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by Dr. George Therukaattil MCBS
In the introductory paragraphs of the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Love and Family, Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis plainly sets out his moral and pastoral approach. He asks the Church to meet people where they are - to accept them in the concrete circumstances and complexities of their lives. He pleads the Church to respect people’s consciences and their discernment in moral decisions and underscores the importance of considering norms and mitigating circumstances in pastoral discernment.
The Apostolic Exhortation is mainly a document that reflects on family life and encourages family persons in their struggle to be faithful to the Lord. But it is also the Pope’s reminder that the Church should avoid simply judging people and imposing rules on them without considering their struggles. The goal of the Exhortation is to help families—in fact, everyone—experience being touched by an unmerited, unconditional, gratuitous mercy of God and know that they are welcome in the Church.
In the introduction of the Exhortation itself Pope Francis makes it clear that although unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary for the Church, it does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. In his address at the end of the Synod of the 2015, he also drew attention to different contexts where what is lawful in one place is deemed outside the law in another. “What seems normal for a bishop on one continent is considered strange and almost scandalous – almost! – for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion.” 
Stating this, the Pope referred to declarations of his predecessors, included the contributions of Synods on the family held in 2014 and 2015 and also quoted a number of declarations of bishops’ conferences of various countries for references. Using insights from the Synod of Bishops on the Family and from Bishops’ Conferences from around the world, Pope Francis affirms Church teaching on family life and marriage and strongly emphasizes the role of personal conscience and pastoral discernment, urging the Church to appreciate the context of people’s lives when helping them make good decisions”
Though much of AL incorporated “the propositions voted upon by the Bishops at both 2014 and 2015 Synods as much as possible, as we see from the abundant references he makes to them in the footnotes of AL”, Pope Francis calls his pastoral and moral approach as something new with regard to the pastoral practice in the way pastoral care is to be extended as help and encouragement to those in difficult marital situations or in irregular unions and to families in their daily commitments and challenges. The Pope asks for a compassionate pastoral concern to such persons since they continue to be members of the Church and brothers and sisters of God’s household. In addition he encourages everyone to be a sign of mercy and closeness wherever family life remains imperfect or lacks peace and joy. In addition to these, the introductory section of Amoris Laetitia’s significant account and vision of conscience and communal discernment (including more input and collaboration from the laity) on moral matters that is consistent with the exhortation’s pastoral practice mentioned above. Further, Pope Francis’ call in his Evangelii Gaudium for “a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets,” suggest that the moral and pastoral practice of the Church should be more attentive to the realities and complexities of life in the concrete rather than in the abstract. “The result is a challenging reappraisal that expects moral theologians to promote a genuine culture of discernment in the church.”
Details of Pope Francis’ new moral and pastoral approach can be seen especially in Chapters Six and Eight of Amoris Laetitia. In Chapter Six one can see the Pope’s pastoral perspectives (AL199-258) and in Chapter Eight he writes about the need of accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness (AL 291-312).
by Clyde Christofferson
There are some Catholics who are concerned that Amoris Laetitia is taking the Church down a path that leads to new laws which somehow would be applicable only to a few individuals. In their view being a Catholic means having a mantra: "no new laws!"
What is it about Catholics? I am a Catholic; you are a Catholic. Where would we be without the clothing of the law?
Let me approach this in a slightly different and provocative way, because I think we end up in the same place. Pope Francis is there, too. He has maintained steadfastly that the law is not going to be changed. Jesus did the same thing, in Matthew 5:17 and (in a slightly different way) in Mark 1:15.
If you or I are looking to keep the law or to change it, we both are missing the metanoia -- the change of heart -- that Jesus preached. Is not Jesus asking us to become "the naked Catholic"?
The clothing of the law has been a deceit from the beginning, with Adam and Eve in the Garden. It sounds like a contradiction, but it is not: Christ came to liberate us from the law by keeping the law. The problem is not the law, but in our attitude.
You have probably heard it said -- from no less a saint than Augustine -- to "love God and do what you will." I had heard this from my now deceased mother, but I did not know where Augustine said this. After some looking, I found it yesterday, in a series of homilies Augustine gave on the letter of John.
Augustine said nothing about the law. He simply pointed out that Jesus gave us a new commandment: to love one another. "If you do not help your brother in need, how can it be said that you love God? If you hate your brother, how can you love God?" Augustine goes on for pages and pages in this vein. If we truly love God it will be evident in what we do.
But Augustine does not take the next step. Catholics take the next step: put on the clothing of the law. "Do as the law commands, as a sign that you are a follower of Jesus the Christ."
Jesus told a story about just this issue. It is a story we all know. But the story has a background that suggests -- never demands, just suggests -- the change of heart, the metanoia, that Jesus is seeking.
The background is Ezra, reading the Torah when the Jews returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. The Torah contained God's law, and following God's law was the mark of being God's people.
In those days the Jews of Samaria -- they were called Samaritans -- thought that the return from Babylon would mean that all the followers of the Mosaic law would have a role in the new Jerusalem. But the Samaritans were among those left behind when the leaders were taken off to Babylon, and during the years of captivity the Samaritans had intermarried with non-Jews and had otherwise taken some liberties -- as Ezra saw it -- with the law. Thus, the Samaritans were to be excluded from those people of God who wished to remain in good company.
"I know I am to love my neighbor as myself," said the lawyer to Jesus. "But who is my neighbor?" The lawyer may have been thinking, "must I love even a Samaritan?" Jesus then tells the story of a traveler on the road to Jericho who is set upon by thieves and left for dead. A priest passes by, not wanting to break the law (for a priest, the law against contamination by touching a corpse). A Levite does the same. The audience of Galilean peasants to whom this story is being told know about the priests and the Levites, with their pomp and circumstance, and now expect the third person -- stories always were told in threes -- to be a good Jewish peasant who would bring succor to the beaten traveler.
But who is the third person coming along the road? A Samaritan. From the point of view of a faithful Jew -- clothed in the law of the Torah -- there was no place for the Samaritan in this story. In those days, if a Samaritan came into a village of faithful Jews, he would be run off. In those times, "good Samaritan" was an oxymoron. A Samaritan? An audience of faithful Jews might have a different expectation, now that a Samaritan is in the story, than they had hoped for: the Samaritan might stop, but only to finish off what the robbers had started.
We all know how the story ends. Luke describes how carefully the Samaritan dressed the traveler’s wounds and brought him to an inn. What did Jesus then say? "Who was neighbor to the beaten traveler?" He did not say a word about the law, because being a good neighbor, loving one's neighbor as one's self, following the great commandments, loving God and neighbor, is not about the law. It's about something else.
Faithful Jews in those days were followers of the law. Jesus wanted to move them further along the way toward union with a loving God. It's not that the law was bad or wrong or inadequate. The law was just a step along the road. There is more to the journey toward union with God.
It is very significant what Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-18, but it would be ironic to see Matthew 5:17-18 as priority of law over the "new commandment" to love one another. Loving one another -- being Love itself -- is what Jesus was about.
Looking at the question of communion for divorced and remarried Catholics as a question of law is like a deer caught in the headlights. It is death. Pope Francis, following the example of Jesus in Matthew 5:17-18, is changing nothing in the law. The law is not what Jesus preached. Leave the law as it is, so that it will not distract from the real work of loving one another.
When Francis urges us to a path of "encounter and accompaniment" and to attend to the 'other' as if in a "field hospital" he is turning our gaze away from the law so that attention to the law will not distract us from "love of God and neighbor".
Yes, he is trying to move Catholics -- Catholics who are clothed in the law -- to a better place. Jesus tried to do the same with faithful Jews, who were also clothed in the law. It is said that "mercy is God's justice." This does not mean "I'll let you off this time, but you must come back to the law." No. the point of mercy is to prompt metanoia, a change in direction, away from being a deer in the headlights of the law.
It really is about love. Those who see all this commotion about Amoris Laetitia as an opportunity to remove the shackles of the law, and achieve some form of libertarian freedom, are as much caught in the headlights as those faithful Catholics "clothed in the law."
This is difficult terrain. Habits are hard to change. Being caught in the headlights of the law is a hazard for faithful Catholics just as it was a hazard for faithful Jews at the time of Christ. A "naked Catholic"? What a crazy idea! Who would take off their clothes -- the clothes of the law -- and run naked in the street?
No one. Jesus does not ask us to do that. Nor does Pope Francis. First, put on the clothes of love for God and neighbor. That comes first. Become an accomplished lover. Then, after enough "encounter and accompaniment" with a neighbor so that you have walked a mile in their moccasins, when a little voice within you calls for mercy, do not ignore the voice. Mercy is not a rejection of the law. Mercy is a response to the Spirit of Christ within the human heart. Mercy is a practical recognition that what we call "the law" is often a simplification that idealizes -- rather than honestly reflects -- the reality of God's love.
We must be patient with ourselves and with our Church. Being "clothed in the law" is a hazard of the faith. Do not give it up lightly. Love one another. In the end, it comes down to love.
by Ralph Coelho
Pope Francis has captivated many common Catholics but caused much dismay among the teachers and preachers. The former wait eagerly for their daily dose of the reality and simplicity of God's will in his various utterances the latter are dismayed by apparently of-the-cuff remarks and openings to relativistic morality that undermines the absolute morality that prohibits artificial contraception, divorce and adultery. His remark "Who am I to judge" to a query of the his attitude to the LGBT community scandalised many priests and bishops who believed that as Defender of the Faith he should condemn them out of hand. Others believe that he is asking that we think in more detail and check if it is sinful behaviour being condemned or a class of people. In the letter case it is causing scandal and is condemnable as a possibility of leading others into sin. Jesus particularly condemned those whose words or behaviour were a "stumbling block to the simple ones".
Pope Francis is not a Pope in the mould of the previous Popes just as he is not in the same mould of most human persons. It is natural for humans to enter into the persona, the culture of the rank to which they are raised and in behaviour to fit in with peers. Even to openly aspire for a higher rank. Francis set a precedent by appearing before the faithful across the world in the simple cassock in which he was elected. Later he went back to the hostel where he stayed with other attendees at the Consistory and did not live in the Papal apartments. However, he did receive visiting dignitaries at the Papal apartments assigning them their due dignity.
Pope Francis went much further in eliminating ceremonial in his public lands life. He kissed babies and embraced sick persons when he passed through crowds, he called up people on the telephone and his homilies at mass were as down to earth as any parish priest could be. They demonstrated his view of New Evangelisation whose need was enunciated by Paul VI. He gave simple but non-traditional interpretations of the Bible in his homilies, encouraging reader and students of the Bible to make an effort to discern what God was saying to them in their state of life.
When he spoke about the householder who rented out his vineyard he went beyond the traditional rebuke to the people of Israel. Instead he speaks about God continuing to love, of wanting to show his mercy in new wine. I think it equally applies to anyone who is placed in a role of supervising others and he exploits them instead of improving their lot. Particularly parents in regard to the upbringing of their children When he spoke about the Good Samaritan he asked about the role of the innkeeper. John XXIII allowed his Bishops to throw out the agenda prepared by his Curia for Vatican II and prepare their agenda appropriate to their situations.
In regard to divorced and remarried couples I believe he is asking us to show mercy to the couple who understand the enormity of their offence against the community and are now torn between acceptance of their penance (to separate) and damage to the state of the children they have received as gifts. Allow them to live as brother and sister and do not assume they continue to commit the act of adultery. We do acknowledge that the marriage must be consummated!
They may be asked to receive communion at a distant church to avoid scandal. This may be interpreted as casuistry by theologians who are rigorous; this would leave little scope for mercy that is the sinners last hope. I would however agree the possibility of a person being misled to commit sin driven by strong emotions in anticipation of God's mercy. I was taught that this was the sin of PRESUMPTION, a sin that did not figure amongst the capital sins. This could easily happen in the current climate of the individual's right to absolute freedom in sexual expression that denies any form of sexual relationship behaviour is a personal choice.
Some critics refer to Veritatis Splendor. I believe they should read the Theology of the Body that preceded it by many years and developed a Christian anthropology and clarified the meaning of unity, spousal fidelity and chastity in marriage. The Nuptial Meaning of the Body is related to experience of Adam and Eve and the gift of self.
By Robert H Cummings
The greatest triumvirate on this valid Earth is that of God our Lord, Jesus (Christ the King) and us, male and female in true and full Love, true and full Compassion and true and full Inclusiveness.
The Lord truly Loves us as His Children. The scope and true depth of His Love is far beyond our greatest imagination. It is of such a scope and depth that as one Spiritualist has stated that when He forgives our wrongs, he not only forgives, but fully forgets the transgression. We, as humans may forgive the transgression of another human, but do we truly forget?
We are His sons and daughters. Would he, as our Creator be incapable of such Love? Do we love our own children (perhaps not in all cases, but therein the major deficit shows itself)? God’s Love for us is again beyond our greatest imagination.
Remember, the Holy Spirit is within all of us. We are part of the Godhead as such. Would he then be incapable of Loving his children whom all have within themselves the Holy Spirit? It is the Holy Spirit that directs us through the grace of God to do only good towards others of our human race, of all colors and of all sexual orientations and ethnic background. Why otherwise defy God, who has created all of us, but only with different stripes?
Jesus, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity came, not to dictate, but to give us a path to follow. He stayed with the lowly and served them to the ultimate. Faith was the driving force that supported His actions. One particular person merely had to touch His robe to cure his ailing daughter near death and his daughter fully recovered at the very same instant. He cured the lepers, saved the prostitute, cured the blind, and even resurrected Lazarus. Did deep and abiding faith not have an influence?
He came also to correct the failings in His own Jewish Faith, in dialogue with the Scribes and Pharisees indicating that dogmatic rules did not constitute a valid or true Faith. Our own churches are and have demonstrated for hundreds of years now that they are simply making the same demands. Is it any wonder that so many have left the churches of the day when the only direction is to adhere to unproven and euphemistic demands, rather than allowing the Holy Spirit that supports our true and valid Conscience to work within us? The lack of honest common sense and conscientious decision is not to be allowed.
Remember, in particular, that the Catholic Church became the acceptable Church only on the direction of Constantine, a Roman Emperor, several hundred years after Christ. I remain a devout Catholic, not simply to follow mundane and legalistic rules, but to attempt to be truly supportive of all creatures, not only humans, and to attempt changes. It is also important to realize that the Councils of the Catholic Church at those times were convened and directed by the Roman Emperor and doctrines so decided.
The Catholic Church basically denies the Holy Spirit working within us, as they continue to show any meaningful Love, Compassion and more particularly inclusiveness. Think of some of their present rules and regulations. They continue to consider protection against child bearing as a great sin and use such a dictate simply for mental control.
The premise of Humanae Vitae is totally invalid when they state that each and every sexual act must be open to conception. It only takes one sperm to meet with an ovum to deliver a child. Yet sperm are produced constantly in men for many years and by the millions. But only God can cause such waste. The seminal vesicles can only have room for so many sperm, which according to the Catholic Church can be lost by wet dreams, but by no other means. Such is simply untrue. Contraception, by medical fact begins in infancy, and most early by female siblings, because of the carry over of estrogens from the mother.
Other demands I will not go into at this time. They are well known and continue to drive people away from the Church.
And it is so difficult to understand why the Church continues with such total lack of Inclusiveness. particularly when one reads with valid interpretation words in the Catholic Missal of the year 2006, that are said during the Catholic Mass, confirming that the Holy Spirit indeed works within us.
Quote is now provided in Eucharistic Prayer #2. “May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit”. And also in Eucharistic Prayer #3 and again I quote, “Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ “.
Transubstantiation involves the Priest invoking the Holy Spirit of Christ to join in the receiving of the body and blood of his body so as to enkindle the Holy Spirit within us. The immensity of His Holy Spirit simply enkindles the Holy Spirit within us.
The body and blood of Christ are fully and totally human. He made that clear Himself when He became man and I think also woman, when He stated several times in Scripture “I am the same as you“. He does not transfer his divinity, he transfers his human body and blood. Why, otherwise would it be that the Holy Spirit is so needed to be invoked.
Change is natural as long as truth and conscience are involved. Unfortunately, the Church denies our very conscience and thereby the Holy Spirit within us. At least as far as the Catholic Church hierarchy is concerned. Certainly, it is long past time for the Church to allow us to become as effective as the reasons for which God put us here.