Friday, 8 April 2016

You know you're Catholic when...

...you have to withdraw from social media until after you've read the Apostolic Exhortation on the family to avoid spoilers!

Following my highly successful thoughts from the working document, I may update with my musings as I go, or when I finish, or never...read into that what you will.

Update 16:30:
For someone who laments long homilies, Francis takes his time to get to the point! But the first chapter is a really good grounding in the Theology of the Body of St JPII rooted in Sacred Scripture. Key ideas being that the family is an icon of the love of the persons of the Trinity, that love is free, total, self-giving and fruitful, and that work seems to be a key part of human dignity.

Chapter two presents some thoughts coming out of the witness of the questionnaires sent around the world. Francis seems to chastise those who hold to strict doctrine...but he doesn't quite go as far as to dispense with it...leaving the people in a confused state where there is 'room for the consciences of the faithful' ...for the church is 'called to form consciences, not to replace them'. The issue is that conscience is about effectively applying the abstract norms and doctrines (that he seems so wary of stressing) into the concrete lived realities of life; it makes no sense to both demand the church proclaims how people should 'do family' in specific and realistic ways without replacing the role of conscience. However, there is some very good content here too about the difference between freedom and the ''idea that each individual can act arbitrarily''. It also goes on to include affordable housing alongside all the other stuff (hence the length of this document!). He gives the example of a single parent leaving the child alone to go to work...but it is unclear to me what this is an example for..

Chapter three looks at the role of the family, reminding us that the parents are the primary carers and educators of their children and the state should not replace them ordinarily - I'd suggest the SNP's nominate person system borders on depriving parents of this right. I liked this quote: "By becoming one flesh they embody the espousal of our human nature by the Son of God". It affirms the Church's stance that abortion and euthanasia are morally wrong (always and everywhere)...but then throws in a rejection of the death penalty in similar language - Benedict XVI (pre-Pope) - made it clear that the Church has not spoken definitively and bindingly on the faithful on this matter.

So on I go!

Update 19:00:

Chapter four
 offers an interesting exegesis of Paul's hymn of love in Corrinitians, and some particularly valuable reflects on the relationship between married life and consecrated virginity. In this Francis talks about the mutual enriching of these states of life - how celibacy can be a sign of total devotion to the kingdom looking to Heaven, while married life demands fidelity and steadfastness in another way here in this moment.

Chapter five deals with fruitfulness, talking about the roles of adoption and foster care. Large families are a blessing, though not required. He has said already that procreation isn't the sole aim of marriage, He goes on to talk about the role of the elderly in society. He does make an interesting point about what it means to 'discern the body of the Lord' and seems to suggest that this shouldn't be taken to refer to the Eucharist but to a degree of understanding of fellow church-goers (who are, after all, the body of Christ)...it feels like he might be preparing to say that closed communion is too judgemental...in spite of the clear teaching of the Church historically...but we'll see!

Update 09/04/2015 23:00

Chapter six offers a vague array of specific insights (I deliberately juxtaposed vague and specific here) into marriage preparation and other related ideas. A great quote is that 'marriage preparation begins at birth' - the idea that formal marriage preparation is a gift to the children of the future parents as much as for the parents themselves. Some parts seem unclear - he talks about love being more than a feeling..but then talks about young love's excitement being a propelling force. "Each marriage is a kind of 'salvation history'" working towards deeper relationship and unity. Classes and meetings have limited use to many couples today. He talks about the role of effective communication between the parties.  He likes the phases 'please', 'thank you', and 'sorry'. He says that "divorced people who have not remarried often bear witness to marital fidelity" but that those in irregular unions are not excommunicated.  Yet, "divorce is an evil. Same-sex unions are not like marriage, but those struggling with same-sex attraction should be respected and seek God's will.

Chapter seven deals with education. It reaffirms the role of the parent, but stresses the need for authentic sex education to teach modesty, masculinity/feminity, and mutual respect. It talks about the benefit of using personal testimonies not authoritative rules to propose the faith effectively to young people - it's harder to argue with experience!It is noted that families involved in mission often pass this zeal to their children.

Chapter eight return to the ideal of marriage in the Gospel which reflects Christ and his Church - it:1- is between mana nd women, 2 - giving themselves a- freely, b- faithfully, c-exclusively, 3- until death, 4- open to life, and 5- consecrated by the sacrament. Some other unions are partially good and comparable to marriage, while others are not. Francis talks about gradualness - people move towards embracing the fullness of the Gospel in time and the Church should be patient with people still journeying. He rightly points out that no-one (presumably meaning those who are still alive) is condemned for ever, there is always hope...but sin can separate from the community. Here the pope is difficult to read. He talks about second unions being "consolated over time", perhaps they are good for children and besides the individual might be "subjectively certain in conscience that their previous... marriage had never been valid". He does not say it, but it seems as if he is suggesting a looser understanding of marriage less bound by the witness of the state/church - after all the couple does confer the sacrament on each other so why not say that a couple who have decided to live as husband and wife yet are not formally married can be seen as married in a moral sense. The church could alter the way in which she regulated marriage..but Francis doesn;t seem to want to change the rules formally. He mentions living as 'brother and sister' but seems to view this as unreasonably difficult for people to be expected to always follow. He warns of the danger of scandal with informal exceptions granted by priests to the norms, but seems to encourage flexibility. Pope Francis says that those living in irregular unions should not be equated to being in a state of mortal sin on that basis alone. He scolds those who proclaim the church's teachings as 'sitting on the chair of Moses' presumably disparagingly seeing them as modern Pharisees...yet in Mt 23:!-3 Jesus says to follow the teaching of these people and warns against those who do not act in accord with it! Frustratingly, considering the obvious interest in the issue of divorced and remarried persons receiving communion he is anything but clear. He does say earlier that the reception of the Eucharist at the marriage ceremony should be 'in keeping with the general norms'. But, he hides in a footnote that the sacraments can help build the grace working in those people's lives who find themselves in irregular unions...but doesn't answer the question. It seems to me that he wants priests to allow it, but doesn't want to say it explicitly since it goes against the main practice of the Church up until now.  But then, confusingly, he goes on the say we shouldn;t hold back from proclaiming the idea and that relativism shows a lack of fidelity to the Gospel... this document can and will be used by whatever 'side' of the Church to claim the pope's support - it's long and wordy and open to interpretation. Initially,I am disappointed in this chapter especially.

Chapter 9 returns to more encouraging ideals of married life. (as an aside, he seems to  view vatican 2 as some distant historical event rather than a relatively recent experience..). He talks of marriage being a form of praise. I was concerned that the phase ' union with Jesus ..can help avoid a breakup' could be a painful read for those who have suffered relationship breakdown through no fault of their own. Francis does point out the intimate connection between the Eucharist and Marriage - the love of God  for his people is expressed in terms of marriage and conversely marriage mirrors Christ's love which was total, fee self-gift upon the cross. He ends with a prayer to the Holy Family, and it is given on St Joseph's day - a man of chastity and a model for all married and single persons.

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Well that's me at the end. I'll have to reflect more. But it is worthwhile putting these initial views down. I' not a cleric and so it is right to encourage a degree of open debate without the danger of scandalizing a flock that a priest might have! My initial thought is that this document contains a whole host of fantastic reflections and teaching on the role of sexuality in love, presenting the complex teaching of JPII on Theology of the Body is a compact and relevant way. But, because it opens up the role of conscience to such an extent that any norms seem almost meaningless this document will be a polarizing one for the Church and this pontificate. Fortunately, the sense of the faith and the grace of God can carry us through and help us learn to see more clearly with time how to live out the kingdom joyfully in this complex world! Where else will we go, Christ and his Church has the message of eternal life!

J.M.J.

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