Thursday, 1 February 2018


3047 words, 15 min read

[The following is based on two talks given to groups of young adults in Barcelona and London in December ’17 and January ’18 respectively.]

Today I would like to share something with you about who Mary is for me and I will try to do that in three ways: say something about who she is, tell you about my relationship with her and reflect on what this relationship has taught me about what love is and who God is.

Who is Mary?

Instead of painting a comprehensive picture, I would like to focus on three moments in Mary’s life that I believe tell us a lot about who she is: the annunciation, the ~30 years she spent living with Jesus before his public ministry and her suffering at the foot of the cross. What I hope to do here is to highlight that Mary is more than an object of piety, that she is more than meekness and compliance and that she is an example for all Christians and people of good will, whether they be women or men.

But, let’s start at the beginning, which in terms of the Gospels is Luke’s account of the annunciation, where we are drawn into an event of courage, non-conformity and selflessness and where the very nature of the universe changes categorically. Mary, a young woman is presented with a startling request: to become the mother of God. She is unmarried and pregnancy would make her a social outcast, she would be rejected by her fiancee and would bring dishonour on her family, not to mention that she can’t even get her head around how this could possibly happen since she is a virgin. Yet, she takes a leap of faith and gives her consent. And everything changes. God, the uncreated, eternal, infinite, all powerful, while retaining all of these attributes, also becomes a clump of cells in Mary’s womb. Incarnate in the created, not only finite, but infinitesimal, not only weak but highly vulnerable. Mary’s self-giving, in spite of her doubts, reservations and incomprehension is immediately rewarded in a way that makes a hundredfold look positively mean.

In a recent homily on the feast of the Annunciation last year, Pope Francis drew parallels between Mary’s response to the Annunciation and our own reality today, when he said:
“Like in the past, God continues to look for allies, continues to look for men and women capable of believing, capable of remembering, of feeling part of his people so as to cooperate with the creativity of the Spirit. God continues to pass through our neighbourhoods and our streets, he goes everywhere in search of hearts capable of listening to his invitation and of making him become flesh here and now. Paraphrasing St. Ambrose [...] we can say: God continues to look for hearts like that of Mary, willing to believe even under the most extraordinary conditions.”

The second moment to reflect on is what the Gospels are silent about. The long years during which Mary, her husband Josep and their son Jesus lived together as a family. After the initial, extraordinary, cosmic drama of Jesus’ incarnation there followed decades of what I hesitate to call “ordinary” life. It couldn’t have been! Just imagine it - Mary, the mother of God, Joseph, a just man whom God chose to teach and raise his only son, and Jesus, God made man, all living in a small town in Palestine. Working, doing household chores, getting together with friends, being good, religiously-observant first-century Jews, being frustrated and angered by social and political issues, having to budget their resources with prudence, having worries and fears, hopes and dreams. Yet those who met them, who got to know them, must have felt that there was something special here. This family drew them in, they felt welcome there, they felt the warmth of how Joseph looked at Mary, how Mary took everyone as a member of her family from the first moment and how their son, Jesus flourished as a child, grew up to be a kind and friendly youth and developed into a wise, just and loving man.

This is a period in the life of Mary that Chiara Lubich also spoke about and where she saw the Holy Family as a real model for us to imitate:
“[It must have been a] family, whose members starting with a supernatural vision, seeing Jesus in others, end with the most down-to-earth and simple expressions typical of family life. A family whose members do not have a heart of stone but a heart of flesh, like Jesus, like Mary, like Joseph. Are there among you some who are suffering because of spiritual trials? They must be understood as much as and more than a mother would. Bring them the light with a word or by example. Do not let them feel the absence of the family warmth, on the contrary, let them feel it all the more. Are there among you some who are suffering physically? Let them be treated as favourites. It is necessary to suffer with them. Try to understand them right to the depth of their pain. Are there some who are dying? Imagine yourself in their place and do for them whatever you would have done for you up to the moment of your last breath. Is one of you rejoicing over some success or for any other reason? Rejoice with him or her so that the joy is not spoilt and the soul closed in on itself, but the happiness is shared by all. Is one of you going away? Do not let him or her leave without a heart filled with a single legacy: the sense of the family, so as to take it with them wherever they go. Never put any kind of activity, either spiritual or apostolic, before the spirit of the family.”
Finally, let us consider a third picture, which is that of Mary standing at the foot of the cross. There, above her hangs the mangled, broken, twisted and damaged body of her son, her own flesh and blood. She looks at him and sees the baby she gave birth to, the little boy who learned to walk, read, do geometry, the man who never stopped being her child and who brought heaven into the midst of the world, who announced the good news of God’s love for all, who cured the sick, who revived the dead and who was then betrayed and condemned to death by his peers. Such suffering may be unimaginable to us, but it is shared today by mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends of those killed in natural disasters, by illnesses, in wars and out of hatred. Yet, for Mary even this unbearable burden was only part of the story. She also saw her son cry out to his Father: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His physical and psychological torment culminated in a complete loss of that which made him who he is - his being one with the Father. Mary looked at her son lose his faith. She saw God without God. The God who changed the universe in her at the annunciation was now gone, leaving her son a mere husk of a man. What would I have done in her place? I, like the apostles, would have run and run far - seeing Jesus on the cross would have been unbearable beyond words. Yet, Mary stayed. She didn’t care about the cost to herself, what it would look like, what the consequences would be. She chose to be there with and for her son while utterly helpless in the face of his suffering. She had to stay, because it was in this moment that her son loved us most - giving everything, holding back nothing, showing us that he is there in all our suffering. And Mary’s response of silent unity with her son spoke volumes. It took courage, it ignored social disapproval and it was utterly self-less and self-giving.

Yet the question remains: why did they - Jesus in his forsakenness and Mary in her desolation - have to suffer so much? Here Chiara Lubich again proposes a key:
“How beautiful is Mary desolate in this turning of herself towards humanity to gather up the fruit of her son’s death – truly co-redeemer in this working together for the redemption of all. I see her with him running towards humanity which has become their god out of love for God! Both ready to leave everything for us. We too, like them, must leave God for human beings, must leave unity for the Jesus forsakens scattered throughout the world. Must make of unity our launch pad towards humanity. Must come, must live for sinners and not for the righteous – like him, like her.”
What is my relationship with Mary like?

When I say that I have a close relationship with Mary, I don’t mean to suggest something esoteric, elitist or extraordinary (although the extraordinary is to be found everywhere!). What I mean is that she is someone whose presence I seek and find in my relationship with others. It is not dissimilar to me finding a shared friend in my relationship with another friend, or finding my parents in my relationship with my siblings, or my wife in my relationship with my sons. Analogously, I find Mary in all my relationships, since she is the one through whom Jesus, in whom all relationships subsist, came to us.

When I meet someone new, I see her since she is the mother of all and recognising her reminds me that this person who is new to me is at the same time my sibling, to be cared for, to be welcomed, to be treated with lightness and warmth. When I find myself mindlessly in the midst of a routine, I glimpse her and the routine recedes into the background of a conversation with her - after all, a routine shared is a routine halved :). When I am troubled, when it is unclear to me what I should do, when what happens doesn’t make sense, I find her beside me, consoling me and leading me to her son. When I see exclusion, discrimination, injustice, I recognise her among the excluded, calling me to herself, giving me courage to join her. And when I see suffering, I see her son and her by his side, with space for me to stand beside her. Useless, impotent, but present and ready to look for the little that I may be able to do.

Let me give you an example to illustrate what I am talking about here. During the last months there have been many challenging moments at work, where I saw that my colleagues were struggling with the pressures they were under. One Monday morning, when I arrived at work, I saw a young colleague looking physically unwell, as pale as a sheet, another colleague injecting panic into every conversation and a general sense of defeat and disillusionment among all who worked on a project that my brother Peter and I are leading. The previous week some technical challenges emerged and the general feeling was that they could end up making our project completely collapse, after ten years of hard work and before it brought anything to the company. This was unquestionably a moment of crisis and I knew that the expectation was for me to lead, to drive, to persuade and ultimately to win! I certainly wanted our project to succeed, no doubt, but the question that kept going around in my head was: “What would Mary do here?” I saw my colleagues like lost children at that moment, who first of all needed to be loved. And who better to learn from than their mother! Mary would surely comfort them, tell them they were special and give them a hug. I couldn’t do that literally, but I set out to go around, talking to them one by one and making sure they felt my closeness, that they felt understood and that they knew that we were in this difficult situation together. It was a day spent alongside Mary and therefore a day spent recognising Jesus in all.

What does Mary tell us about what love is and who God is?

Finally, we can also look at the above and ask what it tells us about what love is and who God is. Here there are two aspects that I would like to focus on, both of which are expressed with particular clarity in a mystical vision of Paradise that Chiara Lubich had in 1949. At that point she and her friends had spent five years of putting the Gospel into practice in their daily lives and when they went on holiday to the Dolomites, Chiara started receiving intellectual visions. Speaking about one of them some years later, she described Mary in the following way:
“On that day I understood Mary, perhaps through an intellectual vision, as I had never seen her before. And now twelve years have passed since that day, but I still have the clear impression of the unexpected “greatness” that this discovery of the Mother of God in the Bosom of the Father made on me.
As the blue of the sky contains sun and moon and stars, so Mary appeared to me, made by God so great as to contain God Himself in the Word.
I had never had such a notion of Mary, but there her divine greatness (divine by participation in the divinity of God) was impressed upon my soul in such a way that I do not know how to say it again.”

God, who is Love, makes Mary, his creature, greater than himself to the point where she contains him. Yet, this extreme humility in turn adds to God’s greatness because it shows the measure of his love for Mary. The result is a virtuous cycle of love where my making myself small so that the other may flourish fulfils me too and makes me grow, which in turn adds to the greatness of the other person whom I love and so on. Asking here who is greater then becomes a misunderstanding, since the “greatness” that follows from love has no limit once the first step of making oneself “small” out of love is taken.

A second vision that Chiara Lubich received shows an image that sheds light on the relationships among the persons of the Trinity, Mary and all of humanity. Here I’d like to read you just one passage from it:
“The tree of humanity was [...] created in the image of God.
When, in the fullness of time, it blossomed, unity was made between heaven and earth, and the Holy Spirit espoused Mary.
Therefore, there is one flower: Mary. And there is one fruit: Jesus. And Mary, though alone, is nevertheless the synthesis of the entire creation in the culminating moment of its beauty when it presents itself as spouse to its Creator.
Jesus, instead, is creation and the uncreated made one: the Marriage consummated. And he contains Mary within himself just as the fruit contains the flower. Once the flower has served its purpose, it falls and the fruit matures. Even so, if there had never been a flower, then neither would the fruit have ripened.
Just as Mary is daughter of her Son, similarly, the flower is child of the fruit which is its child.”
To get a clearer reading of this mystical and poetic text, let’s listen to what reflections it inspired in Fr. Pasquale Foresi, one of Chiara Lubich’s closest collaborators, who in 2006 wrote the following:
“God is the Father who gives himself wholly in the Son, who in turn wholly gives himself back to Him. And their mutual love - the relationship that unites them among themselves - is the Holy Spirit. Being like God then means living this same Trinitarian dynamic with Him. [...]
Also to us, then, created “in the likeness” of God, must be given the possibility of giving God to God, that is, of returning to him as creatures truly capable of being like him.
This possibility took shape fully on earth, at a given moment in history, in Mary.
She is the creature who was made capable of generating in the flesh the Word, the second Person of the Trinity.
We must understand this prerogative of Mary in all its extraordinary depth, which makes it unique among all creatures.
Mary, being Mother of Jesus, is the Mother of the only human-divine Person of the Word, to whom she gives human nature, which in him unites in most profound and most perfect union - “without division” and “without confusion”, as the Council of Chalcedon affirms - with the divine one.
Mary is therefore, in the true sense, Mother of God. God has been able to bring about so much in her because of her free consent to the divine plan prepared from all eternity: “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
At the same time, Mary, because conceived of by God as the one who in herself sums up the whole creation, has opened to creation itself the possibility of generating God.
This is how with her and in her the freedom of the human person reaches its truth and its fullness.”
What stands out to me here is the level of intimacy and unity between God and us, his creation, which has its pinnacle in Mary, the person whom God singled out in his relationship with humanity and who is at the same time one of us and one with God. Through God’s relationship with Mary we see the relationship we are all called to and in which we all already share through Mary. And again it also speaks about what love is, regardless of whether you believe in God or not. The relationship we are presented with between God and Mary is one where the lover surrenders to the beloved, risks their own plans by placing them at the mercy of the beloved, but ultimately arrives at a relationship of such unity with an other, who is so dramatically different from their self, that they both become each other’s source and fulfilment.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Capacity for otherness

Moma conner untitledfrommandalaseries ct2538 06 x2016

1390 words, 7 min read

A couple of weeks ago I had an article recommended to me that I then read and greatly appreciated. Since the original is in Spanish, I would here like to offer a quick translation of the text to English, since I believe that it has a high degree of relevance and value beyond its original context. The article is entitled "A space yet to be discovered" and was written by the Catalan Jesuit, Xavier Melloni, in response to the current, tense political situation in Catalonia. Here Melloni offers his perspective on what it takes to truly dialogue with another person, which is something that is needed everywhere and at all times.

In view of the events of recent months in Catalonia, the assessments and interpretations we have made have grown out of our own positions. At first it can not be otherwise, because we do not see reality as it is, but as we are. There is no objective reality and subjective perception, instead at the moment of perceiving reality we are already configuring and co-creating it with our categories. Starting from this assessment, is essential to avoid falling into moral judgments about the opinions of others, because opinion is preceded by perception, at the same time as perception being conditioned by opinion, because every cognitive act is both affective and perceptive. Now, if we want to go beyond the increasingly polarized, tense and entrenched situation in which we find ourselves, we have to find a place that transcends us and makes us all grow. This place is not behind us, as if nothing had happened, but within each one of us and in front of us, in a space still to be discovered and created. A space that will only appear and will only be reached when we are capable of mutual recognition, which also involves the ability to recognize one's own excesses or mistakes.

So much is the vehemence of our positions that we do not have nor leave space for the other. We are facing an important and delicate issue that corresponds to the third and fourth needs according to the scale of Abraham Maslow: the sense of belonging and the need for recognition, issues that revolve around identity. Leaving space for the other does not mean confusing ourselves with them or submitting to their point of view, instead it implies considering them seriously and tenaciously as part of the reality that we both (three, four, hundreds, thousands, millions of citizens) are parts of. We are all parts of everything and we are parts of an All. We must come to accept that the other's point of view is as necessary and valid as our own and welcome it, just as we expect the other to do so with regard to ourselves. For this to be possible, the first step is to avoid judgment, to not dismiss the other. I can only maintain my own position with nobility if I consider that the position of the other is also noble and that they, as I do, look for their sense of belonging and for their need for recognition. Every time I think or say that the other is stupid or lies, we are annihilating them and committing mental or verbal violence against them, even if they do not hear us. We have to arrive at a vote of confidence in the other having some reasons in terms of which they perceive-interpret events in a way that is different and even opposed to mine, but that this does not mean that they lie, just as I hope that they do not consider me an idiot or a liar either, because I perceive-interpret things in a way opposite to theirs.

If we are able to have such openness and such respect, many things will follow, since an affective and cognitive space will appear where the other is present also. This nobility and generosity towards the other, this vote of firm and sustained confidence is put to the test when the other then does not give me space, when I do not feel that they recognize me. It is then easy to give in and respond with the same dismissal and judgment that I receive.

The principles of non-violence are very demanding and their fruits tend to be long-term. Only rarely are they immediate. But this is the test that a confrontation must go through if it wants to be noble. If the confrontation is noble, it will ennoble those who participate in it and they will turn it into fertile dialogue. If it is vile, confrontation will degrade them. It is difficult, very difficult, to persist in the non-dismissal of the other when their opinion, attitude or action are opposed to our own. But it is here that the extent to which we have integrated the values of the Gospel into our lives, which are the same as those of non-violence, manifests itself. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: "“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” (Mt 5:21-22).

What Jesus means is that when we insult someone, we are killing them. We kill them because we do not recognize them, because we eliminate them by condemning them to the categories we have assigned them. The other cannot be recognized in the image I have made of him. Then I cannot expect them to recognize me either. An abyss has been created between the two. We are both condemned by the other. This is the fire by which we are consumed. What is the way out of this hell? “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.” (Mt 5:38-41).

The bar is very high, as high are the flames of the fire that devours us and as tall are the walls that we must transcend to find the place where we still are not.

This is not naiveté or “do-goodery", instead they are the conditions for the possibility of a new way of existing and co-existing that can be born in each moment if we apply ourselves to it. The challenge is to convert every act, every word and every thought into a spiritual exercise. I understand by "spiritual" the open and available space that exists between me and the other, beyond and deeper than our understandable, but visceral and totally insufficient, reactions. Political and civic life are urgently in need of this demanding exercise of the containment and transcendence of our positions that are still too primary and emotional. The emotions are intense, but ephemeral. What remains are acts and we still have time to reorient them towards the creation of a common space.

Space widens when we look, speak and act from a broader perspective that includes the other. Conversely, when we absolutize our point of view, we constrain our inner space and also the common space and we tear each other apart because there is no space for everyone. We cannot wait to open this space until the other is willing to do so. It begins to appear when one takes the first step and acts with courage and generosity, giving a vote of confidence to the other, as many times as necessary. “As many as seven times?” “Not seven times but seventy-seven times.” (Mt 18:21-22).

Each one of those times brings me closer to the other, who, feeling recognized, sooner or later will also recognize me and we will discover a space that is fruitful for all. Is not this the opportunity we have to grow together in greater capacity for otherness?

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Realities > ideas

803 words, 4 min read

During the last weeks I have been thinking a lot about one of the lemmas that Pope Francis presents in Evangelii Gaudium, namely that realities are greater than ideas (§231-233). There he argues that "[t]here [...] exists a constant tension between ideas and realities. Realities simply are, whereas ideas are worked out. There has to be continuous dialogue between the two, lest ideas become detached from realities. [...] This calls for rejecting the various means of masking reality: angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, empty rhetoric, objectives more ideal than real, brands of ahistorical fundamentalism, ethical systems bereft of kindness, intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom." This, however, is not a one-way street of adjusting ideas to match reality, but also a call to putting our ideas and convictions into practice: "Not to put the word into practice, not to make it reality, is to build on sand, to remain in the realm of pure ideas and to end up in a lifeless and unfruitful self-centredness and gnosticism." Leaving ideas and realities disconnected either results in our being deluded and/or disconnected from the world.

The above words of Pope Francis came to my mind recently in the context of hearing about how a friend of mine had made a mistake at work and how their attempt at presenting the situation in a way that didn’t correspond with the facts lead to a lot of tension, hurt and ultimately evil. What occurred to me then was another of Pope Francis’ recurring expressions, that the Devil is the “Father of Lies” (John 8:44). If lies then are a mismatch between reality and ideas, and the Devil personifies a turning away from God, who is good, then calling him the Father of Lies both points to that turning away being from the truth too (which also has its pinnacle and fulfilment in God) and it elevates lying to a privileged position among sins. Not necessarily from a perspective of gravity, but as the principle behind all evil.

Ultimately, it now seems to me, all evil has its roots in lies, in ideas being disconnected from reality and there being no correspondence between the two. If I hate, exploit, discriminate against or even murder another person, I have to have believed or at least implicitly assumed that they are different from me, that they are inferior to me, that their life matters less, that they are not beloved children of God. It is lies like these, mismatches between ideas and realities like these, that are the basis of and pre-requisite for evil.

Now, looking at the above, it might at first seem like an impossible situation: a mismatch between ideas and realities leads to evil, we only have direct access to ideas (challenge: try to give an example of something that is not an idea) and their mismatch with realities (that we do not have direct cognitive access to) is unknowable and seemingly inevitable. What a cruel setup!

Well, I don’t believe that this is what is actually going on. Instead of the above prison of ideas - inescapable and unsurpassable - I believe, with psychologists everywhere, that we experience reality not only in terms of ideas, but also in a variety of other conscious and unconscious ways. As a result, we may be saved from erroneous - and therefore potentially evil-oriented - ideas by our unconscious experiences. At some point we may be overcome by a feeling that our ideas just don’t add up and we may be prompted to re-examine and potentially change them, in spite of the epistemological gulf that persists between our minds and whatever gives rise to our experiences.

How can such a safety mechanism be triggered? Not primarily by being exposed to ideas (sadly, including these very ones), but by participating in realities and allowing these to interact with my conscious and unconscious processes. Having a low opinion of certain attitudes, choices or world views, the best thing to do alongside engaging with them rationally is to get to know those who have, have made or hold them. Like that, I can relate not only to their ideas, but also to their realities in a richer and fuller way and any lies I believe in may be challenged and overcome, much like the example given by the Marxist thinker Terry Eagleton, who suggests that meeting fulfilled childless women can lead one to abandon the untruthful conviction that they are all embittered.

This is both the way to stress and refine my own ideas and the mechanism by which I can have an effect on the ideas of others - not only by sharing my own ideas with them but by putting them into practice myself so that the other may experience them more fully than ideas alone would allow them to.

Friday, 19 January 2018


Emmaus Helge Boe

1746 words, 9 min read

Back in 2015, Pope Francis visited a Lutheran church in Rome and answered three questions from the congregation: one, from a 9-year-old boy, on what he liked about being Pope, another, from the community’s treasurer who was involved in a project for refugees, on how to avoid resignation and people turning to erecting walls, and the final one, which I’d like to take a look at here, on intercommunion. In particular, I would like to present Pope Francis’ answer more fully and, as always arguably, more closely than the Vatican’s official English translation.

As a result, the following account of his words will be a combination of the official English translation, which I will seek to follow as much as possible, and of my, coarse translation of his words when it departs from a more verbatim translation of the original Italian. Details about my departures from the official translation will be provided in the endnotes, not to interfere with a reading of his response to this important question.

Before proceeding, I’d like to thank the Vatican for its prompt and broad translation of the pope’s words into English - having access to them in this way is not something I take for granted and my alternative translation exercise here is not meant to be an attack or even a criticism, merely a different translation, possibly done with different objectives to the official one. E.g., I will favour closer, more verbatim English choices wherever these are available, even at the cost of a result that may sound odd or flow less well than other alternatives. The matter at hand is highly delicate and important and I believe that as close a rendering of the pope’s words as possible is preferable here, also because these were off-the-cuff remarks rather than a prepared text.

So, let’s begin at the beginning, with the question put to Pope Francis about intercommunion:1
“My name is Anke de Bernardinis and, like many members of our community, I am married to an Italian, who is a Roman Catholic Christian. We have been living together happily for many years, sharing joys and sufferings. And therefore it hurts is very much that we are divided in our faith and that we cannot partake together in the Lord’s Supper. What can we do to, at last, reach communion on this point?”
The pope then responds (all changes are highlighted in bold type, bold text without an endnote indicates a word missing from the official translation but present in the Italian original):
“Thank you, Ma’am. Regarding the question on sharing the Lord’s Supper, it is not easy for me to answer you, especially in front of a theologian like Cardinal Kasper! I’m afraid! I think the Lord told us2 when he gave us this command: “Do this in memory of me”. And when we share in the Lord’s Supper, we remember and imitate,3 we do the same thing that the Lord Jesus did. And the there will be the Lord’s Supper, there will be the final banquet in the New Jerusalem,4 but this will be the last one. Instead on the journey, I ask myself5 — and I don’t know how to answer, but I am making your question my own — I ask myself: “Is sharing the Lord’s Supper the end of a journey or is it the viaticum for walking together? I leave the question to the theologians, to those who understand. It is true that in a certain sense sharing is saying that there are no differences between us, that we have the same doctrine — I underline the word, a difficult word to understand — but I ask myself: but don’t we have the same Baptism? And if we have the same Baptism, we have to walk together. You are a witness to a journey that is also profound6 because it is a conjugal journey, a journey properly of the family7, of human love and of shared faith. We have the same Baptism. When you feel you are a sinner — I too feel I am quite a sinner — when your husband feels he is a sinner, you go before the Lord and ask forgiveness; your husband does the same and goes to the priest and asks for8 absolution. They are remedies for9 keeping Baptism alive. When you pray together, that Baptism grows, it becomes strong; when you teach your children who Jesus is, why Jesus came, what Jesus did, you do the same, whether in Lutheran language or in Catholic language10, but it is the same. The question: and the Supper? There are questions to which only if one is honest with oneself and with the few theological “lights” that I have, one must respond the same, you see. “This is my Body, this is my Blood”, said the Lord, “do this in memory of me”, and this is a viaticum that helps us to walk11. I had a great friendship with an Episcopalian bishop, 48 years old, married with two children, and he had this concern: a Catholic wife, Catholic children, and he a bishop. He accompanied his wife and children to Mass on Sundays and then went to worship with his community. It was a step of participating in the Lord’s Supper. Then he passed on, the Lord called him, a just man. I respond to your question only with a question: how can I do [things] with my husband12, so that the Lord’s Supper may accompany me on my way13? It is a problem to which each person must respond. A pastor friend of mine said to me: “We believe that the Lord is present there. He is present. You believe that the Lord is present. So what is the difference?” — “Well, there are explanations, interpretations...”. Life is greater than explanations and interpretations. Always refer to Baptism: “One faith, one baptism, one Lord”, as Paul tells us, and from there draw the consequences14. I would never dare give permission to do this because it is not my competence15. One Baptism, one Lord, one faith. Speak with the Lord and go forward. I do not dare say more.”
From the perspective of translation it could be argued that 14/15 of my changes don’t do much to the resulting meaning, and I would agree with that. My objective there was only to make subtle changes of nuance and not to suggest that what an English reader would understand from the original translation would be different in essence from what an Italian reader would get from reading the official, Italian transcript.

However, I made one rather substantial and important change: the translation of the Italian “competenza” as “competence” instead of as “authority” as in the official English version. Since the English language contains the word “competence”, which not only has the same origin, but also the same meaning and polysemic scope as the Italian “competenza” (i.e., it is not a so-called “false friend”), choosing a synonym for it that narrows meaning and changes polysemy is, to my mind, an unnecessary change to Francis’ words. Further, to map “competenza” to “authority” is particularly serious in the case of the pope, who enjoys “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church” (cf. Cann. 331-334).

Rendering “competenza” as authority leaves Francis’ words sounding like giving permission for intercommunion is something he cannot do. This is certainly a possible interpretation of “competenza”. Another is that he meant that this decision is not for him to make, that he does have the power to make it, but that the most “competent” party is the person who faces this situation directly. I believe that if Francis had wanted to get the former interpretation across, he could have used another Italian word that was equally open to him: “autorità”. But he didn’t.

Instead he did the following, which, to my mind, is more consistent with my translation: he presents the choice of two interpretations of the Eucharist - as sign of having arrived at the end of a journey (the Eschaton, the New Jerusalem), or as a viaticum (provisions for a journey - that which gives the sustenance needed for journeying). Having presented the two alternatives, Francis then comes down on the side of the latter. He links his choice to Jesus’ words from the Last Supper and, importantly, he also does so on the basis that we, Christians are all journeying together on the one journey, which our shared baptism opens to us and to which it introduces us. Francis further underlines this oneness of journey - the journey that needs a viaticum - by repeating St. Paul’s kerygmatic “One faith, one baptism, one Lord” not once but twice in the course of his answer. Now, why doesn’t he just use his authority to permit what his interlocutor asks? I believe it is because the answer depends on where one is on this journey, on whether one is on this one, shared journey or not.

“One faith, one baptism, one Lord.”

1 For a start, the question is not translated in the official English version, which only provides the following account: “Then Anke de Bernardinis, the wife of a Roman Catholic, expressed sorrow at “not being able to partake together in the Lord’s Supper” and asked: “What more can we do to reach communion on this point?”.”
2 Italian: “ci ha detto”; English: “gave us [the answer]”.
3 Italian: “la Cena del Signore, ricordiamo e imitiamo,”; English: “, remember and emulate the Lord’s Supper,”.
4 Italian: “E la Cena del Signore ci sarà, il banchetto finale nella Nuova Gerusalemme ci sarà”; English: “And the Lord’s Supper will be, the final banquet will there be in the New Jerusalem”
5 Italian: “mi domando”; English: “I wonder”
6 Italian: “un cammino anche profondo”; English: “an even profound journey”
7 Italian: “un cammino proprio di famiglia”; English: “truly a family journey”
8 Italian: “chiede”; English: “requests”
9 Italian: “rimedi per”; English: “ways of”
10 Italian: “in lingua luterana che in lingua cattolica”; English: “in Lutheran or Catholic terms”
11 Italian: “che ci aiuta a camminare”; English: “which helps us to journey”
12 Italian: “come posso fare con mio marito”; English: “how can I participate with my husband”
13 Italian: “strada”; English: “path”
14 Italian: “e di là prendete le conseguenze”; English: “and take the outcome from there”
15 Italian: “non è mia competenza”; English: “I do not have the authority”

Sunday, 17 December 2017


Coke ideology

2254 words, 11 min read

One of the fundamental questions of human existence is the basis on which we interpret reality, make subsequent decisions and perform resulting actions. How do I know what is happening in the world, how do I react to that reality and what actions do I take on the basis of these reactions? These questions have been at the heart of philosophy, theology, economics, politics and many other forms of human endeavour for millennia and remain open problems to this day, to which many answers are offered but which each one has to answer for themselves, or that each one will at least have unconscious answers to that drive their choices.

In the above context, a particularly negative role is played by ideologies, which are injected between a subject and the reality they inhabit and which distort their choices. Instead of a subject engaging with reality and deriving choices on its basis, an ideologised subject takes the tenets of their ideology as a source of decision making. Instead of their own understanding of reality, which ideology suppresses, distorts and supplants, the ideologised subject derives decisions and actions from their ideology. An ideology that taught the impossibility of fire would see its followers proclaim it while burning to death in blazing house.

If ideologies are at odds with reality, why would anyone follow them though? Why would anyone act on a basis disconnected from reality? I believe there are several reasons for this: First, it is increasingly difficult to tell reality from ideology, both because of the inherent challenges of knowledge that epistemology has been grappling with since antiquity (e.g., the ultimate impossibility of going beyond my own experiences) and because of the growing complexity of global interconnectedness and the impossibility of experiencing all relevant events for oneself. Second, even a direct engagement with reality (as far as epistemologically possible) that would seem free from ideology would not be free from some a priori conceptual framework of beliefs not derived from reality (e.g., repeatability, causality, falsifiability), which leads to the obvious question of what makes one set of beliefs an ideology while another set is a valid conceptual apparatus necessary for engaging with reality.

In other words, how do we recognise ideologies so that we may avoid them ourselves and so that we may help others not become entrapped by them.

In fact, the original intention of the French philosopher Antoine Destutt de Tracy, who coined the term ideology during the French Revolution, was to devise a rational system that could counter what he saw as the irrational mob rule of the day, i.e., precisely not what is understood by ideology today. However, already Tracy’s initial opponent, Napoleon Bonaparte, used the term ideology in a derogatory way. Karl Marx then picked up Napoleon’s use of the word and directed it against the ideological patterns employed by the capitalist bourgeoisie he challenged. Ideology has since been a mainstay of marxist analysis, in particular by thinkers like Louis Althusser, Terry Eagleton and Slavoj Žižek, who see ideology as a means of control, effected by imposing a set of action-oriented beliefs whose scrutiny is prohibited and which are placed above experience.

Eagleton presents a variety of definitions of the concept in his 1991 book “Ideology: An Introduction”, starting with the most widely-held one, formulated by John B. Thompson:

“A dominant power may legitimate itself by promoting beliefs and values congenial to it; naturalising and universalising such beliefs so as to render them self-evident and apparently inevitable; denigrating ideas which might challenge it; excluding rival forms of thought, perhaps by some unspoken but systematic logic; and obscuring social reality in ways convenient to itself. Such ‘mystification.’, as it is commonly known, frequently takes the form of masking or suppressing social conflicts, from which arises the conception of ideology as an imaginary resolution of real contradictions. In any actual ideological formation, all six of these strategies are likely to interact in complex ways.”
While the reference to a “dominant power” may render the above definition too narrow, as Eagleton and other have argued, its focus on the denigration of challenging ideas, the exclusion of rival forms of thought, the obscuring of reality and the offering of imaginary resolutions can readily be recognised in ideologies regardless of whether or not they come from a position of power.

With such a broadening of the scope of ideology, and given the challenges of distinguishing it from other sets of ideas or beliefs, it is no surprise to see Louis Althusser argue that we are all “ideological subjects”, that being ideological is inherent to being a subject and that “man is an ideological animal by nature”. Althusser also points to a particularly insidious pattern employed by ideologies, where fictitious relationships are presented as real, to further ulterior motives:
“But it is by an apprenticeship in a variety of know-how wrapped up in the massive inculcation of the ideology of the ruling class that the relations of production in a capitalist social formation, i.e. the relations of exploited to exploiters and exploiters to exploited, are largely reproduced. The mechanisms which produce this vital result for the capitalist regime are naturally covered up and concealed by a universally reigning ideology of the School, universally reigning because it is one of the essential forms of the ruling bourgeois ideology: an ideology which represents the School as a neutral environment purged of ideology (because it is ... lay), where teachers respectful of the ‘conscience’ and ‘freedom’ of the children who are entrusted to them (in complete confidence) by their ‘parents’ (who are free, too, i.e. the owners of their children) open up for them the path to the freedom, morality and responsibility of adults by their own example, by knowledge, literature and their ‘liberating’ virtues.”
Kaustuv Roy then takes Althusser’s theory and identifies a pattern in ideological beliefs which is that of being lacunar, of leaving “holes” in the legitimacy and truth of the discourses constructed from them:
“The proposition “modern education promises equal opportunity for all” is not, on the face of it, a false or untrue proposition. It is, after all, one of its basic premises. At the same time, we know that existing property relations, differential schooling, elite behaviour, and social prejudices all falsify this “true” proposition. Again, consider the proposition “the law takes precedence before anything else.” This is not untrue in its purely rational form, yet, we know that many things including social, political, and financial power often determine which way the law moves. [...] In other words, they are pre-aligned toward certain effects. The above are examples of “lacunar discourse,” meaning that they cover up or hide a lacuna. A number of propositions which are not untrue suggest or lead up to other propositions which are operatively and pragmatically untrue. In other words, the former cluster create an aura of “truth” that point toward and suggest legitimacy for another set whose assumptions are simply not true. In a restricted and more useful sense, ideologies can be seen as lacunar discourses that offer legitimacy to a wide range of assumptions by starting off from reasonable propositions.”
Slavoj Žižek uses a similar example of falsehood admixed with truth as a starting point of his analysis of ideology:
“[T]he starting point of the critique of ideology has to be full acknowledgement of the fact that it is easily possible to lie in the guise of truth. When, for example, some Western power intervenes in a Third World country on account of violations of human rights, it may well be ‘true’ that in this country the most elementary human rights were not respected, and that the Western intervention will effectively improve the human rights record, yet such a legitimization none the less remains ‘ideological’ in so far as it fails to mention the true motives of the intervention (economic interests, etc.).”
While most critiques of ideology see it as a mechanism of manipulation that some impose on others, Žižek thinks of it in a rather different way:
“[I]deology is not simply imposed on ourselves. Ideology is our spontaneous relation to our social world, how we perceive each meaning and so on and so on. We, in a way, enjoy our ideology. To step out of ideology, it hurts. It’s a painful experience. You must force yourself to do it.”
Given such ubiquity of ideology and its being a constituent part of human nature, the question becomes not one of how to avoid ideologies that may be coming my way from afar, but to strive for a recognition and avoidance of ideological patterns in thought and action. This realisation is present already Eagleton’s analysis, who, as a Marxist, sees the danger of ideologisation even in movements close to his own world view, instead of only in the capitalist system that is opposed to it.

It should therefore come as no surprise that the recognition of ideologisation and attempts to counter it can arise in all contexts, even the one that Althusser used as the ideological case study par excellence - the Catholic Church. This is a strong theme in the thought and actions of the current pope, Francis, who has frequently spoken about and decried ideologies both outside and within the Church.

Looking at the Church, Francis’ homily from 23rd October 2013 is a particularly cutting critique:
“Faith passes, so to speak, through a purifying apparatus and becomes ideology. And ideology does not attract. In ideologies there is no Jesus: his tenderness, love, meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Always: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of ideology, he has lost faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought, of that ... And this is why Jesus says to them: ‘You have taken away the key to knowledge’ [Luke 11:52]. The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and even moralistic knowledge, because they closed the door with so many prescriptions.

Faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases people away, drives people away and takes the Church away from people. But it is a serious disease, this of ideological Christians. It’s a disease, but it’s not new, is it? Already the Apostle John, in his first Letter, spoke of this. Christians who lose faith and prefer ideologies. Their attitude is: to become rigid, moralistic, ethicist, but without goodness. The question may be this, right? But why can a Christian become like that? What happens in the heart of that Christian, of that priest, of that bishop, of that Pope, who becomes so? Simply one thing: that Christian does not pray. And if there is no prayer, you always close the door.

They do not pray, they abandon faith and turn it into a moralistic, casuistic ideology, without Jesus. And when a prophet or a good Christian reproaches them, they do the same thing they did with Jesus: When he came out of there, the scribes and Pharisees began to treat him in a hostile way - these ideologues are hostile - and to make him speak on many subjects, trying to ensnare him - they are insidious - to surprise him in a few words out of his own mouth. They are not transparent. Eh, poor things, they are people soiled by pride. Let us ask the Lord for grace, first: do not stop praying, so as not to lose faith, remain humble. And so we will not become closed, we won’t close the way to the Lord.”
If you are reading the above and are not a Christian, it is worth saying something about prayer, lest is may sound like something archaic or even ideological. Prayer here is, I believe, to be read as a conscious attitude of being close to God and of seeking to love in every present moment. This is consistent with how Francis speaks about it and also with Jesus telling his disciples to pray always (cf. Luke 18:1). Prayer here is an attitude seeking closeness with and responding to reality, i.e., a fundamentally anti-ideological attitude.

Another key to countering ideology according to Francis is to place the encounter with others ahead of ideas or ideologies. E.g., during his trip to Cuba in 2015 he said: “Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.” In fact, this reminds me of the suggestion Eagleton makes about how one might become freed from an ideological belief, where he too points to the power of evidence and of encounter with other persons: “If someone really does believe that all childless women are thwarted and embittered, introducing him to as many ecstatic childfree women as possible might just persuade him to change his mind.”

Looking at the above I have the impression that, instead of thinking that there are some specific, well-delineated ideologies that need to be avoided and countered, I need to recognise that I too am steeped in ideology and that I may not even be aware of that being the case. What can I do about it? Having seen ideological patterns of discourse laid bare, I can strive to recognise them and counter their closed, narrow and restrictive mode by contrasting them with evidence and experience. And, I can direct my attention to those around me so that I may relate to and discover each person instead of letting ideologies become filters through which I see them. As Žižek says though, it will be hard and painful, but it strikes me as a fight worth fighting.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Law and disobedience in the Church’s social doctrine

Klee spärlich belaubt 1934

5684 words, 29 min read

In 2004 the Catholic Church published a key document, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, where she sets out her teaching on all aspects of how a society ought to be ordered and of how one ought to act in a society, regardless of its ordering, for the greater good of all. The 142K word document presents a comprehensive overview of current Church teaching, with 1232 references to Scripture, the magisterial documents of the Church and to the teaching of the saints. It “is presented as an instrument for the moral and pastoral discernment of the complex events that mark our time; as a guide to inspire, at the individual and collective levels, attitudes and choices that will permit all people to look to the future with greater trust and hope; as an aid for the faithful concerning the Church’s teaching in the area of social morality.” And since complex events are indeed the order of the day, I would here like to share some key passages that stood out to me when reading the Compendium. Doing so in the wake of recent events in Catalonia, which I experienced first hand and that deeply sadden and trouble me, has resulted in following a certain thread that deals with issues of law and disobedience. With the desire to form my own conscience, I wanted to understand how the Church frames such “complex events” and even if you are not a Catholic, I hope you will find the following to be of interest. I would also wholeheartedly encourage anyone to read this document in full.

To begin with, the Church presents a social vision of freedom that is both possibility and limitation; that is gift, that is to be cultivated and whose death destroys individual and society alike:
“Freedom in fact does not have “its absolute and unconditional origin ... in itself, but in the life within which it is situated and which represents for it, at one and the same time, both a limitation and a possibility. Human freedom belongs to us as creatures; it is a freedom which is given as a gift, one to be received like a seed and to be cultivated responsibly”. When the contrary is the case, freedom dies, destroying man and society.” (138)
Such freedom is best participated in with the help of a conscience that is formed in truth and that supports actions rooted in it:
“The truth concerning good and evil is recognized in a practical and concrete manner by the judgment of conscience, which leads to the acceptance of responsibility for the good accomplished and the evil committed. “Consequently in the practical judgment of conscience, which imposes on the person the obligation to perform a given act, the link between freedom and truth is made manifest. Precisely for this reason conscience expresses itself in acts of ‘judgment’ which reflect the truth about the good, and not in arbitrary ‘decisions’. The maturity and responsibility of these judgments — and, when all is said and done, of the individual who is their subject — are not measured by the liberation of the conscience from objective truth, in favour of an alleged autonomy in personal decisions, but, on the contrary, by an insistent search for truth and by allowing oneself to be guided by that truth in one’s actions”.” (139)
Truth then is accessed by means of the rationality that is universal to all humanity and that Christians identify with God himself. It demands submission to itself and insists on everyone “seeing others as equal to oneself”:
“The exercise of freedom implies a reference to a natural moral law, of a universal character, that precedes and unites all rights and duties. The natural law “is nothing other than the light of intellect infused within us by God. Thanks to this, we know what must be done and what must be avoided. This light or this law has been given by God to creation”. It consists in the participation in his eternal law, which is identified with God himself. This law is called “natural” because the reason that promulgates it is proper to human nature. It is universal, it extends to all people insofar as it is established by reason. In its principal precepts, the divine and natural law is presented in the Decalogue and indicates the primary and essential norms regulating moral life. Its central focus is the act of aspiring and submitting to God, the source and judge of everything that is good, and also the act of seeing others as equal to oneself. The natural law expresses the dignity of the person and lays the foundations of the person’s fundamental duties.” (140)
This universal, underlying rationality (natural law) is ubiquitous and even when suppressed or unrecognized, it is a force that rises again in individuals and societies:
“In the diversity of cultures, the natural law unites peoples, enjoining common principles. Although its application may require adaptations to the many different conditions of life according to place, time and circumstances, it remains immutable “under the flux of ideas and customs and supports their progress ... Even when it is rejected in its very principles, it cannot be destroyed or removed from the heart of man. It always rises again in the life of individuals and societies”. Its precepts, however, are not clearly and immediately perceived by everyone.” (141)
Given its force and foundational identity, natural law is destined to be the basis of civil law. If such a link between universal rationality and juridical systems is lacking, the result impedes “true and lasting communion” in a society.
“The natural law, which is the law of God, cannot be annulled by human sinfulness. It lays the indispensable moral foundation for building the human community and for establishing the civil law that draws its consequences of a concrete and contingent nature from the principles of the natural law. If the perception of the universality of the moral law is dimmed, people cannot build a true and lasting communion with others, because when a correspondence between truth and good is lacking, “whether culpably or not, our acts damage the communion of persons, to the detriment of each”. Only freedom rooted in a common nature, in fact, can make all men responsible and enable them to justify public morality. Those who proclaim themselves to be the sole measure of realities and of truth cannot live peacefully in society with their fellow men and cooperate with them.” (142)
Being open to abuse, to being used against others instead of as a means for a gift of self, freedom is in need of purification:
“Human freedom needs therefore to be liberated. Christ, by the power of his Paschal Mystery, frees man from his disordered love of self, which is the source of his contempt for his neighbour and of those relationships marked by domination of others. Christ shows us that freedom attains its fulfilment in the gift of self. By his sacrifice on the cross, Jesus places man once more in communion with God and his neighbour.” (143)
The dignity of each human being that a distortion of the freedom of others can bring about is the basis of human rights, whose identification and proclamation the Church presents as “a true milestone on the path of humanity’s moral progress” (152):
“In fact, the roots of human rights are to be found in the dignity that belongs to each human being. This dignity, inherent in human life and equal in every person, is perceived and understood first of all by reason. The natural foundation of rights appears all the more solid when, in light of the supernatural, it is considered that human dignity, after having been given by God and having been profoundly wounded by sin, was taken on and redeemed by Jesus Christ in his incarnation, death and resurrection. The ultimate source of human rights is not found in the mere will of human beings, in the reality of the State, in public powers, but in man himself and in God his Creator. These rights are “universal, inviolable, inalienable”. Universal because they are present in all human beings, without exception of time, place or subject. Inviolable insofar as “they are inherent in the human person and in human dignity” and because “it would be vain to proclaim rights, if at the same time everything were not done to ensure the duty of respecting them by all people, everywhere, and for all people”. Inalienable insofar as “no one can legitimately deprive another person, whoever they may be, of these rights, since this would do violence to their nature”.

Human rights are to be defended not only individually but also as a whole: protecting them only partially would imply a kind of failure to recognize them.” (153-4)
Instead of applying only to individuals, human rights extend to peoples and nations too, whose rights to self-determination and free cooperation are the basis of international law:
“The field of human rights has expanded to include the rights of peoples and nations: in fact, “what is true for the individual is also true for peoples”. The Magisterium points out that international law “rests upon the principle of equal respect for States, for each people’s right to self-determination and for their free cooperation in view of the higher common good of humanity”. Peace is founded not only on respect for human rights but also on respect for the rights of peoples, in particular the right to independence.

The rights of nations are nothing but “‘human rights’ fostered at the specific level of community life”. A nation has a “fundamental right to existence”, to “its own language and culture, through which a people expresses and promotes ... its fundamental spiritual ‘sovereignty”’, to “shape its life according to its own traditions, excluding, of course, every abuse of basic human rights and in particular the oppression of minorities”, to “build its future by providing an appropriate education for the younger generation”. The international order requires a balance between particularity and universality, which all nations are called to bring about, for their primary duty is to live in a posture of peace, respect and solidarity with other nations.” (157)
In this context, the task of political authority is to support the striving for the common good that is attainable at any one moment in any one place:
“The responsibility for attaining the common good, besides falling to individual persons, belongs also to the State, since the common good is the reason that the political authority exists. The State, in fact, must guarantee the coherency, unity and organization of the civil society of which it is an expression, in order that the common good may be attained with the contribution of every citizen. The individual person, the family or intermediate groups are not able to achieve their full development by themselves for living a truly human life. Hence the necessity of political institutions, the purpose of which is to make available to persons the necessary material, cultural, moral and spiritual goods. The goal of life in society is in fact the historically attainable common good.” (168)
The legal dimension of the Church’s social teaching is introduced by reflecting on Jesus’ relationship with temporal authority, which is selective in that he recognizes its partial legitimacy, directed towards service, while refusing its power when despotic:
“Jesus refuses the oppressive and despotic power wielded by the rulers of the nations (cf. Mk 10:42) and rejects their pretension in having themselves called benefactors (cf. Lk 22:25), but he does not directly oppose the authorities of his time. In his pronouncement on the paying of taxes to Caesar (cf. Mk 12:13-17; Mt 22:15-22; Lk 20:20-26), he affirms that we must give to God what is God’s, implicitly condemning every attempt at making temporal power divine or absolute: God alone can demand everything from man. At the same time, temporal power has the right to its due: Jesus does not consider it unjust to pay taxes to Caesar. […] As his disciples are discussing with one another who is the greatest, Jesus teaches them that they must make themselves least and the servants of all (cf. Mk 9:33- 35), showing to the sons of Zebedee, James and John, who wish to sit at His right hand, the path of the cross (cf. Mk 10:35-40; Mt 20:20-23).” (379)
When consistent with conscience, compliance with legitimate authority is a good, while freedom directed at selfish ends an evil:
“Submission, not passive but “for the sake of conscience” (Rom 13:5), to legitimate authority responds to the order established by God. Saint Paul defines the relationships and duties that a Christian is to have towards the authorities (cf. Rom 13:1-7). He insists on the civic duty to pay taxes: “Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, fear to whom fear is due, respect to who respect is due” (Rom 13:7). The Apostle certainly does not intend to legitimize every authority so much as to help Christians to “take thought for what is noble in the sight of all” (Rom 12:17), including their relations with the authorities, insofar as the authorities are at the service of God for the good of the person (cf. Rom 13:4; 1 Tim 2:1-2; Tit 3:1) and “to execute [God’s] wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom 13:4).

Saint Peter exhorts Christians to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Pet 2:13). The king and his governors have the duty “to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right” (1 Pet 2:14). This authority of theirs must be “honoured” (1 Pet 2:17), that is, recognized, because God demands correct behaviour that will “silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Pet 2:15). Freedom must not be used as a pretext for evil but to serve God (cf. 1 Pet 2:16). It concerns free and responsible obedience to an authority that causes justice to be respected, ensuring the common good.” (380)
The Church then has harsh words for authority that places itself above “the limits willed by God” (which coincide with natural law, i.e., universal rationality):
“When human authority goes beyond the limits willed by God, it makes itself a deity and demands absolute submission; it becomes the Beast of the Apocalypse, an image of the power of the imperial persecutor “drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Rev 17:6). The Beast is served by the “false prophet” (Rev 19:20), who, with beguiling signs, induces people to adore it. […] Before such a power, Saint John suggests the resistance of the martyrs; in this way, believers bear witness that corrupt and satanic power is defeated, because it no longer has any authority over them.” (382)
Instead, authority is called to have regard for human freedom and peace rather than be domination:
“Christ reveals to human authority, always tempted by the desire to dominate, its authentic and complete meaning as service. God is the one Father, and Christ the one Teacher, of all mankind, and all people are brothers and sisters. Sovereignty belongs to God. The Lord, however, “has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence”. The biblical message provides endless inspiration for Christian reflection on political power, recalling that it comes from God and is an integral part of the order that he created. This order is perceived by the human conscience and, in social life, finds its fulfilment in the truth, justice, freedom and solidarity that bring peace.” (383)
Next, a strong emphasis is placed on the social and political anthropology of the human person, who is fulfilled when open to others and to the Transcendent:
“The human person is the foundation and purpose of political life. Endowed with a rational nature, the human person is responsible for his own choices and able to pursue projects that give meaning to life at the individual and social level. Being open both to the Transcendent and to others is his characteristic and distinguishing trait. Only in relation to the Transcendent and to others does the human person reach the total and complete fulfilment of himself. This means that for the human person, a naturally social and political being, “social life is not something added on” but is part of an essential and indelible dimension.

The political community originates in the nature of persons, whose conscience “reveals to them and enjoins them to obey” the order which God has imprinted in all his creatures: “a moral and religious order; and it is this order — and not considerations of a purely extraneous, material order — which has the greatest validity in the solution of problems relating to their lives as individuals and as members of society, and problems concerning individual States and their interrelations”. This order must be gradually discovered and developed by humanity. The political community, a reality inherent in mankind, exists to achieve an end otherwise unobtainable: the full growth of each of its members, called to cooperate steadfastly for the attainment of the common good, under the impulse of their natural inclinations towards what is true and good.” (384)
Such humans then form peoples, who are free to express their political choices for the common good and whose members maintain their autonomy:
“The political community finds its authentic dimension in its reference to people: “it is and should in practice be the organic and organizing unity of a real people”. The term “a people” does not mean a shapeless multitude, an inert mass to be manipulated and exploited, but a group of persons, each of whom — “at his proper place and in his own way” — is able to form its own opinion on public matters and has the freedom to express its own political sentiments and to bring them to bear positively on the common good. A people “exists in the fullness of the lives of the men and women by whom it is made up, each of whom ... is a person aware of his own responsibilities and convictions”. Those who belong to a political community, although organically united among themselves as a people, maintain an irrepressible autonomy at the level of personal existence and of the goals to be pursued.” (385)
Peoples then, in general, are nations, or minorities in other nations’ states who may strive for greater autonomy or independence, when “dialogue and negotiation are the path for attaining peace”:
“For every people there is in general a corresponding nation, but for various reasons national boundaries do not always coincide with ethnic boundaries. Thus the question of minorities arises, which has historically been the cause of more than just a few conflicts. The Magisterium affirms that minorities constitute groups with precise rights and duties, most of all, the right to exist, which “can be ignored in many ways, including such extreme cases as its denial through overt or indirect forms of genocide”. Moreover, minorities have the right to maintain their culture, including their language, and to maintain their religious beliefs, including worship services. In the legitimate quest to have their rights respected, minorities may be driven to seek greater autonomy or even independence; in such delicate circumstances, dialogue and negotiation are the path for attaining peace. In every case, recourse to terrorism is unjustifiable and damages the cause that is being sought. Minorities are also bound by duties, among which, above all, is working for the common good of the State in which they live. In particular, “a minority group has the duty to promote the freedom and dignity of each one of its members and to respect the decisions of each one, even if someone were to decide to adopt the majority culture”.” (387)
The purpose, then of political authority is coordination and direction at the service of integral human growth, which - when “exercised within the limits of morality and on behalf of the dynamically conceived common good, […] citizens are conscience-bound to obey”:
“Political authority must guarantee an ordered and upright community life without usurping the free activity of individuals and groups but disciplining and orienting this freedom, by respecting and defending the independence of the individual and social subjects, for the attainment of the common good. Political authority is an instrument of coordination and direction by means of which the many individuals and intermediate bodies must move towards an order in which relationships, institutions and procedures are put at the service of integral human growth. Political authority, in fact, “whether in the community as such or in institutions representing the State, must always be exercised within the limits of morality and on behalf of the dynamically conceived common good, according to a juridical order enjoying legal status. When such is the case citizens are conscience-bound to obey”.” (394)
The subject of political authority is the people, who retain sovereignty even when they elect representatives, whom they subsequently may replace.
“The subject of political authority is the people considered in its entirety as those who have sovereignty. In various forms, this people transfers the exercise of sovereignty to those whom it freely elects as its representatives, but it preserves the prerogative to assert this sovereignty in evaluating the work of those charged with governing and also in replacing them when they do not fulfil their functions satisfactorily. Although this right is operative in every State and in every kind of political regime, a democratic form of government, due to its procedures for verification, allows and guarantees its fullest application. The mere consent of the people is not, however, sufficient for considering “just” the ways in which political authority is exercised.” (395)
Such authority derives power from morality directed towards the common good.
“Authority must be guided by the moral law. All of its dignity derives from its being exercised within the context of the moral order, “which in turn has God for its first source and final end”. Because of its necessary reference to the moral order, which precedes it and is its basis, and because of its purpose and the people to whom it is directed, authority cannot be understood as a power determined by criteria of a solely sociological or historical character. […] It is from the moral order that authority derives its power to impose obligations and its moral legitimacy, not from some arbitrary will or from the thirst for power, and it is to translate this order into concrete actions to achieve the common good.” (396)
For authority to avoid becoming a mere “pragmatic regulation of different and opposing interest” it must retain its roots in natural law.
“Authority must recognize, respect and promote essential human and moral values. These are innate and “flow from the very truth of the human being and express and safeguard the dignity of the person; values which no individual, no majority and no State can ever create, modify or destroy”. These values do not have their foundation in provisional and changeable “majority” opinions, but must simply be recognized, respected and promoted as elements of an objective moral law, the natural law written in the human heart (cf. Rom 2:15), and as the normative point of reference for civil law itself. If, as a result of the tragic clouding of the collective conscience, scepticism were to succeed in casting doubt on the basic principles of the moral law, the legal structure of the State itself would be shaken to its very foundations, being reduced to nothing more than a mechanism for the pragmatic regulation of different and opposing interests.” (397)
As a result, for authority to be and remain legitimate, it must enact just laws. As soon as unjust laws are pursued, they cease to be laws themselves (becoming violence) and delegitimize authority.
“Authority must enact just laws, that is, laws that correspond to the dignity of the human person and to what is required by right reason. “Human law is law insofar as it corresponds to right reason and therefore is derived from the eternal law. When, however, a law is contrary to reason, it is called an unjust law; in such a case it ceases to be law and becomes instead an act of violence”. Authority that governs according to reason places citizens in a relationship not so much of subjection to another person as of obedience to the moral order and, therefore, to God himself who is its ultimate source. Whoever refuses to obey an authority that is acting in accordance with the moral order “resists what God has appointed” (Rom 13:2). Analogously, whenever public authority — which has its foundation in human nature and belongs to the order pre-ordained by God — fails to seek the common good, it abandons its proper purpose and so delegitimizes itself.” (398)
Refusing to obey unjust laws is not only a right, but a duty and it can be overruled neither by arguments about the freedom of others nor by being required by civil law.
“Citizens are not obligated in conscience to follow the prescriptions of civil authorities if their precepts are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or to the teachings of the Gospel. Unjust laws pose dramatic problems of conscience for morally upright people: when they are called to cooperate in morally evil acts they must refuse. Besides being a moral duty, such a refusal is also a basic human right which, precisely as such, civil law itself is obliged to recognize and protect. “Those who have recourse to conscientious objection must be protected not only from legal penalties but also from any negative effects on the legal, disciplinary, financial and professional plane”.

It is a grave duty of conscience not to cooperate, not even formally, in practices which, although permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to the Law of God. Such cooperation in fact can never be justified, not by invoking respect for the freedom of others nor by appealing to the fact that it is foreseen and required by civil law. No one can escape the moral responsibility for actions taken, and all will be judged by God himself based on this responsibility (cf. Rom 2:6; 14:12).” (399)
A direct consequence then is the legitimacy of resistance to civil (positive) law that is in contradiction with natural law (i.e., universal rationality), with the objective of change.
“Recognizing that natural law is the basis for and places limits on positive law means admitting that it is legitimate to resist authority should it violate in a serious or repeated manner the essential principles of natural law. Saint Thomas Aquinas writes that “one is obliged to obey ... insofar as it is required by the order of justice”. Natural law is therefore the basis of the right to resistance.

There can be many different concrete ways this right may be exercised; there are also many different ends that may be pursued. Resistance to authority is meant to attest to the validity of a different way of looking at things, whether the intent is to achieve partial change, for example, modifying certain laws, or to fight for a radical change in the situation.” (400)
Here there is a powerful preference for passive resistance and it is only under extreme, specific conditions (all applying simultaneously) that armed resistance could be deemed legitimate:
“The Church’s social doctrine indicates the criteria for exercising the right to resistance: “Armed resistance to oppression by political authority is not legitimate, unless all the following conditions are met: 1) there is certain, grave and prolonged violation of fundamental rights, 2) all other means of redress have been exhausted, 3) such resistance will not provoke worse disorders, 4) there is well-founded hope of success; and 5) it is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution”. Recourse to arms is seen as an extreme remedy for putting an end to a “manifest, long-standing tyranny which would do great damage to fundamental personal rights and dangerous harm to the common good of the country”. The gravity of the danger that recourse to violence entails today makes it preferable in any case that passive resistance be practised, which is “a way more conformable to moral principles and having no less prospects for success”.” (401)
Having focused on circumstances where being at odds with political and juridical power is right and duty, it is important to also recognize the good they may represent, always in function of the people they serve:
“The Magisterium recognizes the importance of national sovereignty, understood above all as an expression of the freedom that must govern relations between States. Sovereignty represents the subjectivity of a nation, in the political, economic, social and even cultural sense. The cultural dimension takes on particular importance as a source of strength in resisting acts of aggression or forms of domination that have repercussions on a country’s freedom. Culture constitutes the guarantee for the preservation of the identity of a people and expresses and promotes its spiritual sovereignty.

National sovereignty is not, however, absolute. Nations can freely renounce the exercise of some of their rights in view of a common goal, in the awareness that they form a “family of nations” where mutual trust, support and respect must prevail. In this perspective, special attention should be given to the fact that there is still no international agreement that adequately addresses “the rights of nations”, the preparation of which could profitably deal with questions concerning justice and freedom in today’s world.” (435)
The Church also insists on the importance of negotiation and dialogue when tensions among political communities arise and denounces not only the use but even the threat of force.
“To resolve the tensions that arise among different political communities and can compromise the stability of nations and international security, it is indispensable to make use of common rules in a commitment to negotiation and to reject definitively the idea that justice can be sought through recourse to war. “If war can end without winners or losers in a suicide of humanity, then we must repudiate the logic which leads to it: the idea that the effort to destroy the enemy, confrontation and war itself are factors of progress and historical advancement”.

Not only does the Charter of the United Nations ban recourse to force, but it rejects even the threat to use force. This provision arose from the tragic experience of the Second World War. During that conflict the Magisterium did not fail to identify certain indispensable factors for building a renewed international order: the freedom and territorial integrity of each nation, defence of the rights of minorities, an equitable sharing of the earth’s resources, the rejection of war and an effective plan of disarmament, fidelity to agreements undertaken and an end to religious persecution.” (438)
For conflicts at the level of nations to be resolved peacefully, “international law must ensure that the law of the more powerful does not prevail.”
“In order to consolidate the primacy of law, the principle of mutual confidence is of the utmost importance. In this perspective, normative instruments for the peaceful resolution of controversies must be reformulated so as to strengthen their scope and binding force. Processes of negotiation, mediation, conciliation and arbitration that are provided for in international law must be supported with the creation of “a totally effective juridical authority in a peaceful world”. Progress in this direction will allow the international community to be seen no longer as a simple aggregation of States in various moments of their existence, but as a structure in which conflicts can be peacefully resolved. “As in the internal life of individual States ... a system of private vendetta and reprisal has given way to the rule of law, so too a similar step forward is now urgently needed in the international community”. In short, “international law must ensure that the law of the more powerful does not prevail”.” (439)
Finally, the Church returns to denouncing the evil of violence yet again, and calls for a safeguarding of human rights, even at the cost of ridicule.
“Violence is never a proper response. With the conviction of her faith in Christ and with the awareness of her mission, the Church proclaims “that violence is evil, that violence is unacceptable as a solution to problems, that violence is unworthy of man. Violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings”.

The contemporary world too needs the witness of unarmed prophets, who are often the objects of ridicule. “Those who renounce violence and bloodshed and, in order to safeguard human rights, make use of those means of defence available to the weakest, bear witness to evangelical charity, provided they do so without harming the rights and obligations of other men and societies. They bear legitimate witness to the gravity of the physical and moral risk of recourse to violence, with all its destruction and death”.” (496)

I hope that following this thread through the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church has been of interest to you and that it has presented a useful framework for considering complex and challenging situations, like the one that is currently the case in Catalonia. It should be obvious that the Church does not push for one solution or another, but that she insists on the pursuit of the common good, on respecting the dignity and ultimate value of each person, on the application of universal rationality, on the posture of service instead of domination, on the denunciation of violence and on the need for dialogue and the protection of minorities.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Schönborn: towards a person’s possible good

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5141 words, 26 min read

In July, at Mary Immaculate College’s Irish Institute for Pastoral Studies, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna gave a beautiful, commented reading of some passages of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the family. A video of the whole event has been published recently and, as a sign of gratitude to Cardinal Schönborn, I would here like to share a lightly edited transcript of the majority of his talk. It radiates love and profound care for the family and, by extension, for all of humanity, and benefits from Cardinal Schönborn’s rich gifts and experiences - his having been editor of the current Catechism of the Catholic Church, his being archbishop of Vienna, his having been a student of Benedict XVI, his participation in both Synods that lead to Amoris Laetitia and his having been chosen to present Amoris Laetitia by Pope Francis when it was published.

Moral Theology stands on two feet: the principles and then the prudential steps to application of the principles to reality. And this is the normal challenge that every parent faces when they have to educate their children. […] This is the classical field of the virtue of prudence. And in moral theology the treatise on prudence has been gravely neglected. There was a great insistence on principles, and that was right, and it’s necessary. Principles must be clear. But then the question is how to come to practical judgment and then practical action. That’s the task of the virtue of prudence. […] For Pope Francis the key question is discernment […] for the right handling of the relation between principles and concrete action.
AL: “325. The teaching of the Master (cf. Mt 22:30) and Saint Paul (cf. 1 Cor 7:29-31) on marriage is set – and not by chance – in the context of the ultimate and definitive dimension of our human existence. We urgently need to rediscover the richness of this teaching. By heeding it, married couples will come to see the deeper meaning of their journey through life.”
One of the key words of Pope Francis in the whole document is: marriage is a journey. It’s [a] classical Thomistic approach. It’s the existence “in via” - we are on the way, on the road. There is no family in a static way. Every family is “in via” as each of us is “in via” his whole life.
AL: “325. As this Exhortation has often noted, no family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love. This is a never-ending vocation born of the full communion of the Trinity, the profound unity between Christ and his Church, the loving community which is the Holy Family of Nazareth, and the pure fraternity existing among the saints of heaven. Our contemplation of the fulfillment which we have yet to attain also allows us to see in proper perspective the historical journey which we make as families, and in this way to stop demanding of our interpersonal relationships a perfection, a purity of intentions and a consistency which we will only encounter in the Kingdom to come.”
Very often Pope Francis remembers that one of the main causes of [difficulties in] marriage is not that we ask too little from marriage, but too much. […]
AL: “325. It also keeps us from judging harshly those who live in situations of frailty. All of us are called to keep striving towards something greater than ourselves and our families, and every family must feel this constant impulse. Let us make this journey as families, let us keep walking together. What we have been promised is greater than we can imagine. May we never lose heart because of our limitations, or ever stop seeking that fullness of love and communion which God holds out before us.”
[This] helps us to see that we are all on a journey and imperfection is [an] essential part of our life. […]
AL: “320. There comes a point where a couple’s love attains the height of its freedom and becomes the basis of a healthy autonomy. This happens when each spouse realizes that the other is not his or her own, but has a much more important master, the one Lord. No one but God can presume to take over the deepest and most personal core of the loved one; he alone can be the ultimate centre of their life. At the same time, the principle of spiritual realism requires that one spouse not presume that the other can completely satisfy his or her needs. The spiritual journey of each – as Dietrich Bonhoeffer nicely put it – needs to help them to a certain “disillusionment” with regard to the other,382 to stop expecting from that person something which is proper to the love of God alone. This demands an interior divestment. The space which each of the spouses makes exclusively for their personal relationship with God not only helps heal the hurts of life in common, but also enables the spouses to find in the love of God the deepest source of meaning in their own lives. Each day we have to invoke the help of the Holy Spirit to make this interior freedom possible.”
It shows that great freedom that is the Christian vocation, which is not an impediment for the donation of each other but the condition of not demanding of each other what only God can give. And, nevertheless, he can affirm in the next point a word I love very much in this document:
AL: “321. “Christian couples are, for each other, for their children and for their relatives, cooperators of grace and witnesses of the faith”. God calls them to bestow life and to care for life. For this reason the family “has always been the nearest ‘hospital’”.”
It’s a beautiful metaphor! […] When my mother had to leave our home in ’45 as a refugee, with me on her arm as a baby, and my elder brother two years old, from Bohemia, from what’s today the Czech Republic, she had to leave the house in half an hour. Where did she go? She looked for the closest point at the Austrian border where she had relatives, family. The family is the nearest hospital. Where do you go? Where do these thousands and thousands of refugees who came through Austria and went all over Europe, where do they go? I have heard so many of them say, “I have family, relatives in Sweden, I want to go to Sweden. I have family in the Netherlands, I want to go there.” Family is the strongest hub, the most protected hub. It’s also the most vulnerable hub. […]

Pope Francis with Amoris Laetitia wants to tell us one key message. […] “Amoris Laetitia: marriage and family are possible.” […]

Before we enter this document, we must look at the Biblical foundations in the first chapter. […] There are some words that show how realistic Pope Francis’ approach is to the question of marriage and family. […]
AL: “19. The idyllic picture presented in Psalm 128 is not at odds with a bitter truth found throughout sacred Scripture, that is, the presence of pain, evil and violence that break up families and their communion of life and love. For good reason Christ’s teaching on marriage (cf. Mt 19:3-9) is inserted within a dispute about divorce. The word of God constantly testifies to that sombre dimension already present at the beginning, when, through sin, the relationship of love and purity between man and woman turns into domination: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen 3:16).”
The approach is always realistic. Let’s speak of the families […] as they really are. […] This realism invites us to not idealize the family but to look mercifully on that reality. And I want to show you three methodological texts, numbers 35, 36 and 37, where Pope Francis indicates the main line of his approach.
AL: “35. As Christians, we can hardly stop advocating marriage simply to avoid countering contemporary sensibilities, or out of a desire to be fashionable or a sense of helplessness in the face of human and moral failings.”
Sometimes we really feel helpless. I had to speak to the German government and officials. Angela Merkel was sitting there at the front. She is a very impressive lady, and I said, listen, dear politicians, we in the Catholic Church we feel often like against a wall. Whatever difficult question arrises, we are accused of being retrograde, of being conservative, of being out of touch, and it is so hard for us to say that the ideal we present is viable, that it is not impossible. So, Pope Francis encourages us to stand up for the values we [stand] for, not to be ashamed.
AL: “35. We would be depriving the world of values that we can and must offer. It is true that there is no sense in simply decrying present-day evils, as if this could change things.”
During the Synod, a Synod Father, he was a cardinal, gave a talk - 3 minutes we were allowed to speak - it was a good decision - he began to describe all the evils of our time: consumerism, materialism, hedonism, “pansexualism” he said, and some other isms I have forgotten, and then I said: but, brethren, with a long list of isms, that we criticize, nobody will be motivated to choose Christian values. And that’s exactly what Pope Francis says:
AL: “35. Nor it is helpful to try to impose rules by sheer authority. What we need is a more responsible and generous effort to present the reasons and motivations for choosing marriage and the family, and in this way to help men and women better to respond to the grace that God offers them.”
[...] The word grace appears so often in this document. Trust in grace. Don’t only repeat the norms, but trust in grace. And the two words: reasons and motivations. We have reasons for our hope. We have reasons for our faith.
AL: “36. Nor have we always provided solid guidance to young married couples, understanding their timetables, their way of thinking and their concrete concerns. At times we have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families. This excessive idealization, especially when we have failed to inspire trust in God’s grace, has not helped to make marriage more desirable and attractive, but quite the opposite.”

AL: “37. We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations. We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.”
I must say, I was deeply moved when I read this text: “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.” And do we really trust in the conscience of people who very often respond “as best they can.” The “bonum possibile” in moral theology that has been so neglected. What is the possible good a person can achieve, or a couple can achieve, in difficult circumstances? Often Pope Francis comes back to what he has said in Evangelii Gaudium: “A little step towards the good, done under difficult circumstances, can be more valuable than a moral, solid life under comfortable circumstances.” […] Do we really trust conscience? Of course, dialogue is necessary, deepening the awareness of conscience, but first of all we can trust.

And I want to read with you number 49, which is, as the theologians would say, the hermeneutic key, the key to understanding where Pope Francis comes from. What moves him in speaking as he does.
AL: “49. Here I would also like to mention the situation of families living in dire poverty and great limitations. The problems faced by poor households are often all the more trying.36 For example, if a single mother has to raise a child by herself and needs to leave the child alone at home while she goes to work, the child can grow up exposed to all kind of risks and obstacles to personal growth. In such difficult situations of need, the Church must be particularly concerned to offer understanding, comfort and acceptance, rather than imposing straightaway a set of rules that only lead people to feel judged and abandoned by the very Mother called to show them God’s mercy. Rather than offering the healing power of grace and the light of the Gospel message, some would “indoctrinate” that message, turning it into “dead stones to be hurled at others”.”
I have met Pope Francis for the first time when he was an auxiliary at Buenos Aires in ’97. […] I will never forget the barrio, the quarter where the sisters [I was visiting] were living. It was “un oceano de miseria” - an ocean of misery. Huts and huts and huts as far as you could see. And in the neighboring hut of the Little Sisters, there was a couple, who had a little daughter and a boy - the boy has become a criminal - and the daughter, Roxanne, now has two little children, two boys, and she showed me when I was there three years ago, the little hut she had built herself, with a little garden, all very very poor, but when I read this text I thought, Roxanne - the heroism of these women in such difficult situations. That is the existential place, where Pope Francis comes from and what matters to him. […]
AL: “123. After the love that unites us to God, conjugal love is the “greatest form of friendship”. It is a union possessing all the traits of a good friendship: concern for the good of the other, reciprocity, intimacy, warmth, stability and the resemblance born of a shared life. Marriage joins to all this an indissoluble exclusivity expressed in the stable commitment to share and shape together the whole of life. Let us be honest and acknowledge the signs that this is the case. Lovers do not see their relationship as merely temporary. Those who marry do not expect their excitement to fade. Those who witness the celebration of a loving union, however fragile, trust that it will pass the test of time. Children not only want their parents to love one another, but also to be faithful and remain together.”
I was asked one day in a school [… by a girl]: “Bishop, what was the most difficult day in your life?” I was surprised by this question and without reflecting, I said: “The moment when I heard that my parents divorced.” There was a great silence. That’s the experience of many young people, and I tried to repair what I had done and said: “But, listen, I can tell you, by experience, there is always a way.” But, this is such a deep truth, and we will see how important this experience is for Pope Francis, in Chapter 8. Before asking the question: are they allowed - yes or no - to receive communion, look at the situation of the family, the children, and so on.
AL: “123. These and similar signs show that it is in the very nature of conjugal love to be definitive. The lasting union expressed by the marriage vows is more than a formality or a traditional formula; it is rooted in the natural inclinations of the human person.”
We must not be desperate […]. Marriage will last because it is rooted in the deepest inclinations of human nature. The “inclinatio naturalis” was in Thomas Aquinas - this is typically Thomistic - so to say the guideline, the orientation that human nature, that the Creator, has given us. Therefore the best ally of our understanding of marriage and family is human nature. That will last and we shouldn’t be too afraid of the discussions of other forms of relations because fundamentally this natural inclination will always be stronger.
AL: “123. For believers, it is also a covenant before God that calls for fidelity.”
That’s what faith adds to this natural inclination. But all these arguments show that love in itself is inclined to be permanent and faithful and lasting. […]

[Now] we must read number 220 - it’s so funny - it shows the realism of Pope Francis. I think this should be read by a couple, because it is so true for a couple, it is also somewhat true for us who live in celibacy.
AL: “This process [the process of growth] occurs in various stages that call for generosity and sacrifice. The first powerful feelings of attraction give way to the realization that the other is now a part of my life. The pleasure of belonging to one another leads to seeing life as a common project, putting the other’s happiness ahead of my own, and realizing with joy that this marriage enriches society. As love matures, it also learns to “negotiate”. Far from anything selfish or calculating, such negotiation is an exercise of mutual love, an interplay of give and take, for the good of the family. At each new stage of married life, there is a need to sit down and renegotiate agreements, so that there will be no winners and losers, but rather two winners. In the home, decisions cannot be made unilaterally, since each spouse shares responsibility for the family; yet each home is unique and each marriage will find an arrangement that works best.”
There is no general rule. Every marriage synthesis is unique. […] Our former president of Austria, I am good friends with him and his wife, he is an agnostic and she is not baptized, of Jewish origin, but they are a very good couple. An exemplary couple. And one day they spoke about how they work, their strategies in conflicts and they said: we have an agreement that the one of us who more easily gives in does it. “So,” I asked, “but how do you know who of you can give in more easily than the other?” And they smiled and said: “That’s by experience.” No winner, no loser; negotiate.
AL: “221. Each marriage is a kind of “salvation history”, which from fragile beginnings – thanks to God’s gift and a creative and generous response on our part – grows over time into something precious and enduring. […] Love is thus a kind of craftsmanship.”
[… On homosexuals and homosexuality]
AL: “250. The Church makes her own the attitude of the Lord Jesus, who offers his boundless love to each person without exception.During the Synod, we discussed the situation of families whose members include persons who experience same-sex attraction, a situation not easy either for parents or for children. We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence. Such families should be given respectful pastoral guidance, so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives.”
In all these discussions, it is known through the media that I have had the case of an elected parish councillor who lives in a same-sex union. He is a very fine young man, he works with handicapped children, he is fully engaged in the parish, he leads the parish choir, and he is highly respected by the parish and his friend, his partner, is a good and a fine young man and they are faithful to each other. I had the choice, when he was elected to the parish council - he had the most votes for the parish council - I was confronted with the question: have I to cancel this vote? In the same week we had the media full with a monk, a Benedictine monk, who had abused in the college of his abbey, probably about 100 boys. He ended in prison, but the abbot had covered … The media were full of this and I said, no, I can’t cancel this parish vote. It was not a protest vote against the Church’s teaching. It was for this young man, who is an honest and good Christian, a real believer, and I decided not to cancel that vote. It was discussed all over the globe, in the “blogosphere”, and I think these few words of Amoris Laetitia are sufficient. As we do for marriage crises, as we do for priests in crisis, we have to look at the person first, not the orientation. I have always said in these discussions: I have never met a homosexual, I have always met a person that has also had a homosexual orientation, but that is not all of the person and there are so many good things to look at. So, I think it is good that Pope Francis refused to have a long discussion about the question.
AL: “251. In discussing the dignity and mission of the family, the Synod Fathers observed that, “as for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family”. It is unacceptable “that local Churches should be subjected to pressure in this matter and that international bodies should make financial aid to poor countries dependent on the introduction of laws to establish ‘marriage’ between persons of the same sex”.“
[…] In Austria we have a law for same-sex partnership and this is a law with reasonable civil law dispositions for same-sex people living together, sharing their life. It’s questions of inheritance, of rights of visit, of sharing an apartment, and so on - all these legal questions. And from the Church’s side we have not at all objected to this law, because it’s helpful for civil situations which we have not to judge on the personal level. But then, we clearly said we are grateful to the government that they clearly distinguish the legislation on marriage and family from this kind of civil legislation. Of course, some groups were not satisfied, but I think it is a possible way and I think it is also an honest way. […]

Chapter 8. Let’s have a look at number 300. […]
AL: “300. If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned, it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases.”
When I received the draft for preparing my presentation in Rome, of course, I admit, I read first Chapter 8, which you shouldn’t do. And, when I read this sentence, I was relieved. I must say, I had a serious fear that the attempt of certain bishops, certain theologians, certain pressure groups, would lead Pope Francis to the attempt of formulating a new canonical disposition applicable for all cases of irregular situations. That’s what the Eastern Orthodox churches do with the canons of 692 where it is generally, canonically established that a second and a third union are possible. Not under certain conditions, but they are possible. And this is a canonical, general rule. Some people wanted such a kind of disposition in canon law for the Catholic Church and I was so relieved, so glad, that Pope Francis stood clear about this. The canonical disposition and the dogmatic grounds for this canonical disposition, are valid and need no supplement, no addition. Does it mean, as some people conclude, from this sentence, that nothing has changed? That nothing is possible? Therefore, lets’ read the second sentence:
AL: “300. What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases.”
Now, you may say, that’s much too difficult. We need clear rules. How can a couple, a priest, a pastoral personnel, come to such a discernment? Pope John Paul II has said in Familiaris Consortio no 84. - a famous text on divorced remarried - he said “the pastors, the shepherds, by love for truth, are obliged to distinguish the cases, to distinguish the situations” - that’s John Paul! And if you turn back to number 298 you will find a series of quotes of St. John Paul about the distinction of cases, distinction of situations. Pope Francis has enlarged this chapter of 84 of Familiaris Consortio by adding some other cases. I give you just the first case:
AL: “298. The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or t into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment. One thing is a second union consolidated over time, with new children, proven fidelity, generous self giving, Christian commitment, a consciousness of its irregularity and of the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins. The Church acknowledges situations “where, for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, a man and woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate”.”
That’s a reality. We do not speak about communion here! We speak about the moral qualification of different situations. Pope Francis said once during the Synod: this question of the communion is a trap because you put away the consideration of the situation. You only want to have a casuistic approach: are they allowed, aren’t they allowed. But, first of all, discern the situations.
AL: “298. There are also the cases of those who made every effort to save their first marriage and were unjustly abandoned, or of “those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing, and are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably broken marriage had never been valid”.“
When my parents divorced, they knew each other for three days before they got married. It was wartime, my father was at the front, came back to Prague, met my mother at a party, and asked her to marry him the first evening. And then he had to return to the front, they wrote letters, and during the second holiday from the front, they got married. My father then deserted the German army, he was very hostile to the Nazis, escaped and joined the British army. He came back with the British army when I was already born. And they began to live together practically four years after their wedding, and had to discover that they didn’t know each other. So, it’s great that my parents stood together 17 years and they really tried to bring us up but they knew that this marriage … So, as a child already, I had the feeling that if my mother said: “I cannot bring up four children alone,” working hard - she was in business - she brought us up alone, she is still alive - 97! Amazing! But, I would have understood if she had said, “I just can’t do it, bringing up four children alone.” And she had had the possibility for a second marriage, but she didn’t do it, and she always says until today, “He was my husband, yes, he is my husband.” Of course, this marriage could have been dissolved easily, because, they knew each other three days, but nevertheless, the situation addressed here is morally different from destroying an existing marriage through adultery. And we have finally a fifth [and sixth] case:
AL: “298. Another thing is a new union arising from a recent divorce, with all the suffering and confusion which this entails for children and entire families, or the case of someone who has consistently failed in his obligations to the family. It must remain clear that this is not the ideal which the Gospel proposes for marriage and the family. The Synod Fathers stated that the discernment of pastors must always take place “by adequately distinguishing”, with an approach which “carefully discerns situations”. We know that no “easy recipes” exist.””
We could say a lot about this discernment. I just want to add one point, which is made in number 300:
AL: “300. Priests have the duty to “accompany [the divorced and remarried] in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop.”
That’s what Pope Francis recommends in this situation, before asking the question of communion. Ask five questions:
AL: “300. Useful in this process is an examination of conscience through moments of reflection and repentance. The divorced and remarried should ask themselves: how did they act towards their children when the conjugal union entered into crisis; whether or not they made attempts at reconciliation; what has become of the abandoned party; what consequences the new relationship has on the rest of the family and the community of the faithful; and what example is being set for young people who are preparing for marriage. A sincere reflection can strengthen trust in the mercy of God which is not denied anyone”.”
This is for me the real program for how to accompany divorced remarried in their great variety of situations. These 5 points. And I end with number 245:
AL: “245. The Synod Fathers also pointed to “the consequences of separation or divorce on children, in every case the innocent victims of the situation”. Apart from every other consideration, the good of children should be the primary concern, and not overshadowed by any ulterior interest or objective. I make this appeal to parents who are separated: “Never ever, take your child hostage! You separated for many problems and reasons. Life gave you this trial,”
I find it very impressive. Pope Francis does not judge: “Life gave you this trial” of separation. But:
AL: “245. but your children should not have to bear the burden of this separation or be used as hostages against the other spouse. They should grow up hearing their mother speak well of their father, even though they are not together, and their father speak well of their mother”. It is irresponsible to disparage the other parent as a means of winning a child’s affection, or out of revenge or self-justification. Doing so will affect the child’s interior tranquillity and cause wounds hard to heal.”
This is the attitude of discernment Pope Francis is inviting us to exercise and practice and the question of communion can come after that, when he says: “There may be cases in which the help of the sacraments can be given.” But that needs discernment. And he gave us, and I tried to present in brief, some guidelines for this discernment.