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Some thoughts on Amoris Laetitia

Good Shepherd by Jean Baptiste de Champaigne

I’m going a bit off topic today to give you my thoughts on the recent apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Some traditionalists are up in arms, some “liberals” are dancing with glee. What did Pope Francis really say, how important was it, and what does it mean for you and me?

No change in doctrine or discipline

The first and most important thing to understand is that AL (as it is being called for short) does not propose changes to Catholic discipline on who can receive the Eucharist, let alone a change in the doctrine behind this practice.

“I was happy to take up the request of the Fathers of the Synod to write this Exhortation. In so doing, I am reaping the rich fruits of the Synod’s labours. In addition, I have sought advice from a number of people and I intend to express my own concerns about this particular chapter of the Church’s work of evangelization. Countless issues involving evangelization today might be discussed here, but I have chosen not to explore these many questions which call for further reflection and study. Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘decentralization’.” (AL 16)

Let’s note a few things here.

1. This is the Pope’s private opinion.

“I intend to express my own concerns about this particular chapter…” He does not refer to his office or authority.

2. No new magisterial teaching is proposed.

In case you didn’t get point #1, he restates it. “Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question…” He wants local bishops to address problems particular to their areas of the world.

3. This isn’t the last word.

Many of the issues just touched on in this exhortation “call for further reflection and study.” No doubt we’ll be hearing much more in the future, but whether a document with greater authority will be issued at some point remains an open question.

So, how should we take this document? Cardinal Burke argues that we’re basically free to ignore it.

What’s the fuss about?

So, why is there some a hullabaloo about AL? These days, there is a hullabaloo about everything the Pope says or does. Dissenters and fear-mongers on both sides jump at every chance to prove their worldview right. They twist the Pope’s words or actions continually.

Setting aside all hype and hyperventilating, is there any reason AL should concern us?

Here are a few down sides to the document, according to canonist Edward Peters:

1. Pope Francis doesn’t think or write systematically.

I’d say Pope Francis is probably a sanguine-phlegmatic by temperament. He is a feeler, rather than a thinker. He likes people to feel welcomed, to get along, to go along, to know the love and mercy of God. He would never issue the type of document we saw from Pope Benedict, who has the opposite (melancholic) temperament.

Each temperament has its strengths and weaknesses. Francis’s lack of intellectual rigor makes the document vague and easily manipulated by those with an agenda.

2. Local bishops don’t all have the same view of the Faith.

When Pope Francis says that local bishops should be left to deal with problems specific to their geographic area, he certainly does not intend to open the door to false teaching on the Eucharist. But some prelates will engage in “regional manipulation” to fit their own preconceived views.

Some prelates, even in the US, have already stated publicly that they would not broadly exclude anyone in an irregular marriage form the Eucharist. This is a big problem. St. Paul said that receiving the Eucharist unworthily is itself a mortal sin. We don’t want to facilitate further sin, but bring people to repentance.

3. The idea of objectively mortal sin may have taken a hit.

“Hence it is 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.” (AL 301)

We can’t read others’ souls. Many people in an objectively immoral state (i.e., an irregular marriage or non-marital union) may have reduced culpability. They may be ignorant of the seriousness of their acts, may be doing the best they can in a difficult situation, may be struggling against temptation but failing, et cetera. We just don’t know. We can’t assume that all of them are equally guilty before God.

However, some people will read this exhortation as an appeal to conscience above objective truth. Others may think that irregular marriage is really no big deal “for me.”

Fr. James Schall reflects on this point further in this article for The Catholic Word Report.

Also, see Dr. Peter’s numbered points at the end of this post of his.

Naivete, not cowardice

One traditional-leaning writer at a secular newspaper called AL an act of cowardice. Yikes! Now we’re really trying to read consciences. Pope Francis is not avoiding doing what he knows is right, out of fear. He really believes that he is furthering the cause of mercy, of bringing the wayward back into the fold.

I would say rather that he seems naive regarding how the exhortation will be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misapplied. Some will just be confused. Others will willfully misrepresent the Pope’s teaching. That’s the downside of his not being a systematic thinker.

The positive

Let’s not overlook the fact that Pope Francis says many good things in AL. Among them:

  • wholesale rejection of same-sex “marriage”
  • similar rejection of postmodern fluid gender theories
  • a reminder for all of us to be more compassionate towards sinners
  • pages of stuff I have not had a chance to read (I had to look at the controversial passages first, ha ha) that probably contain some very good material I will explore later

The upshot for you and me

So, be prepared to explain to your divorced and civilly remarried relatives that they are still in an objectively sinful state and can’t just cavalierly go up for Communion now. More positively, AL gives us an opening. The world is talking about the Church’s teaching on marriage. Maybe it’s time to encourage your loved ones to start exploring the way back to God.

Can you begin gently leading them back to the truth, not hitting them over the head with what they are doing wrong? Can you ask if they are interested in talking to a priest about their options?

Maybe we should start inviting (other) sinners with us when we go to Confession.

I think AL also reinforces the wisdom of trusting God in his care for the Church. Many people have feared the appearance of this document, as they did the Synod itself. The Pope has not and will not abandon the faith. On any matter. God leads his Church, and he leads her into all truth. The gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church. That’s Christ’s promise.

Instead of fearing and fretting over the misinterpretations of AL, let’s pray for sinners, parish priests, bishops, and the Pope. Let’s commit to trusting God, come what may. Let’s get out ahead of the chaos and confusion and evangelize! Let’s lead people to the merciful Lord!

Connie Rossini

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A call for contemplative families

File:Prière avant la récolte par Félix de Vigne.jpg
Prayer for the Harvest by Felix de Vigne (Wikimedia Commons).

On Sunday, October 4, the Synod on the Family convened in Rome. As we pray, with trust in the Lord, for real help for the family from the Fathers of our Church, we should do something else as well. The strengthening of the Catholic family must come not just from new directives from Rome, but also from families themselves. You and I, together with our families, can help change the outlook of the Catholic family for centuries to come. Today I issue a call that is the call of Pope John Paul II, “Family, become what you are!” (Familiaris consortio no. 17). I issue a call for contemplative families.

God has been putting this on my heart more and more. I hear from mothers who want to teach their children to pray, but don’t know how. From women whose husbands have abandoned the family and who are trying to raise godly children on their own. From grandparents who grieve that their grandchildren are not being raised in the faith. I do not need to tell you the challenges that face the family in the twenty-first century. You are the very ones who are facing them.

My dream is to see a renewal of the authentically Catholic contemplative life, but not just in monasteries. I dream to see it in families.

A new model for families

Portrait of Bl. Louis Martin from the Basilica of St. Therese (Wikipedia).

In the Middle Ages, the contemplative life was found among the hermits, monks, and nuns. This tradition reached its height in the teaching of St. Teresa of Avila. Then with the seventeenth century came St. Francis de Sales. He brought the contemplative life out into the world, directing individual lay men and women to immerse themselves in the Gospel, even while living out their vocation.

In the nineteenth century, Blessed Louis Martin sought to enter a monastery and was turned away. Separately, Azelie Guerin, as she was then, sought to enter a convent and was also turned away. The two later married and established something new. They established a contemplative family.

I know many lay men and women who desire a more contemplative life for their families. Some of them have moved near monasteries. Others have joined communities that seek to spread a monastic spirit to those living in the world. I myself was part of the Secular Order for Discalced Carmelites for seventeen years, starting when I was single.

As I married and had children, I found that the Rule that I had been able to follow as a single person became increasingly difficult to fulfill. It conflicted with the duties and obligations of my vocation as wife and mother. I began to understand why most of my Carmelite brothers and sisters were men and women whose children were grown. Eventually I had to leave Carmel. But my desire for a contemplative life did not wane. I thought then, as I do now, that the contemplative life should be available to parents of young children as well as to singles and older adults.

How can we live this out? How can families live the contemplative life as families, not trying to copy the life of cloistered religious, which would place on their shoulders obligations they could not fulfill without neglecting the duties of their vocations? This is the question I wish to explore, the question I would ask you to help me answer.

Religious communities are built on the model of the family with a father and brothers or mother and sisters. Should we build the family in turn on the model of the cloister? Can we not instead build up our own model of contemplative life, a life that flows from and supports the vocation of marriage, rather than adding unrealistic obligations to the ones God has already given us?

My house shall be a house of prayer

Fr. Peyton famously said, “The family that prays together, stays together.” With Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin as our models and patrons, let us begin with praying as a family. Let us pray the family Rosary, not just teaching our children the words of the prayer, but teaching them to meditate on the mysteries and to say each word with love and attention. Let us teach them to sanctify their meals with the Table Blessing. Let us pray as a family every morning or evening or both.

This is the beginning. But if this is all we do, I fear that we may become like the one in the proverb who gives a man a fish. We feed our children for the day. We pray with them and nourish them while they are with us. But what happens when they leave our homes, when they live on their own, with no family to support them in a daily Rosary? What then?

We must teach them to fish. Teach them to find their own nourishment to sustain them throughout their lives. We must teach them to pray. And by this I mean especially to teach them mental prayer.

The Church has a long tradition of mental prayer. If it is not passed down from one generation to the next, it risks being lost. We can teach our children to prayerfully read the Scriptures, listening to the voice of God speaking through His Word and responding to it with love. We can also teach them to practice the presence of God. Through these two practices, as well as growth in virtue, we can help them prepare for the gift of supernatural contemplation, an ever-deepening intimacy with God. This is the meaning of the contemplative family.

Mary taught Jesus to pray

The Catechism tells us that Jesus learned to pray from his Mother (2599). As fathers and mothers, it is our responsibility to teach our children to pray. We cannot abdicate. We cannot depend on schools or religious education programs to do this most important work for us. We must be active in teaching our children the way to intimacy with God.

Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher. He had disciples, students. He taught them to pray by His example, by going aside regularly to spend time alone with His Father. We too must take time alone with God each day and let our children know how important this time is for us. He taught His disciples the Our Father. We must teach our children vocal prayer. He taught them to gather together in prayer in His name. We must gather in prayer as a family. He offered Himself as the supreme sacrifice to God, and invited us to share in that sacrifice in the Holy Eucharist. We must teach our children the importance of the Mass and reverence for the Eucharist.

I would like to begin to join together with other families pursuing the contemplative life as families. God alone knows where this will lead. If you would like to join me, please pledge your participation in a comment below. And if you have a blog that is focused on holiness for families, please provide the link. I may want to share some of your posts with my readers in the future. I hope to begin allowing guests to post on this topic. Then spread the word, so that other families may become what God made them to be.

God bless you and your family!

Connie Rossini