Synodalia: What is Love?

Anthony Fisher OP, Archbishop-Elect of my hometown, Sydney, has penned an article posted on the website of his new diocese. Its context is the Synod, and he addresses some very topical issues. But it is his opening lines that arrested this reader’s attention:

I think the biggest challenge to the family today is that people have forgotten how to love. That sounds odd, I know, but what I’m getting at is the cross-shaped Easter sort of loving rather than the heart-shaped Valentine’s sort of loving. We are less and less willing to commit, for the long haul, to another person or a small community of persons, come what may, even when the loving is hard. We are less and less willing to engage in the self-sacrifice that requires, the compromising of our willfulness, even unto death.

One of my homiletic preoccupations (obsessions?), as the boys at this morning’s Mass at Winchester College will attest, is to replace the concept of love that is rammed down our throats by amusing but vacuous romantic comedies, sitcoms, light literature and substance-less magazines – of emotional intoxication with another: “falling in love” – with the Christian concept of love. The Christian concept of love – Christian because perfectly modelled in the person of Jesus Christ – has less to do with transient emotions and more to do with selflessness and self-sacrifice. This is not love as a state of being or an emotional state; but love as a state of doing, a way of living.

valentine-heart

cross

                   OR

 

 

 

This love is pithily and effectively summed up by Archbishop Fisher: it is Cross-shaped, not valentine-shaped. for when the emotional buzz of what is often mistakenly called love (instead of infatuation or even, sometimes, lust) has passed, what are we left with? All too often today the result is broken marriages, or broken relationships since so many do not make that permanent commitment which is the basis of marital love. When “love” is defined by what I feel rather than what I give, we are dealing with a chimera at best, a counterfeit at worst.

This is not to deny that love has an emotional element. Christ does not advocate a soul-less, robotic form of loving. Rather, it is that the emotional element – the “buzz”, the high, the pleasure, the sweetness, the joy – is meant to come after, or at least concurrently with, the doing of love, the self-giving, the self-sacrifice. Emotions come and go, so they can be no real test of love. Commitment, self-denial, self-sacrifice, self-giving: these are the marks of authentic love.

“Greater love has no one than to lay down one’s life for a friend; you are my friends if you do as I command you”. And what did Christ command: to love God and to love our neighbour. Christ laid down his life for us, and we prove ourselves at least partly worthy by doing as he did. “I have left you an example”. “If you would be my disciple, take up your cross, and follow me”. God’s love, Christ’s love, is cross-shaped.

It is this commitment to self-less self-giving that is the best, yea the only, human foundation of marital love. So if the Church’s, which is to say Christ’s, teaching on love – its duties and its limits and its measure – leaves some people feeling exposed or judged, the problem lies not with the teaching but with people’s faulty living, imperfect choices, unwise decisions. Shooting the messenger will help no one. Denying the message will do even worse damage. If Christ has taught us the truth about love, the love that brings us to life eternal, though vales of tears and dales of joy, then there is only one message the Church can teach, and only one choice we can legitimately make for our own good.

The Christian teaching of two millenia on love have the guarantee of Christ and the validation of experience in the lives of those who all too often do not make the news, the women’s magazine or the lad-mag, or popular music. But these do not reflect the reality of most people’s lives. Most people’s lives are too mundane to make for arresting music or literature or cinema. They set up an ideal impossible to attain; indeed it is no ideal at all. It is a snare, trapping the unwary in the vicious circle of self-obsession.

Perhaps the greatest need today in popular theology, and certainly in the homiletics of our parishes and chaplaincies, is to recover and promote the truth about love and expose the toxic sham that modern secular culture substitutes for it. Love is, as the archbishop said, cross-shaped not valentine-shaped, and our loving will be vain until we fully comprehend this.

Synodalia: A Mixed Bag

Rome is proving to be as much a hotbed of intrigue  as it ever was. This Synod is frightening in that, given this day and age, so little direct information is coming from it. Yet some are doing their detective work, and some of the news is heartening, some of it not.

From Rorate comes a fascinating bulletin, containing a little joy to balance its affliction. The joy is that Cardinal Burke is not the pariah some have been making him out to be. A few weeks ago came the ominous rumour that he was about to be removed from the Signatura, and thus from the Curia, and into a benign and powerless sinecure. Then some (as noted in the Rorate artcile) said his interventions at the Synod were received coldly. We cannot know for sure given the information quasi-blackout. Yet Rorate took a factual list and deduced quite soundly that he cannot be in such low esteem with the bishops given that a group of them have elected him moderator of one of the groups preparing a final submission. If this is an accurate measure of the esteem in which he is held, it will be a brave move indeed to move him out of the Curia. However, Pope Francis is not timid.

Cardinal Burke

Cardinal Burke

Indeed it seems several very orthodox bishops have been elected to these reporting committees. Now we can see why Cardinal Kasper might want a news blackout, and why Cardinal Mueller wants every bishop’s speech published. Cardinal Mueller’s logic is quite defensible: all Catholics have the right to know what their bishops have said. But with so many orthodox, hold-the-line bishops being elected, Pope Francis’ “ad hoc, and without prior announcement” appointment of six extra prelates to help the (orthodox) Cardinal Erdö of Budapest compose the final document to be sent to the pope, we see what can not unreasonably be seen as an attempt to head off the orthodox school. Given that Cardinal Kasper regularly falls back on “I have discussed this with Pope Francis” as his defence of last resort, one could deduce with some confidence that he has had a hand in these appointments.

Has Fr Z and Fr Hunwicke have pointed out, among these new appointees will be found no Africans. Three hispanics, but no Africans. The Africans have very strong views on family and marriage in their local context, as witnessed by South African Cardinal Napier this week, and he makes some excellent points. The Africans speak boldly. They represent the fastest growing region of the Church. They are not trusted to help draft the final relatio. A pity.

Cardinal Napier

Cardinal Napier

So Burke waxes, and transparency wanes. Let’s all stay tuned.

Synodalia: A positive case

An article by Louise Mensch in The Spectator recently is beginning to get some attention. Indeed, it is worthy of attention in the context of the Synod of Bishops now underway in Rome. Louise Mensch is Catholic and a former member of the UK Parliament. Her article was remarkably timely, and really rather brave. She is upfront about her status vis-à-vis the Church that has arisen because of her civil divorce and remarriage.

Yet she is adamant that the Church’s teaching and practice cannot be changed to make her feel better. She goes to Mass but does not approach the altar save for a blessing. She clearly believes in the importance and integrity of the Eucharist. She does not support those who would change Church practice (and thereby its teaching as well) to suit her.

She makes some interesting suggestions, authentically pastoral ones, that deserve attention and a fulsome answer. Hopefully some bishops are listening to this particular voice from among the faithful. We should pray that the day will come when she can licitly receive Communion. Her solidarity deserves a similar response from us.

The end of the article is fascinating. It recounts the one time she did partake of the Eucharist after her remarriage. On that occasion, she actually did a good thing. Do read it.

Louise Mensch: I’m a divorced Catholic. And I’m sure it would be a mortal sin for me to take Communion

Synodalia: Losing Perspective

A cold so far kept somewhat at bay decided last night to move its entire wagon train down my throat and into my chest. This is probably not a good moment to be writing. But prudence was never my forte.

One of the annoyances of the Synod of Bishops underway in Rome is that none of the speeches or interventions are being published. Rather, the Press Office is providing summaries. This is a real problem. The summaries raise as many questions as they answer. It would not be so worrying if some of its members had not conducted often vigorous media campaigns before the Synod began, preparing a type of Synod of the Media, reminiscent of the Council of the Media concurrent with Vatican II that Pope Benedict lamented before he left the papal office. This Media Council held the world’s attention and not the ecumenical Council itself. Many have likened the flurry of hopes and opinions expressed before the Synod to the situation before the release of Humanae Vitae in 1968: having set up an expectation of probable change, the reaffirmation of the Church’s teaching was experienced as a great disappointment by those whose hopes had been unreasonably raised.

Friends on Facebook posted a link to a blog of commentary by Catholic Voices. Yesterday’s post there by Austin Ivereigh was fascinating and disturbing. To quote,

[Archbishop] Fernández embodies the pastoral focus of this reformed synod, a focus which hasn’t been so evident in Rome since the Second Vatican Council.

The synod fathers have suggested, he said yesterday, that the light of Gospel truth be seen less as a spotlight or lighthouse — which remain fixed — as a torch which is carried and moves among the people, and especially among the poor, the suffering, and the sinners.

The first sentence is a gratuitous assertion of an ideological position that will stand little close inspection. But what it implies, and which is taken up in the second sentence, needs unpacking.

Yet again, “pastoral” is being distinguished from and opposed to “doctrinal”. Doctrine is “the light of Gospel truth” that is fixed, “like a spotlight or lighthouse”, whereas pastoral sensitivity  is a “torch” – do you get it?: not an artificial light but a living flame – which “moves among the people, and especially among the poor, the suffering, and the sinners.” Who are these sinners that are given especial focus? Is not the Church on earth composed entirely of sinners?

Archbishop Fernandez, Rector of the Catholic University of Buenos Aires

Archbishop Fernandez, Rector of the Catholic University of Buenos Aires

It seems Archbishop Fernandez tried to have it both ways and cover over the implication of his words by later saying “When we say it’s a pastoral synod that doesn’t mean we can’t deepen doctrine, otherwise it would suggest that the pastoral is some kind of second-tier theology, that doesn’t involve thinking.”

Yes, well, that sounds good. Yet just before this Mr Ivereigh says that Archbishop Fernandez maintained that as the torch of  Gospel truth moves among the people, especially the poor, suffering and sinners,

the pastors learn as well as teach. The greatest lessons about marriage and family are learned from people who live the Gospel in the love and mercy they show to each other yet who may never have read a single church document.

What lessons are these? Lessons in the truth of Christ’s teaching, or lessons in the messiness of human living, a messiness very often arising from people’s poor choices and sinfulness? The distinction is important.

The answer comes later when Mr Ivereigh turns his attention to Archbishop Durocher of Gatineau in Quebec. The bishop maintained that,

In the Church usually there is a deductive method, but in the synod we are trying a new inductive method. We’re learning to use the Harvard case study method in reflecting on peoples’ lives. This will take time for us to learn to do.

Archbishop Durocher of Gatineau (Canada)

Archbishop Durocher of Gatineau (Canada)

So, the Gospel torch is not so much to shine the truth on sinners that they might be enlightened and shown the path back to God. Rather, it is to reveal the reality of their lives as lived so that we can reflect on this reality in a doctrinal context and adapt the latter accordingly. Is this reading too much into it? Not really. Says Mr Ivereigh:

It’s an approach that says there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question, for example, of the divorced and remarried, and that what the Church needs is greater flexibility in applying solutions tailored to particular cases.

This sounds very much like situation ethics revived. Morality “tailored to particular cases” is in effect to say, Gospel truth edited to suit particular cases, presumably so as not to impose burdens, such as guilt, on people, and so make them feel even worse than they do already as they cope with the messiness of human life, their choices and their sins.

There is a lot more in this Catholic Voices blog post that deserves attention, but for now this dichotomy set up between pastoral and doctrinal needs to be considered carefully. To paraphrase a little, the pastoral approach does theology from below, starting with the people and their lived experience; the doctrinal approach does theology from above, from God and his revelation. The one is anthropocentric, the other theocentric.

While the lives of sinners, for example, may have much to teach us about earthly human reality, they have much less to teach us about divinely-revealed truth. God has revealed his will and his commandments with a precisely pastoral purpose, to show us how to live in a fallen world in which we make fallible, selfish even sinful choices; to live in a way that will allow us to share in His life both here and now, and in eternity. The way to God is determined by God and has been revealed by Him above all in Christ, for us and for our salvation.

Given the once-modish mantra “What would Jesus do?” is still repeated occasionally, we look with profit to Jesus’ teachings and actions. Jesus, who mixed with the sinners and the outcast, gave them some hard truths. One was to reaffirm the permanence and indissolubility of marriage in the Christian dispensation. Divorce in Mosaic law had been a provisional concession, taught Jesus, that he was now bringing to an end:

Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”  (Mark 10:5-12)

Is Jesus somehow not being pastoral? Or might it not rather be that he is teaching the full truth, and not resiling from it, precisely because this is God’s truth, and the way to reach Him and all that He has promised us? Who are mere humans to change God’s revelation? If these questions can be answered in another way I would really like to hear it.

Perhaps now we can deduce the best conception of what is pastoral: the presence of the Church among sinners, holding the fixed light of Gospel truth to reveal to them a way out of self and onto the path to God, and thus to true consolation and lasting joy.

When it comes to morality, perspective is all important. If morality starts with humanity, and becomes primarily a tool to ease human discomfort then we tread a dangerous path indeed, that very path Christ warned us against. If morality, instead, starts with God and is seen as the means by we live as God intends us to live, we are on much safer ground. And it is about safety. Our eternal life depends on it. It is this eternal perspective that seems too often absent in the current debates.

Mr Ivereigh quoted Cardinal Pell in his blog piece, and that quotation bears repeating:

Some may wish Jesus might have been a little softer on divorce, but he wasn’t. And I’m sticking with him.

Synodalia: the deeper crisis of marriage and family

At the beginning of the Synod of Bishops on the Family and Married Life, an Australian married couple, the Pirolas, addressed the Synod Fathers. It was not terribly helpful except in that it gave voice to the world and the secular viewpoint, and perhaps even the sentimental one.

In a breathtaking display of apparent partiality, a Polish married couple involved with the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family were not invited to speak. Indeed it seems no one from that worldwide Institute (founded in 1982) was invited to speak to the Synod, Sandro Magister has revealed. Thankfully Ludmila and Stanislaw Grygiel were invited to address the pre-synodal meeting of the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe. Magister quotes extracts from their speeches. Do read them at Magister’s blog page. For now, a few quotes are worthy of highlighting.

Stanislaw Grygiel

Stanislaw Grygiel

From Stanislaw‘s speech:

John Paul II approached every marriage, even broken ones, as Moses approached the burning bush on Mount Horeb. He did not enter into their homes without first taking the sandals from his feet, because he saw present in them the “centre of history and of the universe.” […] This is why he did not bend himself to their circumstances and adapt his pastoral practice to them. […] At the risk of being criticized, he insisted on the fact that it is not circumstances that give form to marriage and the family, but it is instead these that give form to circumstances. First he accepted the truth, and only afterward the circumstances. He never allowed the truth to be left out waiting in the wings. …

One evening at his home, during the 1960’s, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla had been listening in silence for a long time to the talk of some Catholic intellectuals who were predicting the inevitable secularization of society. […] When they had finished speaking, he said only this: “Not even once did you use the word ‘grace.’” What he said then I remember now every time I read the statements of theologians who speak of marriage with no awareness of the love that comes about in the beauty of grace. Love is grace, it is a “gift of God.” …

If this is the way things are with love, inserting into theological arguments the adage, full of pity but opposed to mercy, nemo ad heroismum obligatur, no one is obliged to be a hero, is demeaning to man. It demeans him by contradicting Christ, who on the mountain of the beatitudes says to all men: “So be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

With broken marriages and families, we must com-patire [suffer with] and not have pity. In that case, pity has within itself something disparaging for man. It does not help him open himself to the infinite love to which God has oriented him “before the creation of the world” (Eph 1:4). Pitying sentimentalism is a forgetting of what the things of man are like “from the beginning,” while com-passion, suffering along with those who have gotten lost “in the dark forest,” reawakens their memory of the Beginning and indicates the way back to it. …

Basing his insights not only on his personal experience but on the truth of Christ, especially as elaborated by St John Paul II, he reminds us that to leave truth and grace out of human marriage is to direct such unions towards failure. Marriage, a gift from God and a grace, involves a commitment to truth that should shape the lives of the married couple – their fallible life choices should not shape their marriage. It is another way of saying that Christians have a mission to transform the world with God’s grace, not to be transformed by the world.

Stanislaw also puts before us the true meaning of compassion, a brave and painful “suffering with”, not some quick-fix sentimentalism, or worse, condescending pity. Pity would ignore the truth to make the sufferer feel better; compassion involves walking with the sufferer and leading him or her back to the right path of truth, and to the reason for our creation.

Stanislaw is warning the Church not to enthrall itself to a purely worldly, temporal, humanistic view of human living and suffering, but to embrace the Christian concept of the centrality of the Cross in the life of all disciples, a Cross that leads from this short life to the eternal life of heaven, where the suffering of this short life finds its meaning and its resolution. The Church needs again to preach courage!

Ludmila Grygiel

Ludmila Grygiel

Ludmila came at the issue from a different angle entirely, but perhaps even more powerfully.

Chesterton said that we do not want a Church that will move with the world, but a Church that will move the world. Paraphrasing his words, we could say that families today, those in crisis and those that are happy, do not need pastoral care suited for the world, but pastoral care suited for He who knows what the heart of man desires. …

Christ agrees to speak with a woman who is living in sin. Christ is not capable of hating, he is capable only of loving, and therefore he does not condemn the Samaritan woman but reawakens the original desire of her heart, which is obfuscated by the experiences of a disordered life. He forgives her only after the woman has confessed that she does not have a husband.

In this way the Gospel passage recalls that God does not make a gift of his mercy to one who does not ask for it, and that recognition of sin and the desire for conversion are the rule of mercy. Mercy is never a gift offered to someone who does not want it, it is not a product on sale because it is not in demand. Pastoral care requires a profound and convinced adherence of pastors to the truth of the sacrament. …

lack of confidence in the family on the part of pastors is among the main causes of the crisis of pastoral care for the family. This cannot ignore the difficulties, but must not dwell upon them and admit discouragement and defeat. It must not conform to the casuistry of the modern Pharisees. It must welcome Samaritan women not to hide the truth about their behavior, but to lead them to conversion. …

… in spite of the hardness of heart of his contemporaries [Christ] re-proposed a model of marriage as God had wanted it from the beginning.

I get the impression that we Christians talk too much about failed marriages, and too little about faithful marriages, we talk too much about the crisis of the family and too little about the fact that the community of marriage and the family assures man not only earthly happiness but also that of eternity, and is the place in which the laity’s vocation to holiness is realized. …

Ludmila joins her husband in reminding the Church that marriage has a supernatural and eternal end, above and beyond its temporal and natural end. God’s mercy is something only the repentant can receive, and our mercy must always directed not to indulgence, but to gently leading the sinner to repentance, and thus to God. God might be present to us in the depths of our sin, but only that we might move from sin to holiness.

Yet she is most striking in her bold challenge to the clergy of the Church: marriage must not be defined but its failures but by its essential truth. Moreover, the clergy must have confidence in the family and marriage; if they do not, they undermine the people’s confidence. This clerical crisis of confidence, this lay woman says, is “among the main causes of the crisis of pastoral care for the family”. Many clergy obsess so much about the pastoral care of those who have failed to commit to marriage in times of trial (for whatever reason, some of them profoundly sad, some of them strikingly selfish), that they leave to themselves those married couples struggling to endure times of marital crisis. Concern for those who have divorced (in civil terms that is) must never preclude the duty to support married couples and families as the Christian norm.

If pastors will not commit 100% to the truth about marriage and family life, and thus about the role of human sexuality, is any wonder so many Catholics are in a crisis of living, and a crisis of faith. Perhaps the implication of Ludmila’s speech needs to be stated clearly: the modern crisis in human sexuality and marriage is in large measure due to the failure of clergy to speak the truth in love.

With Ludmila and Stanislaw we can truly say we hear the voice of God’s faithful people, the sensus fidelium so often misidentified.

This couple should be at the Synod. They have more to say that is from God than the Pirolas.

Missing the real point: the debate on Communion for remarried divorcees

The deeper issue beneath the debate on the admission of remarried divorcees.

Synod or no Synod, I still believe this.

Pax.

Another bishop falls, by his own hand

Having just hours ago posted about the deposing of an ostensibly orthodox and upright bishop in Paraguay who sadly lacked good judgment when perhaps it mattered most, news has come through that an ostensibly liberal bishop much closer to home has resigned due to his failure to keep the priestly vows.

Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton this afternoon released this statement:

I am sorry to confess that, going back some years, I have been unfaithful to my promises as a Catholic priest. I would like to reassure you that my actions were not illegal and did not involve minors.

As a result, however, I have decided to offer my resignation as bishop with immediate effect and will now take some time to consider my future.

I want to apologise first of all to the individuals hurt by my actions and then to all of those inside and outside the diocese who will be shocked, hurt and saddened to hear this.

I am sorry for the shame that I have brought on the diocese and the Church and I ask for your prayers and forgiveness.

There will be no further comment.

It is a sad day for the Church in England, and as sad a day for Bishop Conry whose career has now come to a crashing halt in such public fashion. We can only pray that as he considers his future he will make sound decisions that are for his own spiritual good and the good of the Church. Cardinal Nicholas commented that this affair “makes clear that we are always a Church of sinners called to repentance and conversion and in need of God’s mercy.” Repentance and conversion are indeed the order of the day for Bishop Conry; may he embrace this path and make his amends, at least with God.

Bishop Kieran Conry

Bishop Kieran Conry

Not surprisingly, the demise of an outspokenly liberal bishop has not been without some degree of satisfaction in some quarters. More significantly, some are asking questions that we can safely expect to assume some prominence in the next few days and weeks of fallout. Some are obvious enough, so we may as well prepare for them. Conry’s infidelity, by his own admission, goes back “some years”. Some will ask for more clarity as to this vague measure of time. Some will ask, why now resign? Some have already noted the longstanding rumours about Conry’s private life and have asked how much those in the English hierarchy knew when they pushed him forward to be bishop. Was this yet another cover-up, perhaps more palatable because the dalliance did not involve (1) a male nor (2) a minor?

Indeed, some have desired at least one outcome to this sad affair:

But perhaps at last Rome will wake up to the fact that the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales is an old boys’ club that looks after its own. Kieran was one of the lads. If he hadn’t been, I suspect this scandal would have broken years ago.

I am too lowly to offer informed opinion here on such an assessment of the state of the English and Welsh bishops’ conference, nor would I want to do so. Nevertheless, in the light of the recently reported negative attitude of the Paraguayan bishops’ conference towards one of their own, the question arises almost naturally as to whether the local bishops’ conference held Bishop Conry in such positive regard as to be dangerous both for him and for the Church in England.

Looking back at Bishop Conry’s statement, some other questions will no doubt emerge from it. Of particular interest will be his future. Some might wonder of the wording of the statement is so composed as to allow for his leaving the priesthood altogether to be with his companion. He has been breaking his vows with her for “some years” (and so is not a lapse or a moment of weakness), and confesses and apologizes for the infidelity to his vows and to those who will be “hurt” by it, and for the shame it has brought on “the diocese and the Church” – but not, it seems, on himself. In other words, he seems to repent not of the relationship itself, but of its circumstances.

If so, that is better than nothing, and better late than never. However, one might wonder how a continuing relationship with his partner would cope with the aftermath of any resignation from the episcopacy and priesthood. It may only bring further harm on himself and his partner. Another path he could take is to repent fully and comprehensively, to re-commit to his vow of celibacy and resume, after a suitable period, the priestly ministry. Then, indeed, something of great and manifest value could be salvaged. The Church always benefits from the example of sinners who repent. Why could this not be the new direction his life should take? What fruit he could bear!

Whatever happens, all of us should be praying for him, that having confessed he might now repent and so experience the lavish mercy of God.