salus populi suprema lex esto” (De legibus 3.3.8). More recently, however, critics challenged another great teacher:  “…and one of them (a scholar of the law) tested him by asking, ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” And he said love of God and love of neighbor summarize all the Law and the Prophets (Cf. Mt 22:35-40).