Amoris Laetitia 34: Responsibilities With Rights

amoris laetitia memeRemember that Amoris Laetitia is online in pdf format here. Review or read ahead, as you wish.

Pope Francis hits on one of my favorite memes: that with rights, God also provides us with responsibilities. I recall from my experience with the Spiritual Exercises that God roots our aspirations in context of our life’s responsibilities. Things like family, work, relationships, professional ethics. Individual freedom is not an absolute value that permits a person to run rouoghshod over others and abandon previously discerned commitments. Let’s read:

34. When these factors affect our understanding of the family, it can come to be seen as a way station, helpful when convenient, or a setting in which rights can be asserted while relationships are left to the changing winds of personal desire and circumstances. Ultimately, it is easy nowadays to confuse genuine freedom with the idea that each individual can act arbitrarily, as if there were no truths, values and principles to provide guidance, and everything were possible and permissible. The ideal of marriage, marked by a commitment to exclusivity and stability, is swept aside whenever it proves inconvenient or tiresome. The fear of loneliness and the desire for stability and fidelity exist side by side with a growing fear of entrapment in a relationship that could hamper the achievement of one’s personal goals.

How does such a situation get resolved? That is why people don’t exist in some idealized libertarian isolation. We have friends, mentors, and loved ones with whom to consult, to give us perspective. This doesn’t mean we go looking for someone to tell us what to do. Far from it. Good counsel is not the same as good orders. We talk things out with a trusted companion. We strive for honesty, especially with ourselves. And when we are full of spit, we have someone who can tell us so.

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Amoris Laetitia 33: Individualism

amoris laetitia memeIndividualism, like any approach, can be taken to extremes. And like most vilified philosophies has some root appeal. Pope Francis seems to recognize a balance, but he doesn’t shy away from criticism. From the synod bishops, two quotes:

33. On the other hand, “equal consideration needs to be given to the growing danger represented by an extreme individualism which weakens family bonds and ends up considering each member of the family as an isolated unit, leading in some cases to the idea that one’s personality is shaped by his or her desires, which are considered absolute”.(Relatio Synodi 2014, 5) “The tensions created by an overly individualistic culture, caught up with possessions and pleasures, leads to intolerance and hostility in families”.(Relatio Finalis 2015, 8)

There’s more:

Here I would also include today’s fast pace of life, stress and the organization of society and labor, since all these are cultural factors which militate against permanent decisions.

The danger in our easy diagnoses (against, individualism, relativity, etc.) is that they do not recognize the complexity of modern life–the multiple influences of our various overlapping cultures.

We also encounter widespread uncertainty and ambiguity. For example, we rightly value a personalism that opts for authenticity as opposed to mere conformity. While this can favor spontaneity and a better use of people’s talents, if misdirected it can foster attitudes of constant suspicion, fear of commitment, self-centeredness and arrogance.

Sounds like what happens in the many new opportunities of online media and worldwide communication. Discipline is needed:

Freedom of choice makes it possible to plan our lives and to make the most of ourselves. Yet if this freedom lacks noble goals or personal discipline, it degenerates into an inability to give oneself generously to others. Indeed, in many countries where the number of marriages is decreasing, more and more people are choosing to live alone or simply to spend time together without cohabiting. We can also point to a praiseworthy concern for justice; but if misunderstood, this can turn citizens into clients interested solely in the provision of services.

And so many virtues, generosity and justice among them, get lost or perverted in people’s lives. What do you think?

Amoris Laetitia is online in pdf format here. Read ahead or back, as you wish.

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Amoris Laetitia 32: The Current Reality of the Family

amoris laetitia memeAmoris Laetitia addresses “current reality” in this section and those that follow. Pope Francis cites bishops; first, the 2014 synod:

32. “Faithful to Christ’s teaching we look to the reality of the family today in all its complexity, with both its lights and shadows… Anthropological and cultural changes in our times influence all aspects of life and call for an analytic and diversified approach”. (Relatio Synodi 2014, 5)

Makes great sense. Families are churches, but they are also biological, cultural, and social realities. We cannot avoid analysis on these fronts if we are to gather all the needed info or explore all the possible solutions we may need.

Several decades ago, the Spanish bishops noted that families have come to enjoy greater freedom “through an equitable distribution of duties, responsibilities and tasks”; indeed, “a greater emphasis on personal communication between the spouses helps to make family life more humane”, while “neither today’s society nor that to which we are progressing allow an uncritical survival of older forms and models”. (Spanish Bishops’ Conference, Matrimonio y familia (6 July 1979), 3, 16, 23)

To be sure, analysis like this is a factual tidbit: it states a reality for most families. It doesn’t affirm or condemn. It is just information. As ministers and familoy members, we work with such information to guide us in diagnosis.

The world’s bishops also noted this:

It is also evident that “the principal tendencies in anthropological-cultural changes” are leading “individuals, in personal and family life, to receive less and less support from social structures than in the past”. (Relatio Finalis 2015, 5)

Aside from whether or not this is a good development (depending if one has libertarian or socialist tendencies) this piece of information may point to possible openings for ministry, or possible understandings for harmful situations that didn’t exist as often in previous generations.


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Amoris Laetitia 31: The Experiences and Challenges of Families

amoris laetitia memeWhat’s next? Chapter two stretches from paragraphs 31 through 57. Remember that the whole document Amoris Laetitia is online in pdf format here.

These sections that introduce chapters and themes in Pope Francis’s documents are hardly controversia. But it is worthwile to attend to them because we get the reason why some topics are hit and others not covered.

First, another recent pope, St John Paul II, felt concern for the situation of the family in the contemporary context. The document cited in the footnote below is here.

Let’s read:

31. The welfare of the family is decisive for the future of the world and that of the Church. Countless studies have been made of marriage and the family, their current problems and challenges. We do well to focus on concrete realities, since “the call and the demands of the Spirit resound in the events of history”, and through these “the Church can also be guided to a more profound understanding of the inexhaustible mystery of marriage and the family”. (Familiaris Consortio 4)

Pope Francis concedes that no document can cover the entirety of the matter:

I will not attempt here to present all that might be said about the family today. Nonetheless, because the Synod Fathers examined the situation of families worldwide, I consider it ftting to take up some of their pastoral insights, along with concerns derived from my own experience.

Where does this leave us? We are not looking to the pope and bishops for guidance on every obstacle. And this is good. At some point, couples and parents are urged to conduct their own discernment, and deal with issues according to their formation as Christian believers and disciples.


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Amoris Laetitia 30: The Holy Family

amoris laetitia memeRemember that Amoris Laetitia is online in pdf format here. Read ahead or review, as you wish.

Pope Francis advises we look to the Holy Family:

30. Every family should look to the icon of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Its daily life had its share of burdens and even nightmares, as when they met with Herod’s implacable violence. This last was an experience that, sad to say, continues to affict the many refugee families who in our day feel rejected and helpless. Like the Magi, our families are invited to contemplate the Child and his Mother, to bow down and worship him (cf. Mt 2:11). Like Mary, they are asked to face their family’s challenges with courage and serenity, in good times and bad, and to keep in their heart the great things which God has done (cf. Lk 2:19, 51). The treasury of Mary’s heart also contains the experiences of every family, which she cherishes. For this reason, she can help us understand the meaning of these experiences and to hear the message God wishes to communicate through the life of our families.

A few thoughts on this. Many Catholics are adrift from the life of devotions. Even those who do observe them, usually stick to just a few, and do so in packs. Not to denigrate that, but an important opportunity comes to mind with this final paragraph of Chapter One.

The feast of the Holy Family could be a household festival for any family. Marriage ushers a couple into this feast. The Sunday (most years) between Christmas and New Year’s is an opportunity for cultivating prayer and devotion to the Holy Family. Not just with prayer, but with joy and celebration. Don’t many priests adopt the Curé of Ars as a patron? We married couples have the Holy Family. Every married couple.

Among some Catholics, I hear the outburst, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” Perhaps such an exclamation is well-reserved for times of happiness, not frustration.

Any final thoughts as we prepare to move ahead into Chapter Two?

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Amoris Laetitia 29: To Gaze

amoris laetitia memeWe begin to wrap Chapter One with this passage:

29. With a gaze of faith and love, grace and fidelity, we have contemplated the relationship between human families and the divine Trinity. The word of God tells us that the family is entrusted to a man, a woman and their children, so that they may become a communion of persons in the image of the union of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Begetting and raising children, for its part, mirrors God’s creative work. The family is called to join in daily prayer, to read the word of God and to share in Eucharistic communion, and thus to grow in love and become ever more fully a temple in which the Spirit dwells.

A few questions, then:

Have we taken time to gaze? Not a cursory look, as if we were reading to find what we want or expect, but to look intently to discern what God is telling us. Right now.

It is important to realize that the family is called not to image the Persons of the Trinity, but to strive to reflect their unifying love.

And lastly, it is appropriate, don’t you think, to aspire to daily prayer, reflection on the Word, and sacramental communion?

Remember that Amoris Laetitia is online in pdf format here.

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stm-c-choir-011I was tipped off to this thread at CMAA asking, “Are we required to sing?” I know I’ve written about this before, but my take is this: wrong verb. My sense is this: would that everybody sang. Should they sing? I’m not going that far. My ministry is to ensure they can.

I think a Christian believer at worship has a responsibility to participate, and I can safely suggest this responsibility carries across denominational lines. The experience of Christians is that worship bears fruit for a community and for individuals who participate in it. It is one action described consistently in the New Testament as continuing from the days of life into endless eternity. We even have significant Old Testament references to angels worshiping God. Is a mortal being required to be part of that? Nobody I know can force worship out of anyone. Some try. But it’s not something that concerns me as a worship leader.

Requirement. Duty. Mandate. Should sing. All these are the wrong approaches.

One comment from MaryAnn Carr Wilson struck me:

What’s up with the busybody tendency to look and listen to what everyone else is doing during the sacred liturgy? What’s up with some pro liturgists and some musicians bemoaning everything the (other) faithful are- or aren’t- doing? All that time and energy is wasted!

Sure, notice what’s going on. Then think about what YOU can do to foster more devotion that might lead to more singing. Then accept the fruits, many of which you will never know or see!

I suspect this has a somewhat wider target than intended. Instead of just liturgists and musicians, I think of the occasional cadre of temple police. A priest friend of mine was once captured on video by intrepid dissenters in his choir loft and reported to his bishop. All that time and energy …

With some people I do think there’s too much fretting about what other people are doing. It calls for a movement away from notions of requirement and more toward a focus on Christ and on one’s personal responsibility. Ms Wilson catches busybody liturgists and tattletales alike: focus on the log in one’s own liturgy before harping about the speck in someone else’s.

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