July/August 2016

Amoris Laetitia and Mercy

Michael A. Hayes

Pope Francis’ post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia ‘The Joy of Love’ is his response to two Synods on the Family which he convoked in 2014 and 2015. The process of both Synods was an exploration of families in the context of today’s world and they encouraged a broader vision and a ‘renewed awareness of the importance of marriage and the family’(2). While establishing the importance of unity of teaching and practice for the Church there is a pastoral response that ‘does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it’(3). This is important for Francis as ‘the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth’(3).

In the context of the Year of Mercy the Exhortation is timely: ‘first, because it represents an invitation to Christian families to value the gifts of marriage and the family, and to preserve in a love strengthened by the virtues of generosity, commitment, fidelity and patience. Second, because it seeks to encourage everyone to be a sign of mercy and closeness wherever family life remains imperfect or lacks peace and joy’(5).

For Francis discernment must begin with a reflection on the scriptures and this is where he begins Amoris Laetitia: the vision of families found in the scriptures: ‘the Bible is full of families, births, love stories and family crises’(8). From there he addresses the experiences and challenges of families, returning then to Jesus who begins his public ministry with the miracle at the wedding feast of Cana; he explores love in marriage and love made faithful, he draws out some pastoral perspectives and calls for a better education of children and the role parents have in the moral development of their children. But it is in chapter eight, ‘Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness’ that the Exhortation brings mercy to the fore. Here we have an invitation to mercy and the pastoral discernment in situations that do not fully match what the Lord proposes. He uses the metaphor of a field hospital to describe the Church. ‘The Church illumined by the gaze of Jesus Christ, she turns with love to those who participate in her in an incomplete manner, recognizing that the grace of God works also in their lives by giving them the courage to do good, to care for one another in love and to be of service to the community in which they live and work’ (291). This approach is also echoed in the Pope’s call for a year of mercy where ‘the Church must accompany with attention and care the weakest of her children who show signs of a wounded and troubled love, by restoring in them hope and confidence’(291).

Reaffirming the Church’s understanding of Christian marriage as the consecration of the couple through the sacrament whereby they are granted the ‘grace to be a domestic church and a leaven of a new life in society’(292), he notes that for the Synod Fathers the Church at the same time ‘does not disregard the constructive elements in those situations which do not yet or no longer correspond to her teaching on marriage’(292). The Exhortation reiterates the call to gradualness in pastoral care first proposed by St John Paul II when dealing with those who find themselves in irregular unions. The Pope uses the verbs: guiding, discerning, and integrating. Echoing the Synod Fathers Pope Francis is clear that ‘there is a need to avoid judgements which do not take into account the complexity of various situations and to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience distress because of their condition’ (296). The logic of the Gospel is not to condemn but to reach out to everyone needing help to find his or her way of participating in the ecclesial community so that they too can experience being ‘touched by an unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous mercy’(297).

The exhortation speaks of a process of accompaniment and discernment designed for an awareness of the individual’s situation before God. The Pope sees discernment as a dynamic process and offers five conditions for this process of discernment to happen: humility; discretion; a love for the Church and her teaching; a sincere search for God’s will; and a desire to make a more perfect response to God’s will. In accompanying an individual through this process fraternal charity must be the first law because ‘by thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God’ (305).

For Pope Francis pastoral discernment provides a framework ‘filled with merciful love, which is ever ready to understand, forgive, accompany, hope and above all integrate. That is the mindset which should prevail in the Church and lead us to open our hearts to those on the outermost fringes of society’ (312).

The reception of Amoris Laetitia

Raphael Gallagher CSsR

Theological and pastoral issues in the support of family life remain the same as before the recent Synod on the Family. Has the Synod made a difference in how we respond to the issues? This article suggests how the post-Synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (AL) contributes to the ongoing debate about the family. Raphael Gallagher is an Irish Redemptorist and was an Invited Professor at the Alphonsian Academy, Rome, until 2015.

The magisterial significance of Amoris Laetitia
In the reception of Church documents, two issues emerge as important: the formal significance of the character of the document, and the implied meaning gleaned from the intention of the author. Both are needed to avoid an interpretative mistake. In assessing the reception of papal expressions of the magisterium (as outlined in Lumen Gentium (LG) 28) we look for the significance primarily from the text itself and, within that, understand the personal emphases of a particular pope. In the early reception of AL, there is a curious effort either to downgrade its importance (‘this is only the personal view of one pope, another pope can change it’) or idealise its importance (‘this changes everything, there is no going back’).

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Is a deacon anything more than a liturgical frill?

Thomas O’Loughlin

After centuries when the diaconate was but a passing step towards the presbyterate, many find this idea strange and even awkward. Others believe it is just another clericalist approach to ministry and an un-necessary complication. But could the diaconate bring other benefits? Thomas O’Loughlin is Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham.

There is a constant, but seldom remarked upon, phenomenon regarding ‘optional’ items in any frequently repeated liturgy. Either, that which is optional gradually becomes exceptional, and finally becomes so rare that its presence is seen as a frill, a decoration, and a distraction from ‘the core’ of the event; or, it is included so frequently that it becomes equivalent to a fixed item: it can be omitted, but actually never is. The first course, when the optional becomes a rarity, is by far the most common. In short, that which you can do without is treated as a luxury, an ‘icing on the cake’. One must ask the question whether or not one should devote time and resources to this luxury. This can be seen in matters large and small. The Prayer of the Faithful in a Eucharist celebrated on a weekday is a small example: one need not have it – so omit it – unless it is something special like a local celebration when it becomes part of the ‘special menu.’ Omitting communion from the cup or using the Tabernacle at Mass are other examples: the minimum will do – and has done so for centuries – and so concerns about their appropriateness seem just the crazy foibles of liturgists.

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The Year of Mercy (6): St Paul revisited

Ronald D. Witherup PSS

The author takes a closer look at the attitudes of St Paul towards women and homosexuality. Ronald D. Witherup PSS is Superior General of the Society of the Priests of Saint Sulpice.

A few months ago, as part of a series on the Year of Mercy, I proposed a brief analysis of the letters of Paul for a somewhat surprising view of mercy. At that time, I noted that one area, dealing with delicate passages concerning women or homosexuality, opened a ‘can of worms’ too complex to handle in any detail1. Subsequently, I was urged to expand on this topic, which is the purpose of the present article.

Misperceiving Paul
The impetus for my concern is a lingering attitude in the popular mind that Paul had almost irredeemably negative attitudes towards women and homosexual persons. Others imply he was obsessed with sex or perhaps was sexually repressed. From an objective biblical perspective, I view such judgments as anachronistic and lacking nuance. Moreover, I think there is an underlying crypto-fundamentalist attitude that wants to see every modern trend or tendency justified somehow in the Bible. It seems to be a way to rationalize our own modern preoccupations. While I can only break open the topic here, I hope that it might lead to further serious reflection on the part of readers of the Pastoral Review.

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800 years of new evangelization: Celebrating St Dominic’s dream

Vivian Boland OP

This year marks the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Dominican order. Vivian Boland OP, Vicar of the Master of the Order, looks at their early years.

The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that ‘to preach’ now usually means to give moral or religious advice in an obtrusive or tiresome way. During this centenary year of the confirmation by Pope Honorius III of the Order of Preachers, popularly known as the Dominicans, a look again at the life of St Dominic shows us that his way of preaching was neither tiresome nor obtrusive. It was not obtrusive because it always involved dialogue and conversation with admired companions or respected adversaries. And it was not tiresome because it was concerned with matters of great urgency for human well-being, questions that affected human dignity and people’s understanding of human destiny, what in a traditional and perhaps now clichéd phrase we call ‘the salvation of souls’.

The Languedoc
Perhaps it was because there was no cinema, television or internet, that great public disputations about religion attracted the crowds in the towns of the Languedoc in the early years of the 13th century. Located between Spain and France, and stretching from Toulouse in the west to Montpelier in the east, the region called Languedoc still retains a special character and atmosphere. At the time much was happening in this crossroads to interest especially France and the Papacy.

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