One P, two L’s, three R’s, and one S.
Pray, learn and listen. Reflect, repent and reform. Then share.
These are this humble believer’s suggestions to those asking the way forward for the faithful unschooled in theology and unfamiliar with the ongoing controversy over Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation on the family, “Amoris Laetitia” (Joy of Love).
The debate looks set to intensify. In America, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops asked Fr. Thomas Weinandy to resign as USCCB consultant, after the Franciscan Capuchin priest and former chief of the USCCB theology committee published a letter lamenting “chronic confusion” in Francis’s pontificate (<http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/full-text-of-father-weinandys-letter-to-pope-francis>). He may also lose his seat on the Vatican’s International Theological Commission (ITC) advising the Pope.
In Europe this Friday, sales start for a book in Italian titled, “Risposte amichevoli ai critici di Amoris laetitiaˮ (Friendly answers to critics of Amoris laetitia). The 208-page work is by philosopher and politician Rocco Buttiglione, who has defended Francis’s exhortation the past year.
Its preface, also arguing for the Holy Father, is by German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, who headed three leading papal advisory bodies from 2012 till June this year: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the highest Vatican entity on doctrinal matters; the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and the ITC.
The light of the Spirit
Infinitely more than renowned thinkers and authorities, however, the paramount fount of wisdom on the faith is, of course, the Source of Revelation, God Himself. Hence, the indispensable first step in resolving religious quandary must be prayer for divine light.
The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, infused Holy Scripture and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church with the truths God wanted man to embrace for salvation. We pray for the Spirit to open our minds, hearts and souls to His wisdom.
We may also turn to great saints who advanced religious knowledge: St. Paul, whose writing and preaching laid the foundations of Christian theology; St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, the towering minds of Roman Catholicism; and St. Catherine of Siena, a laywoman who counseled the Pope, produced influential writings, and healed discord in the 14th century.
Guided by heaven, the faithful should now learn more not just about Amoris issues, but the fundamental tenets of faith and morals at the controversy’s core.
Along with reading about the debate, one must make sure to review parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), especially articles on the Sacraments of Holy Eucharist, Penance and Reconciliation, and Matrimony. Of central interest is paragraph CCC 1650 in the section on matrimony:
“Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ — “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” — the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was.
“If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.”
Since most believers would not have time to read all relevant material, they must listen to the knowledgeable, including clergy, religious educators, theologians, and other experts, in person or in publication.
With parish or diocesan guidance and assistance in inviting speakers, make sure to hear all sides and views, even those one may disagree with. Vatican censure may silence Amoris critics, but like Fr. Weinandy, not all keep quiet.
Educate soul and life
The fruits of prayer, learning and listening should be reflection, repentance and reform: the uplifting and purification of mind, heart, soul and living.
These three R’s bring the abstractions and arguments of moral and sacramental theology to the flesh and blood of one’s own life and person. And that is the only way one can truly and personally understand, resolve and act upon the Amoris issues, and any other religious concern.
Affirming or changing one’s living marks the true and full acceptance of any teaching. Only then can musings in the mind really matter.
At the same time, the three R’s themselves help discern the right way forward. Many people encumbered by some weakness or sin may be tempted to embrace and espouse arguments justifying their behavior. So, a change in ways can help remove possible blinders and biases impairing intellect and judgment.
This applies not just to lay people in compromised marital and sexual situations, but also to clergy who could face intimidation and inducement from hierarchy, congregation, political agenda, and personal ambition. Repent and reform free oneself from pressures to deviate from divinely defined directions.
From musing to mission
After resolving religious issues for oneself, the final step is to share one’s discernment and direction with others. The Christian way of thought and life must always lead to mission, to bring God’s wisdom to others, and more souls to God.
It’s not enough to save oneself while others go astray. Indeed, that lack of charity may condemn, not redeem. Jesus wanted light set on a hill, not put under a bushel basket. We must love others as He has loved us, doing and giving all to save sinners. And His last word before leaving this world: “Make disciples of all nations.“
Like other seminal eruptions in Christianity, from Pentecost and the great ecumenical councils, to the Reformation and Fatima, the Amoris controversy spurs believers to renewed faith, hope, love, and mission. Let us heed our Lord’s call. Amen.