It’s here…Amoris Laetitia!

Pope Francis’s long awaited Apostolic Exhortation on the family,  Amoris Laetitia; On Love in the Family was released today in Rome. Cyberspace has been hopping with “hot of the press” commentaries. While there are no earth shattering changes in doctrine reported, there is a definite paradigm shift taking place in our church. And, this shift will be rocking many doctrinal stalwarts who prefer the old days of judgment to the Francis era of mercy.

Joshua J. McElwee, NCR’s Rome correspondent, gave an excellent summary in an article titled Francis’ exhortation a radical shift to see grace in imperfection, without fearing moral confusion. Here are just some of the hope filled quotes from Amoris Laetitia as reported by McElwee.

Stressing the importance of discernment over black and white judgment, Francis writes,

Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits…By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God…

Here’s a winner quote on the importance of personal conscience,

We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations…We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them…

For those who focus on criticizing secular culture, Francis has this to say,

We have often been on the defensive, wasting pastoral energy on denouncing a decadent world without being proactive in proposing ways of finding true happiness…

Again, for those who demand no flexibility in the church’s teachings,

I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion…But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, ‘always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street

His practical advice includes the need for dialogue within a relationship,

Take time, quality time…This means being ready to listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say. It requires the self-discipline of not speaking until the time is right

No document will please everyone, and there are some disappointments. On gay marriages, Francis writes,

As for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family

I encourage you to read the full NCR article. It’s long, but the document is even longer…over 200 pages! For those who can, it’s always best to go to the original source, and Pope Francis’s words are a joy to read. If you’re wanting to get to the good bits fast, NCR’s Fr. Thomas Reese suggests you begin at Chapter 4!

I hope to explore the document on this blog in the weeks to come. Please do come by and join in the dialogue!


pondering a more centralized church


Pope Francis is promoting a more centralized church. In my latest PM article, I ponder the good and the bad of giving bishops more power.

A decentralized church is not always a good thing. What if your local church is ruled by iron-handed episcopal edicts, focused on creating a purer church? What if your bishop spends more time delivering judgmental diatribes than compassionate messages of gospel love and hope? Would you want your bishop to have even more decision-making power in your diocese?

Read more here, at the Prairie Messenger.

francis again shows he is a pastoral pope

More off the cuff remarks by Pope Francis are lighting up discussion boards and the blogosphere. The topic du jour is the reception of communion by Lutherans and Catholics. A more detailed report by Joshua J. McElwee can be found on NCR.

Ecumenical commissions have been taking place for decades, carefully dissecting doctrines in hopes of finding common ground for issues such as inter-communion. Doctrine is what divided us, so focusing on doctrine is a necessary starting point. Doctrine can also bring dialogue to a stand still.

Despite what the critics of Francis say, our pope is no light-weight theologian. The glaring difference between our current pope and his two predecessors is that Francis consistently chooses a pastoral approach over black and white rules and regulations. His comments yesterday model how to interpret church teachings in light of the needs of women and men in the pews. He nudges us to return to the core of the Christian faith journey.

“There are explanations, interpretations,” said the pope. “Life is bigger than explanations and interpretations. Always make reference to Baptism.”

“‘One faith, one baptism, one Lord,’ Paul tells us,” Francis continued. “From there, grab hold of the consequences.”

“I will not ever dare to give permission to do this because it is not my competence,” he said. “One Baptism, one Lord, one faith. Speak with the Lord and go forward. I do not dare to say more.”

Francis knows he can’t simply offer a carte blanche eucharistic welcome for all Christians. Can you imagine the tangle of ecclesial lace he would face from bishops and priests who feel duty-bound to patrol their communion lines? The recent synod showed the disagreement among bishops around the issue of divorced and remarried Catholics and communion. It’s sadly ironic when the eucharist, the sacrament of unity, becomes a source of division; when doctrine trumps pastoral needs.

The key, I think, is in the words “Speak with the Lord and go forward”. The pope is acknowledging the role of individual conscience with the important caveat of discernment. An informed conscience requires the hard work of seeking deeper understanding so we can make a heartfelt assent in faith. Respecting this conscience is a sign of an adult church that treats women and men as adults, allowing for the grace of God to flow freely.

Communion is not a reward for the sinless and pure. If it was, our communion lines would be sparse indeed. Francis asks the important question,

“Is sharing the Lord’s Supper the end of a path or is it the viaticum for walking together?”