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!

 

faith motivated by love, not fear

During this past Holy Week, in the midst of a faith sharing, a friend admitted her life long struggles with Good Friday. This opened a flood-gate of sharing among us. I, too, hated Good Friday as a child. I hated it even more as a Mother, trying to explain to wee children the morose devotions. Trying to protect their innocent minds from the horrors of the Passion story.

I remembered, and shared with my friends, an article that Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ wrote for NCR last year titled How to cope with Holy Week when you are less than inspired.  In it, Fr. Reese describes his own struggles with the theology of Good Friday. Struggles that many readers related to,

There is another reason I hate Holy Week, especially Good Friday. When I was a child, we were taught that Jesus had to die for our sins because sin is an infinite insult to God that requires an infinite sacrifice as reparation.

I am sorry, but I don’t think I have ever done anything so bad that it requires me or anyone else to be crucified, let alone Jesus. While I might be grateful to Jesus for taking the blame for my sins, this theology turned God the Father into a legalistic ogre concerned about balancing the scales of justice, not mercy. The Father in this theology sounds nothing like the Father described by Jesus. Alas, some of the liturgical prayers still reflect this theology.

This year, Robert Mickens wrote a piece for NCR called The Greatest story never told.  He described how Benedict XVI, both as pope and emeritus, saw the lack of belief in the need for salvation as a major crisis in the church. Mickens quotes Benedict,

“The obligatory nature of the faith and its way of life began to seem uncertain and problematic. If there are those who can save themselves in other ways, it is not clear, in the final analysis, why the Christian himself is bound by the requirements of the Christian faith and its morals…If faith and salvation are no longer interdependent, faith itself becomes unmotivated,” he noted.

In other words, Benedict believes that when obligation and the fear of hell stopped being the motivating force for Catholics, the pews began to empty. Mickens, rightly I think, questions the good of a fear-centred faith,

But one could argue that a religion based on fear has little to do with having faith in and striving to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

I remember too well the scrupulous faith of my childhood. The fear of sin. The even greater fear of confession. The terrifying fear of the fires of hell. I consider myself blessed that I was slowly rid of the guilt and fears, and I have little or no patience for those who try to reinstill them in me.

I believe in a God of love. Just, yes. But loving first. Loving always. God calls each one of us us to live this life of love; a life of goodness, justice and right action. God’s son, Jesus, shows us the way…and it’s a simple one.

The gospel is not a compendium of rules and regulations, but an exohortation to love God and each other in word and deed. As we have received grace freely, so are we to be bearers of grace for others.

Fear or obligation are seldom good motivators for love.

pope francis talks and models dialogue

pope and congress

When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. .. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces. (Pope Francis addressing Congress)

Pope Francis is proving to the world that respectful speech will move hearts more readily than aggressive arguments. A kind, peaceful demeanour can be more powerful than angry, wagging fingers. Acknowledging that which unites us rather than railing against that which divides us opens doors to peace. This is a pope who promotes and models dialogue over diatribe.

During his visit to the USA, he has repeatedly spoken of the need to dialogue to overcome existing polarities in our church and in our world. In today’s address to Congress, he mentioned “dialogue” twelve times. Yesterday, he called the American bishops to be “promoters of the culture of encounter” saying,

Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love

Surely it is no accident that Francis spoke strongly of the need for dialogue to both bishops and members of congress. Pope Francis faces similar challenges within the Curia and the Synod of Bishops that President Obama faced in Congress. Pope and President both came into their offices with dreams and hopes for change. Both offered us promises of ushering in much needed change; change that would promote equality, peace and justice.

Both leaders have been stymied by a lack of dialogue from those who hold tight the reins of governance with a myopic determination to ensure that change will never come under their watch.

Why is dialogue so hard?

Dialogue requires us to control our passions and emotions in the midst of difficult discussions. Perhaps the most importance aspect of dialogue, and the one we usually struggle with the most, is to simply stop speaking and listen. Listen effectively. Ponder carefully. Respond respectively.

Simple?

Let’s make it more interesting. Watch any candidate or leadership debate on either side of the border. Now, let’s make it into a drinking game. Raise a glass every time a speaker is interrupted mid-sentence by another participant. Most of us would be tipsy within the first 20 minutes.

And, how about the discussion boards on some Catholic sites? I’m a huge fan of NCR. Their discussion boards offer an opportunity for dialogue that is rarely found in the Catholic Church. They attract many intelligent and witty writers. Sadly, too often what began as a respectful and thoughtful back and forth of ideas degenerates into a childish, mean-spirited fight between progressives and traditionalists.

At last year’s Synod of Bishops, it didn’t take long for idealogical lines to be drawn among the episcopal brethren. It shouldn’t surprise us that the world’s bishops don’t constitute an homogenous mind-set. But, it will take the patience of a saint and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to ensure respectful dialogue and not aggressive debate among these men, especially on issues that produce strong passion and conviction from differing views. No wonder Pope Francis keeps asking us to pray for him.

Today’s address to Congress was a brilliant example of a heart that yearns for dialogue. Yes, Francis could have challenged more, and sugar-coated less. But, he managed to speak to all. urging all to embrace their call to leadership as a vocation of service.

Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.