Amoris Laetitia 306: Charity in the Bible

amoris laetitia memeThe Holy Father offers a brief paragraph, but one with significant support from the Bible:

306. In every situation, when dealing with those who have difficulties in living God’s law to the full, the invitation to pursue the via caritatis must be clearly heard. Fraternal charity is the first law of Christians (cf. Jn 15:12; Gal 5:14). Let us not forget the reassuring words of Scripture: “Maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8); “Atone for your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed, so that your prosperity may be prolonged” (Dan 4:24[27]); “As water extinguishes a blazing fire, so almsgiving atones for sins” (Sir 3:30).

Let’s be careful here. The Scriptuiral witness is not that good deeds by themselves instigate being on good terms with God. Remember that New Testament witness cited from Saint John and Saint Paul: Caritas is a law. It is the “first” law we follow in expressing our faith and status as daughters and sons of God. We don’t do good things to punch some grace ticket. We offer charity and love to others as part of the Christian condition. Caritas is a substrate, and environment in which we Christians live, move, and have our being. As flawed mortals, we sin in spite of the good things we do or want to do. But maintaining an active discipleship helps express more than just following a strict moral code can accomplish. For the disciple, the actions are a response to God’s good grace. Not a means of entry into it.

Saint Augustine offers a metaphor:

This is also what Saint Augustine teaches: “Just as, at the threat of a fire, we would run for water to extinguish it… so too, if the flame of sin rises from our chaff and we are troubled, if the chance to perform a work of mercy is offered us, let us rejoice in it, as if it were a fountain offered us to extinguish the blaze”. (De Catechizandis Rudibus, I, 14, 22: PL 40, 327; cf. Evangelii Gaudium 194)

For your reference Amoris Laetitia is online here.

Posted in Amoris Laetitia | Leave a comment

Amoris Laetitia 305: Discernment for Sacraments

amoris laetitia memeWe continue with an examination of the balance between “rules and discernment.” Let’s read carefully here, noting that this paragraph begins with the perspective not of a moral theologian, but a local shepherd who cares for real live sheep:

305. For this reason, a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in “irregular” situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives. This would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings, “sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult cases and wounded families”.(Address for the Conclusion of the Fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (24 October 2015))

I think two questions can rightly be asked of a person well-versed in moral law: When does the citation of such a law draw people closer to God? When does it hinder? It is a well-known principle that good communication requires a good communicator with a good message as well as a recipient open to both the message and the messenger. Make no mistake: effective and fruitful communication can be a demanding task. I don’t disagree with the Holy Father when he suggests that moral law can be used to shield a messenger from the tough work of accompaniment, persuasion, and gradual conversion.

Furthermore, Pope Francis is looking for inspiration. If not an epicletic moment in the ministry relationship:

Along these same lines, the International Theological Commission has noted that “natural law could not be presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions”.(International Theological Commission, In Search of a Universal Ethic: A New Look at Natural Law (2009), 59.)

Carefully …

Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.

Pope Francis’s footnote, the famous #351, reads:

In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (Evangelii Gaudium 44). I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (ibid., 47).

This is an important strain to consider. There is a pelagian danger in attributing sacramental participation to those who, by their own initiative, come to the Lord for an encounter. Salvation comes to a believer by grace, not merit. Sacraments deepen the experience of salvation, and give that encounter with the Lord Jesus. We know from the Gospels that many sinners approached the Lord in his public ministry. He did not withhold his words, his healing, or other benefits in all circumstances. Sometimes, those who considered themselves “established: in religion offered disapproval. The Gospel witness seems clear that those who were not healed or who didn’t attend to his teaching had a different kind of sinfulness, an unwillingness to engage with him. People in objective sin sometimes, but not always, are closed off to the encounter with Christ.

What is a pastor to do? That Ignatian words again: discernment.

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. Let us remember that “a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order, but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties”.(Evangelii Gaudium 44) The practical pastoral care of ministers and of communities must not fail to embrace this reality.

For your reference Amoris Laetitia is online here. But meanwhile, I leave the comments to you readers. Are you seeing difficulty with this? If so, let’s hear it.

Posted in Amoris Laetitia | 3 Comments

Amoris Laetitia 304: Rules and Discernment

amoris laetitia memeShall we look at “Rules and Discernment”? In the previous paragraph, Pope Francis described as “dynamic” the nature of discernment in difficult situations. He is certainly correct. He calls upon the angelic doctor again to help us sort between essential general principles and inevitable situational details:

304. It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being. I earnestly ask that we always recall a teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas and learn to incorporate it in our pastoral discernment: “Although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects… In matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles; and where there is the same rectitude in matters of detail, it is not equally known to all… The principle will be found to fail, according as we descend further into detail”.(Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 94, art. 4)

Again, a reminder that general rules are always part of the fabric of faith:

It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations.

Making rules or law from specific situations is always a bad idea:

At the same time, it must be said that, precisely for that reason, what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule. That would not only lead to an intolerable casuistry, but would endanger the very values which must be preserved with special care.

A longer footnote marks this paragraph’s end:

In another text, referring to the general knowledge of the rule and the particular knowledge of practical discernment, Saint Thomas states that “if only one of the two is present, it is preferable that it be the knowledge of the particular reality, which is closer to the act”: Sententia libri Ethicorum, VI, 6 (ed. Leonina, t. XLVII, 354.)

Where does this leave us? Church teaching unchanged, but a wider latitude for pastors, spiritual directors, accompanists, and others involved in difficult concrete circumstances. I know the Famous Footnote is drawing near, but so far, I don’t see anything in Amoris Laetitia that lies outside of Catholic tradition. What do you think?

Posted in Amoris Laetitia | 2 Comments

Amoris Laetitia 303: The Best We Can Do

amoris laetitia memeFinishing up this discussion on “mitigating factors,” Pope Francis offers his own commentary here. As I’ve found throughout the document, it strikes me as typically Ignatian:

303. Recognizing the influence of such concrete factors, we can add that individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the Church’s praxis in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage. Naturally, every effort should be made to encourage the development of an enlightened conscience, formed and guided by the responsible and serious discernment of one’s pastor, and to encourage an ever greater trust in God’s grace.

Conscience is not something to be formed while a believer struggles within a crisis. It seems that enlightenment is best engaged first when one is solidly and soundly in the light. Also, practice in small matters will develop fortitude and habit for more serious challenges.

Pope Francis mentions the importance of moving in stages. The Ignatian principle of magis comes to mind. While often attached to the over-achieving spirit people often see in Jesuits, I see it as more practical. One wise pastor I worked for often described his wish for parishioners, a gradualist approach to get involved more deeply one step at a time.

Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. In any event, let us recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized.

For your reference Amoris Laetitia is online here.

Posted in Amoris Laetitia | 2 Comments

Easter Vigil Litany of Saints

prayer-22My first exposure to John Becker’s setting was at an RCIA conference in 1993. Other musicians there were going ga-ga over it. And I admit my first impression was that it was a big improvement over the chant version* I had heard for years. (Those versions rarely had the additions offered in BFW by Paul Ford, here.)

After the early 90s it seemed everybody was doing the Becker setting. That’s not to say I didn’t seriously adapt it for my parishes. Cramming up to four saint names in one invocation? Not good. Keeping the music at a crisp tempo meant that those names needed to be more clearly enunciated by cantors. Additions for each year’s catechumenate? Usually that meant deletion of somebody.

Over the years, I’ve kept multiple versions on file. One for All Saints and Lent’s First Sunday: a basic version with saint of importance to the parish. Over the years, I would add diocesan and deanery patrons. Easter Vigil usually meant a whole new verse–and with the structure of the contemporary setting, adding in eights or fours was rather necessary.

In my new parish, it’s been done, and I honored my inheritance last year. These past months I’ve been reconsidering it. After reviewing Paul Ford’s fine article from Pastoral Music a generation ago, I thought a more flexible setting was needed.

After a few weeks of tinkering, I think I have something useful. The catechumenate team and my boss think so. If I get a good recording of it, I might post it here. I have a chant with piano accompaniment in A, but with some flexing around the third and sevenths, depending on what is being sung–martyrs, doctors, the Blessed Mother, etc.. Like the Becker, the response is simple. Unlike the Becker, there is no “antiphon.” I also have the flexibility to add or subtract optional saints and invocations within each section without troubling the overall piece too much.

One of the areas of concern I had involved the limited expression of the Invocations of the Paschal Mystery, so I’ve expanded to this:

By your Incarnation
By your Last Supper with your disciples,
By your Passion and Death,
By your Resurrection,
By your Ascension into glory,
By the outpouring of the Holy Spirit,

Although even here, I wonder about other aspects like “By your Baptism in the Jordan,” or “By your proclamation of the Reign of God.” Or even “By your manifestation to Shepherd and Magi,” but maybe that’s just a little leftover Christmas festivity. At minimum, I thought the inclusion of the complete Paschal Mystery, not just the Death and Resurrection, was important.

*It’s not that I have something against chant as such. I just don’t find many people who can render it with a liveliness fitting the Easter Vigil setting. It’s always been far easier to find a keyboard player who can offer a needed musicality for a piece which, alas, is too often perceived as a “throwaway mandate” from the Missal.s

Posted in Easter, Liturgical Music, Liturgy, Saints | 1 Comment

Amoris Laetitia 302: Particular Mitigating Factors

amoris laetitia memeIn the last paragraph, Pope Francis called on the witness of saints and modern bishops to assist in making the case for factors that mitigate against a blanket approach to all instances of objective sin. He gets specific here, starting with the Catechism:

302. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly mentions these factors: “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by

  • ignorance,
  • inadvertence,
  • duress,
  • fear,
  • habit,
  • inordinate attachments,
  • and other psychological or social factors”.(1735)

In another paragraph, the Catechism refers once again to circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility, and mentions at length

  • “affective immaturity,
  • force of acquired habit,
  • conditions of anxiety
  • or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability”.(2352)

An addition to the footnote just above, Pope Francis included this addition which draws on documents from the early pontificate of John Paul II:

CDF, Declaration on Euthanasia Iura et Bona (5 May 1980); John Paul II, in his (1984) critique of the category of “fundamental option”, recognized that “doubtless there can occur situations which are very complex and obscure from a psychological viewpoint, and which have an influence on the sinner’s subjective culpability” (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 17)

Being able to separate people from the situation in which they find themselves is vital:

For this reason, a negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person involved.(Declaration Concerning the Admission to Holy Communion of Faithful Who are Divorced and Remarried (24 June 2000), 2)

A longer citation from the synod bishops:

On the basis of these convictions, I consider very fitting what many Synod Fathers wanted to affirm: “Under certain circumstances people find it very difficult to act differently. Therefore, while upholding a general rule, it is necessary to recognize that responsibility with respect to certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases. Pastoral discernment, while taking into account a person’s properly formed conscience, must take responsibility for these situations. Even the consequences of actions taken are not necessarily the same in all cases”.(Relatio Finalis 2015, 85)

What are you reading here? We’ve seen quite a bit of this effort expended in the realm of warfare–that’s the first example that comes to my mind. The Church has been rather consistent in maintaining the commandment, “You shall not kill.” At the same time, it has refrained from condemning the general actions of Christian soldiers. Sometimes the cause for war is deemed just. Sometimes when it is unjust, one or more of the conditions listed in the Catechism come into play for individuals: ignorance, duress, habit, etc.. Participating in a so-called just war does not give a blanket permission for unjust acts to take place. And of course, we have people of good conscience who advocate rigor; namely insisting that all war is evil and sinful. Rarely, however, do I read or hear pacifists insist on the sinful culpability of rank-and-file soldiers.

To the annoyance of a few friends, I brought the topic of war into a social media discussion on footnote 351 (it’s coming). They suggested I was hijacking the topic. I disagreed, pointing out how many Catholics have justified recent war on the very basis they criticize Pope Francis and others for advocating less rigor on the remarriage front.

What do you think?

For your reference Amoris Laetitia is online here.

Posted in Amoris Laetitia | Leave a comment

Reconciliation Lectionary: Matthew 22:34-40

mary-the-penitent.jpgA similar passage may be found in Mark, at 12:28-34. We covered that one on this post. The Lucan parallel is in verses 25-28 of that Gospel’s tenth chapter. That brief passage is not given as an option in the Rite of Penance. But this one is:

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together,
and one of them a scholar of the law tested him by asking,
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

The critical difference in Matthew is that last sentence. Let’s consider it again:

The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.

It’s a simple enough message for reconciliation. For Judaism the law and prophets, as personified by Moses and Elijah, are everything. Remember that Matthew presents Jesus as both lawgiver (cf. the Sermon on the Mount) as well as prophet. If we as Christians seek to honor our Lord, we might do well to attend to this, perking up our ears at “law and the prophets,” whenever it’s uttered.

It almost seems too simple when we examine our lives. We could review every action and ask, does it show love for God, or love for neighbor? When we go to confession, we could ask, does this reject God, or reject my neighbor?

We should also note that this reading is one of the few explicitly suggested for Rite II, that for several penitents communally with individual confession and absolution (Rite of Penance, #51). The overarching theme is “Love is the fullness of the law.” The accompanying readings are Deuteronomy 5 & 6, Baruch 1:15-22 for the “psalm,” and Ephesians 5:1-14.

The choice between this reading or Mark 12:28-34 or even Luke 10:25-28 might seem nitpicky, trivial on the surface. But Matthew gets close to the heart of someone who seeks the totality of the call of Christ.

What do you think?


Posted in Rite of Penance, Scripture | Tagged , , | Leave a comment