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.

Catholic Exchange: St. John Paul II on the Power of the Rosary

The Rosary of the Virgin Mary, which gradually took form in the second millennium under the guidance of the Spirit of God, is a prayer loved by countless Saints and encouraged by the Magisterium. Simple yet profound, it still remains, at the dawn of this third millennium, a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness. It blends easily into the spiritual journey of the Christian life, which, after two thousand years, has lost none of the freshness of its beginnings and feels drawn by the Spirit of God to “set out into the deep” (duc in altum!) in order once more to proclaim, and even cry out, before the world that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour, “the way, and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6), “the goal of human history and the point on which the desires of history and civilization turn.”

So begins St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, which was promulgated on October 16, 2002, just a couple of years before his death. October is the month the Church devotes to the Holy Rosary and the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary falls on October 7th. It is a prayer and devotion that has changed the lives of many. It is to walk the life of Christ through the eyes of His Mother. Our eyes are ever fixed on Our Savior, but under the loving guidance of the Mother He gave us on the Cross. St. John Paul II referred to devotion to the Rosary as a “genuine training in holiness” that guided Christians in the contemplation of the great mysteries of our Faith.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholics Must Say “No” to Ideology

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There is a disconcerting trend that I observe daily in social media. It is that many Catholics have mistaken their ideology for authentic Catholic faith. This is most typically combined with a misunderstanding of the ordering of politics in regard to the Faith. Many place their political leanings or personal preferences before the Church. This is greatly anti-Catholic, undermines our ability to communicate effectively, and hampers our ability to evangelize the world.

What is the Church? The Church is the visible sign to the world of the reality of the Blessed Trinity. It is Christ’s body made present through the ordained priesthood and sharing of the worshipping community most realized in the Eucharistic presence. In that sign to the world the internal reality of the life-giving Holy Spirit is at work. When we publicly rebuke Satan and enter into Baptism we are not joining an institution. We are joining a communion of believers who are “one body” due to the physical breaking of Christ’s body on our altars. We agree to enter into the mysteries of Christ’s life and death as we descend into or under the waters of Baptism. We are cleansed of our sins and we put on a new man, or as St. Cyril discusses in Lecture 20 of his catechetical series, we are clothed in a new garment.

What are the implications of our Baptism? First, the Catholic understanding of the Church is greatly anti-individualistic. What many Catholics in our country fail to grasp is that rugged individualism is diametrically opposed to Catholic identity. This is one of the many reasons so many Catholics do not understand Pope Francis. They are viewing the Church with an American lens, rather than through authentic Church teaching and history. We are members of a monarchy and a communion. It isn’t just a community, it is a communion that is connected and conformed to the Blessed Trinity through the glorified, crucified, and risen Christ. That means that nothing we do is done in isolation. It means that our very lives belong to Christ first and our neighbors second. The Church is the realization of Christ’s command to love God above all else and our neighbor’s as ourselves. We literally live that commandment in the life of the Church.

The Church’s understanding of communion, does not take away the unique dignity and gifts of the individual person, however, there is a proper ordering of such gifts. Any gifts or mission that God gives each of us stems from our life within the Church and they are meant to be used to further bring the world to Christ. We are representatives of the Church and Christ’s mission to the world. We never act in isolation or separate from our identity as a Catholic. We belong to the visible structure of the Church by virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation. We all partake in Christ’s mission of bring the world in conformity to the Blessed Trinity.

This has far reaching implications for how we interact with the world. All that we do should point towards the eschatological end of all people, namely that we are made for Heaven. When we fall into the trap of ideology, we greatly hamper this call and misinterpret and misrepresent the Church. In fact, it can blur our thinking and proper understanding of good and evil. I saw an article this morning that was so grossly misleading about the situation with Bishop Finn that I saw nothing but ideology. Bishops make mistakes and sin. He made some really bad decisions. We must be able to reason through situations, rather than always assume they oppose our ideology. He did not resign because Pope Francis is on the hunt for “conservatives” (this is ideology in the Church, politics are not theology), rather this Bishop mishandled the sex abuse scandal in his diocese and had to resign.  This is reality. We pray for him and those who were harmed in the process. If we cannot see this situation for what it is, then we have fallen into the danger of ideology.

This is an issue throughout the Church and is not reserved to circles who put their “conservative” ideas before the faith. This has been a major issue on the more Left leaning side since they cannot abandon their desire for sexual freedom that is diametrically opposed to both revelation and tradition. People who support the grave evils of abortion, contraception, and attacks on marriage have placed their own preferences and ideology above Christ and the Church. That is why a satirical site can write an article that this ideology seeks to remove Christ from the Blessed Trinity. Satire is always close to the truth.

Heresy is a partial truth that is taken as the whole. This is the danger of ideology. When we connect ourselves to an idea and make it the yardstick for all of our beliefs we very quickly fall into heresy. The Church is the balance between competing extremes. She has always walked a tight-rope in a world that prefers extremes to truth and reality. If we want to walk this tight-rope then we must live our lives with a clear understanding of our Baptism and the communion we are members of.

First, in our lives we are being conformed to the Blessed Trinity.  That means our lives are united to the mysteries of Christ’s life and death; meaning the Cross. We are asked to sacrifice and give completely. That means abandoning ourselves to what Christ and the Church teach. It means that we are obedient even when we don’t want to be or a teaching is hard. The great internal mystery of the Cross is that Christ gave himself in total obedience to the Father. This is what we are called to. Our sacrifice is an internal act of obedience to the Holy Trinity through our external actions of charity and sacrifice.

Second, we must place the Church first. The Church is a 2000 year old body and her teachings are vast. We must, in humility, accept that we are not the Magisterium. The Church is guided by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the very soul and life of the Church. That means it is God who is acting in her teaching. We do not know better than God. It is crucial that we abandon our ideology if it contradicts the teachings of the Church. Humility is one of the ways we are conformed to the mysteries of Christ.

Third, we must not publicly declare that our ideology is representative of the Church’s teaching. We need to be absolutely sure that we know what we are talking about when we engage in discussions about the Church. Our political leanings, no matter which party, is not fully in line with Catholic social teaching. In fact, both parties in the U.S. contradict social teaching at some level. Of course, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, marriage, etc. supersede certain teachings by virtue of their gravity. The point is that no political party in the U.S. is Catholic and we should not delude ourselves.. In fact, while the American experiment has been a great one, there are many aspects that are in opposition to the Church. I already mentioned that individualism contradicts the idea of communion.

Fourth, we have an obligation to our neighbor. This is what Pope Francis is getting at. By virtue of the communion we are members, we have an obligation to care of the poor, persecuted, and suffering. It is not something that we leave to political powers. It is up to me and you to care for the “least of these”. That means we need to take a good hard look at ourselves and figure out how we should be serving our local community and family.

Fifth, the Church’s moral teaching is clear, concise, and available for all to read. Study it and know it. If you are struggling with a certain teaching then pray about it and seek guidance from an orthodox priest. We are not above the moral law and we must learn that love means obedience, even when it is hard. Christ submitted in obedience to death on a Cross in love of the Father. Do we really think that sexuality or our individualism is greater than that sacrifice?

Sixth, the Church is large and it is much larger than our ideology. Pope Francis’ decisions are complex, as are actions in dioceses, and Magisterial offices. When a Bishop or somebody else resigns it is not always because of whatever ideology you subscribe to. Pray and trust. We must all be mindful that we are not misleading other people by our words and actions.

We are Catholics and that means we are members of something greater than politics or ideology. Politics serve their purpose, but in subordination to our theology. We must live our lives cognizant that how we represent the Church can harm others and ourselves. If we are going to publicly share our faith (we are all called to share the Good News), let’s make sure we know what we are talking about. We have the greatest gift to offer the world: The Holy Eucharist. By virtue of our Baptism, we get to touch the broken and glorified body of Christ. We get to eat his body in order that we may be spiritually in communion with him and united in a physical reality in which God uses our senses to reach us. We must engage the world through the eucharistic communion that we are united in through the Mystical Body. THAT is our center. It is love Himself who is on our altars. We have the answer to the pain of the world. We have the answer to the meaning of life. It is time for Catholics to abandon ideology and return to the mission: Bringing the world to the glory and charity of the Blessed Trinity. We must say “no” to ideology.