by Clyde Christofferson
There are those who are so troubled by what Pope Francis says in Amoris Laetitia that they have issued a Correctio Filialis, a document which identifies positions which they believe are heresies. The summary of Correctio Filialis states: "[Pope Francis] has not declared these heretical positions to be definitive teachings of the Church, or stated that Catholics must believe them with the assent of faith."
So, what's the problem, if these positions stated by Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia are not “definitive teachings”? If they are not definitive, then they are open to discussion, right? Is it not, then, premature to call them heresies?
Then it occurred to me what Francis is doing.
These are positions which call for the reflection of the People of God, so as to bring to bear the sensus fidelium. As he has said so many times before, he is looking for vigorous discussion. Amoris Laetitia is an opportunity for Pope Francis to provide a different kind of leadership, calling forth the Spirit from the People of God.
Indeed, is this not what Jesus was doing? Jesus preached the reign of God. From where does this God reign? From on high, through the teaching authority of the Torah as interpreted by the temple priests? Or through the hearts of the people of God, if that capacity for discernment is cultivated?
This is not what many people expect from a pope. Many people are in the habit of expecting clear and definitive guidance, and the official Church has not taught otherwise. So hearts remain unpracticed, at least as to matters about which Rome has spoken. But since Rome speaks about so much, people can be forgiven for their reliance. The implicit assumption is that the Spirit will speak authoritatively through the pope, and lazy hearts will not have to trouble themselves.
Pope Francis is taking a different tack. The presence of the Spirit in the hearts of the people is a resource of enormous consequence. Vatican II (Lumen Gentium #12) recognized this in the sensus fidelium. There is a process of "reception" for the people to weigh in on Church teachings, which are being reformulated so that they speak in the language and idiom of the present time. As Saint John XXIII said in his opening speech to the bishops assembled at Vatican II:
"[There are those] who imagine that in the days of the earlier councils everything was as it should be so far as doctrine and morality and the Church's rightful liberty were concerned. ... [But] our duty is not just to guard this treasure, as though it were some museum-piece and we the curators ... There was no need to call a council merely to hold discussions of that nature. What is needed at the present time is a new enthusiasm, a new joy and serenity of mind in the unreserved acceptance by all of the entire Christian faith ... What is needed is that this certain and immutable doctrine, to which the faithful owe obedience, be studied afresh and reformulated in contemporary terms. For this deposit of faith, or truths which are contained in our time-honored teaching is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth (with their meaning preserved intact) is something else."
In this light, what Pope Francis is saying in Amoris Laetitia reflects his wise discernment that truth does not spring full blown, as Athena from the head of Zeus. We are a pilgrim people whose primary task on the journey of faith is to love one another, as Jesus taught.
So, the proper question for Amoris Laetitia is, "does it help us to better love one another?" And "does it help people to move from unpracticed hearts to practiced hearts?" The reign of God which Jesus preached contemplates hearts practiced in the art of being attuned to the presence of the Spirit within. Do the positions stated in Amoris Laetitia prompt this kind of practice?
To ask whether the positions stated in Amoris Laetitia are, or are not, heretical is to ask the wrong question.
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 Clyde Christofferson
Pope Francis is opening wide church doors, like John XXIII before him. And he is not shy about facing difficult challenges. Early in his pontificate he asked his bishops to assemble to address some of the most neuralgic issues facing the Church, concerning marriage and the family. After two Synods on the Family Francis issued Amoris Laetitia, an exhortation that has focused attention on the very controversies with which the bishops struggled.
What has happened to Jesus Christ? The Jews of his time followed the law, and Jesus called them to the reign of God. How can it be that the Church that follows Jesus continues to be so focused on the law that it has lost sight of the reign of God?
The beauty of Amoris Laetitia is that Pope Francis is trying to move the institutional Church beyond the law to the reign of God, as Jesus taught (Mark 1:15). It sounds obvious to put it this way, but following Jesus means following Jesus, not becoming preoccupied with the law.
Jesus was and is a different kind of leader. He has a quality of leadership that leads us to him because we want to not because we have to. It is sometimes very hard to follow -- "give what you have to the poor and come with me" -- but Christ's very presence makes difficult self-sacrifices works of joy. They sometimes call this "command presence". Outstanding leaders would much rather have command presence than the authority of their position.
Should not the Church seek to emulate Jesus and seek governance by "command presence" rather than by the authority of the law? Most pastors and bishops I know do exactly that. It is personal, and not afraid of the messiness of life. When leaders must rely upon the authority of the law, this is a sign of failure as a leader. In some circumstances use of authority becomes necessary, but a good leader knows it must be the exception rather than the rule.
We call the Magisterium the "teaching authority". This is a mistake, as good pastors and bishops know. We should say "teachers" who learn to lead like Jesus, through their very presence. Francis -- and I love him for it -- is doing just that. What he says in Amoris Laetitia is carefully and gently designed to help pastors follow the leadership of Jesus in dealing with important areas of life -- marriage and the family -- that have become so encrusted with authority that the Church is losing its ability to give life.