the look of love

“Love opens our eyes and enables us to see, beyond all else, the great worth of a human being.” (Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 128)

Many have pre-judged Amoris Laetitia: on Love in the Family simply on the fact that it was written by a pope. What does a celibate man know about family life and love? This celibate man appears to know quite a bit.

There are many priests and bishops, of a more clerical nature, who live in a privileged cocoon, spouting doctrine and wagging their fingers from on high at the great unwashed below. We know what our current pope thinks of those in the hierarchy who seldom step foot out of their ecclesial palaces. Francis has preached repeatedly against clericalism. He has urged the ordained to immerse themselves in the lives of those they are called to serve. A true shepherd, he says, takes on the “smell of the sheep”.

Francis is a true shepherd, who knows his sheep pretty well.

When Francis talks, he often veers from prepared text and speaks from the heart. He does the same in his writing. Amoris Laetitia shines brightest when Francis steps aside from the obligatory referencing of Vatican and Synod documents. There is an honesty to his words when he speaks practically about love in the family. This is the pastor from Buenos Aires who purposely lived among the people, not a silk-clad bishop who reigned from his diocesan enclave. Francis may not be married, but he has observed and pastored to family life in all its joys and struggles.

Take, for example, this excerpt from a section in Amoris Laetitia titled “Joy and Beauty”,

The aesthetic experience of love is expressed in the “gaze” which contemplates other persons as ends in themselves, even if they are infirm, elderly, or physically unattractive. A look of appreciation has enormous importance, and to begrudge it is usually harmful. (AL 128)

The look of love. It empowers and affirms us. Without it, we feel ignored and question if we are truly loved. Francis offers some examples when love’s gaze is missing within the family,

“My husband does not look at me; he acts as if I were invisible”. “Please look at me when I’m talking to you!”. “My wife no longer looks at me, she only has eyes for our children”. “In my own home nobody cares about me, they do not even see me, it is as if I did not exist”. (AL, 128)

Theological or ephemeral musings about love are often hard to grasp when our feet are mired in the mud of reality. Francis, instead, gives easily recognizable examples that nudge our conscience. In this case, he is nudging us to gaze intentionally at those we love. The look of love, after all,  is no small thing.

Love opens our eyes and enables us to see, beyond all else, the great worth of a human being. AL 128

the sour taste of envy

“Envy is a form of sadness provoked by another’s prosperity.” (Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, 95)

Love is not jealous  (1 Corinthians 13:4)

Tell that to the green-eyed monster claiming life-long squatter’s rights in my brain! Every time I try to evict the little bugger, he raises another example of someone’s superior achievements compared to my own meagre efforts.

  • Mothers who managed to raise families AND have a career AND find time and energy to complete post-grad degrees AND look beautiful while doing it!
  • Bloggers who never miss a beat in their writing, consistently producing brilliant pieces that I wish I wrote. (Don’t they know about writer’s block???)
  • Anyone with a blog or any social media account (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc) who obviously has more “friends” than I have.
  • Friends who have written and published one or more books while I keep dreaming of starting one.
  • Women my age who will proudly bare their gym-toned arms or Zoomba fit legs now that the summer sun is around the corner.

Why, oh why do we torture ourselves with this soul-sucking competition? Why can’t we focus more on our own goals without feeling we are being left in the dust by others? Why can’t we feel pride in every step we take on our life’s journey, without mentally measuring the leaps and bounds of those on a similar path?

Pope Francis writes in Amoris Laetitia,

“Whereas love makes us rise above ourselves, envy closes us in on ourselves. True love values the other person’s achievements. It does not see him or her as a threat. It frees us from the sour taste of envy.” AL, 95

Envy certainly produces a sour taste in families. Competition seems wired into our human nature. Siblings are quick to accuse parents of favouring one child over another. Families judge themselves and each other based on the size of their homes or the success of their children. Parents feel slighted if adult children give affection and time more readily to the in-laws than to them. Envy sours the love needed for peace within and among families.

Francis goes on to remind us that love always respects diversity,

“It recognizes that everyone has different gifts and a unique path in life. So it strives to discover its own road to happiness, while allowing others to find theirs.” AL 95

Ah, there it is. A reminder to stop and acknowledge our differences, without mentally placing them in a hierarchy of achievement. We not only have different gifts and talents, but different life circumstances, joys and challenges.

Difference viewed side by side, not as one automatically better than the other. Difference that is a cause for celebration, not envy.

dare we hope for women deacons?

women deacons

VATICAN CITY Pope Francis has announced he will create a commission to study the possibility of allowing women to serve as deacons in the Catholic church, signaling an historic openness to the possibility of ending the global institution’s practice of an all-male clergy.

Source: Francis to create commission to study female deacons in Catholic church | National Catholic Reporter

Cyber-space has been humming and buzzing with this announcement. My initial excitement was tempered as I read past the head-lines. Pope Francis’s words, in response to questions given during an assembly of the International Union of Superior Generals (IUSG) in Rome, are simply promises of possibilities.

No, we are not going to have women deacons over-night. At the current rate of reform in our church, I wonder if we will have them in my life-time. With the current ideological divide, in the hierarchy and in the pews, I wonder if women will ever be “allowed” to take their rightful place beside men in church leadership.

What Francis has promised, seemingly on the spot, is to create a commission to study the possibility of women deacons.

Commissions are only as good as their members. Will this commission consist of a well-balanced group of lay and ordained, women and men? Will Francis invite theologians who have spent their lives studying the historical and biblical evidence of women deacons in the early church? Will the voices of those in the pews, whom deacons are called to serve, be included in the dialogue?

If this commission concludes that the permanent diaconate should be opened to women (in its current ordained role, not merely as “lady auxiliaries” without ordination), will the recommendation for reform be accepted by the more stridently conservative members of our church?

Recommendations from commissions have been ignored in the past. Remember the report from the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control in 1966? It proposed that artificial birth control was not intrisincally evil, suggesting that women and men should be allowed to discern which methods of birth control are best for them. Married couples around the world let out a sigh of relief. The relief was short-lived with the publication of Humanae Vitae shortly after.

In answering the questions at the IUSG assembly, Francis humbly admitted that he was unsure of the the role of deacons in the early church. NCR’s Joshua J McElwee reports,

“It was a bit obscure,” said Francis. “What was the role of the deaconess in that time?”

“Constituting an official commission that might study the question?” the pontiff asked aloud. “I believe yes. It would do good for the church to clarify this point. I am in agreement. I will speak to do something like this.”

“I accept,” the pope said later. “It seems useful to me to have a commission that would clarify this well.”

While we shouldn’t read too much into off the cuff statements, seeking “clarification” doesn’t necessarily imply that a change in teaching or reform in practice is around the corner.

For doctrinal types, “clarification”  often means digging in their heals into existing teaching; bold-facing the arguments that have rationalized a male-only priesthood while putting a gag-order on any dissenters. Clarifying, for them, equals reiterating.

“You still don’t understand why women can’t be priests? You poor dear. It’s really clear, after all. I’ll quote you the part of the Catechism that proves that only men can act in persona Christi” !

I hope that Francis is proposing “clarification” as a means to go beyond catechism based teaching to explore the good works already done by many theologians and historians who have been, and are studying the role of women in the church for many years now. Sadly, these works have too often been ignored or silenced in the past.

The windows have been opened a crack. We need Francis to courageously fling them wide open for a new and far-reaching dialogue on the full and equal inclusion of women in our church.