Things to Remember in Reading Commentary on Amoris Laetitia

Once again, as happens with every document Pope Francis writes and promulgates, there is a mad rush to make commentary on Amoris Laetitia. I won’t comment on my thoughts on prudence and taking time to prayerfully read a document first before unleashing fury all over the Internet. I myself have not had time to read the document, but I have read the last two, and the responses in social media have all been the same. Some people panic, others misread, misuse, and turn them into ideological weapons, some provide insightful thoughts, and many don’t even realize the Pope wrote a document in the first place.

AL is the wrap up document of the contentious Synod on the Family. As happens with Synods, the Pope writes an Apostolic Exhortation or other papal document as a type of summation and wrapping up of what was gleaned from a particular Synod. This is not encyclical, motu proprio, or bull. There are no juridicial changes, doctrinal changes, or amendments to Canon Law within its pages. So from that knowledge alone people should put their pitchforks down and take a step back on all “sides”.

There is an obsession with this Pope that I have not observed in my short 35 years on this earth. It betrays a complete lack of understanding by the media and a lot of Catholics as to the role of the Supreme Pontiff. Hanging on his every word seems to be creating a disordered obsession with him in which people are turning to sinful anger or sinful license. I will address this issue at a later date. My only point now is there is a major need for balance. Here are a few suggestions in reading commentary on AL.

  1. The Church has always been divided by factions, sin, division, heresies, and calls to conform to the world. The Mystical Body is given life by the Holy Spirit, but it is lived through sinful men and women, including those who have fallen into relativism (no this is not pointed towards Pope Francis, so don’t read into it in that manner).
  2. Most of the great theologians of the Church have in fact not been Popes. Think St. Paul, St. John, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Athanasius, etc. The last few decades the Church has had a springtime of Popes who excel in philosophy and theology. This isn’t the norm throughout the ages. The Church is filled with individuals with different gifts. That means not every bishop or cardinal is a great theologian. You cannot compare the intellects of Francis and Benedict XVI, for instance. They differ in approach, understanding, and gifts from God. Do not read Francis’ documents in the same manner as B16’s. Francis is not a systematic writer, like his two predecessors. Yes, this poses challenges during this age of social media.
  3. Ignore secular media coverage. The secular world reporting on Catholic affairs is like asking a person who only speaks English to translate Chinese without ever having studied the language.
  4. There are ideologically driven Catholic writers all over the place. Keep that in mind when reading commentary. There will be those who say divorced and re-married can all take Holy Communion now (this is false) or those who say this Pope is the worst in our history the world is coming to an end (also false). Be leery of those sowing seeds of division. Division is a sign of sin and ideology.  Caution is fine, division and sinful anger are not.
  5. Prayerfully read the document for yourself. If there is something that seems unclear or confusing, pull out your Catechism or read other Church documents, Familiaris Consortio for instance, to help clarify things for you. St. John Paul II really is a go to source for understanding marriage and family life in a theological and philosophical manner. Yes, his phenomenological approach can be difficult, but many orthodox sources have made Theology of the Body more accessible for the Church.
  6. Yes, modernism is a heresy within the Church today. It will take decades, if not centuries, to root it out. Study Gnosticism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, and Arianism if you want to better understand the longevity and virulence of certain heresies. It is clear that individuals within the hierarchy and the laity have fallen prey to the Siren calls of modernism and relativism. What I mean by modernism is the idea that the Church must conform to the world, mainly Western culture. The constant battle for the Church is to avoid turning a small truth into the whole truth. For instance, human sexuality and marriage are gifts and we are sinful human beings, but this is not the entirety of our faith. The Faith rests in the glorified Christ in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is the life of the Trinity that is our end, every other aspect of the Faith must be seen in light of the Triune communion.
  7. The Church survives and continues on while we sinful creatures do our best to destroy her with our sins, including institutional sin. Keep your eyes fixed on Christ and the mission of holiness. Do not allow commentary rob you of joy and peace.
  8. Take a break from social media if you feel sinful anger coming on. There is no sense falling into sin by reading comboxes and commentary that is not meant to lead others to truth and the Faith. What we think is righteous anger very often is, or becomes sinful the more we allow it to consume us. The Passions are difficult to control, so walk away.
  9. Yes, ambiguity in language is frustrating. There has been ambiguity in this papacy. It’s okay to acknowledge the frustration, but it’s not acceptable to turn to sinful anger. Pray for Pope Francis, the Church, and the world. Pray that the light of the Holy Spirit may bring souls into the Church and true conversions.
  10. Keep living the mission. Our mission, sealed in our baptism is to live the priestly, prophetic, and kingly offices of Christ in order to bring the world into conformation with the Blessed Trinity. That is theological speak for living holy lives, loving and serving one another, and fixing our eyes on Heaven. You and I have very little control over what happens in Rome or how things are received by the world in media. All we can do is live the mission God has given us. Each us has a unique mission for the Kingdom. For most of us it is to live our Faith within our sphere of influence, wherever that may be. For some it is a pulpit or social media platform that reaches millions, for most of us, it is simply to lead our children to God and our neighbors. Let’s all keep things in perspective and live our mission.
  11. Be prudent in discussing these matters with others. Don’t advise others in a manner that could lead them to sin or you to sin. Most of us are not experts and even with a graduate level education in progress in Theology, I realize daily just how little I know or understand about it all. Prudence is the least sought after virtue, and yet, the  most important. I struggle with it too. A LOT!
  12. Look for the good, beautiful, and true in the document and incorporate it into your life. Any ambiguity can be answered in light of Tradition, so breathe. Yes, it is disconcerting to see the Faith disfigured and distorted by those who turn AL into ideology, all we can do is share the truth, pray, and fast.

May Our Lord bless you and give you the peace that surpasses all understanding throughout this Easter season. Pax Christi.

An Obsession with Papal Politics and the Cure

VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCE

I see it often and in all circles inside and outside of the Church. In fact, it is a major part of what ails our culture. It is the total focus on now and an ignoring of the long view. Now is important. How we live our lives now, each day is the slow process of our sanctification, but when all decisions are made with the now in mind, there are disastrous results.

Catholics have always taken a long view and that is because we have an eschatological (theological word for last things) end in that we are to waiting to be re-united with Christ. We have a history of waiting. Our eyes should be firmly fixed on Heaven, while we walk our journey in “fear and trembling” by grace. We have a long history and the Church has survived against great odds that can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit.

A lot of the battles the Church has within the culture have to do with a focus on what feels good now. Humanae Vitae was largely rejected at the time because people, clergy and laymen, could not see the long-term effects of birth control on demand that Pope Paul VI saw. They also ignored the long standing tradition on this topic and the fact that the Holy Spirit protects the Church from doctrinal error. Instead, what mattered is that the Sexual Revolution was happening the Church needed to get on board. This is a complete misunderstanding of the Church’s mission, which is the salvation of souls.

I see the same lack of understanding when it comes to Pope Francis. Truth be told magisterial authority is complex, so I see where some of the confusion comes from and since I am new to the theology of it all, I will wait until I am more adept before I explain it. What I can say is that celebrity Popes is a relatively new phenomenon that has gained traction due to technological advances. St. John Paul II had a dynamic personality and he used media to help bring down the Soviet Union. This served a great purpose. What we have now, however; is an almost obsession with the office of Pope. I have seen some people deny the last 2000 years of history claiming he is the greatest Pope we have ever seen and none of the others matter. Pope Francis would be quite upset to hear this, I am sure. I have seen others describe him as the worst Pope in history, as if a few of the nefarious individuals tied to the Borgias and other influential Italian families throughout history were nothing compared to our current Pope. Then there are people like me think he is a holy man who is leading the Church and I will submit to his authority in love and obedience. He is serving within the great tradition of the Church.

The point is that tunnel vision of history creates conflict and then we end up committing the same mistakes over and over again. Pope Francis, for instance, is not concerned about himself. He is trying to share the Good News with the world, which is a part of his office. As faithful Catholics, our obligation is to submit to his ordinary and, if used, extraordinary magisterial teaching authority. We do not have to love his personality, or agree with his tactics on everything, or how he phrases things off the cuff. The Pope is not God and a lot of Catholics need to be careful that they are not engaging in papal worship. I have seen a great many conversations that give me pause and cause me concern. I feel the same way about those folks who make their living attacking the Holy Father. Reality is somewhere in the middle, and anymore, that is where I try to stay planted because that is where the Church is planted.

What we should be doing is pointing to the Holy Father’s mission in light of the 2000 year history of the Church. He is the Vicar of Christ on earth following in St. Peter’s footsteps. He is showing others to Christ. We can use his words to share the Gospel with others. When we focus too much on him, the message gets blurred. And, quite frankly, we need to just ignore secular media reporting on him. A lot of people would have a lot less stress if they stopped trusting or reading secular news on the Church. It is impossible for people outside of the Church to understanding the workings of the Church. To them we are just another big institution with a charismatic man at the head. He is a politician in their eyes. They do not see that we are the communion of the Mystical Body of Christ and that the Holy Spirit is the life of the Church.

We are members of a living history. A history that has survived worse times than now. The Church has always been foreign in this Fallen world. She is the beacon of hope leading to the Holy Trinity and the world will hate and revile her for it. It is important that we live our lives today. We cannot turn our heads focusing on the past, but we can live out our shared and living history in order to focus on the goal, which is Heaven. We can use the vast knowledge and theological understanding given to the Church in order to evangelize the world. The truth of the Good News continues to deepen and grow in understanding through the living history of the Church.  The Church is more than now, she is the summation of what was, what is, and what will be.

I have found that those who are focused on papal politics or an obsession with pelvic issues are lacking in study of history. The Church has always been embroiled in battle, today just happens to be about sex, in the past it was Christology, Mariology, the concept of the Church, etc. Don’t get too caught up in it all. Yes, serve and fight the battles, but do so in trust of Christ and his working. I would say, from previous experience, make sure that you are waging a holy battle. Do not do so because of an impulse reaction of rage or anger. So much of social media is driven by impulse and anger. Pray, fast (I am still working on this), and live the Gospel.  Our high pitched yelling at others does nothing, but enliven the Enemy.  Share the truth, but be prepared for people to ignore it, and in those cases pray.  Share the Good News knowing that we will probably suffer, that is what Christ promised. Live the Gospel, in the end, that is all we can do. I hope your Lent is very blessed.

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