Friday, 17 October 2014

Synod14: Exclusion is not the language of the Church

Francis inclusion

Like all this week, today too is best started with Pope Francis' homily, which is not only a source of joy and edification, but also an answer to the incessant question on the lips of all Synod pundits this week about what he thinks.

Today Pope Francis focused on the first reading (Ephesians 1:11-14) in which St. Paul tells us that “God not only chose us, but [he] gave us a style, a way of life, which is not only a list of habits, it is more: it is an identity”:
“Our identity is precisely this seal, this power of the Holy Spirit, that we all have received in Baptism. And the Holy Spirit has sealed our hearts, and more, walks with us. This Spirit, that was promised us – that Jesus promised us - this Spirit not only gives us an identity, but it is also a down payment on our inheritance. With Him, Heaven begins. We are already living in this Heaven, this eternity, because we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, which is the very beginning of Heaven: it was our down payment; we have it in hand. We have Heaven in hand with this seal.”
This is very much in line with St. John Paul II saying that “Eschatology has already begun with the coming of Christ,” and it leads Francis to warn against a “dulling down” of our Christian identity:
“This is the lukewarm Christian. It is a Christian who, yes, goes to Mass on Sundays, but whose identity is not visible in his way of life. He may even live like a pagan, but he is a Christian. Being lukewarm. Dulling down our identity. And the other sin, of which Jesus spoke to his disciples, and which we heard: 'Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.' 'Pretending': I pretend to be a Christian, but am not. I am not transparent, I say one thing - 'yes, yes I am a Christian' - but I do another, something that is not Christian”
And, finally, Francis points to what is needed: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. And this is our path to Heaven, it is our road, so that Heaven may begin here.”

With the above it mind, I would just like to share some of the highlights of today's press conference with Synod participants, where I will focus in particular on the words of Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who - to my mind - spoke with great clarity and charity today. To begin with Cardinal Marx declared that the answer to the question of whether anything will come out of this process as to be a “clear yes.”
“The Holy Father doesn't invite for two Synods just to hear at the end that we can keep repeating what we have always been saying. [...] He expects input from us that leads ahead, that opens doors, that points to ways of proclaiming the Gospel of the family in a clearer, more intensive way. Also in conversation with the people. Not just by quoting ourselves, but by being in dialogue about what moves people.”
Commenting on the work of the Synod, Marx pointed to its purpose being both to develop and to “sharpen” the material it deals with. When asked what he thought the Pope thinks about the question of access to the Eucharist for the divorced and remarried, Cardinal Marx said: “The spokesperson of the Pope is Fr. Lombardi.” while pointing at him and giving a big smile :). He then proceeded to comment on it being a key question of how irregular circumstances are approached:
“circumstances that don't fit the sacramental scheme of marriage, but that are not entirely devoid of value. There are examples here of people who are on a journey, people who live in broken relationships, yet who live elements of good community. Fundamentally this is the question. [...] And here it is my opinion that we must find a different language. We have to make it clear that this is not about black or white, all or nothing, but that the circumstances of people are more difficult. And that's also how I'd interpret the Pope's words in Evangelii Gaudium. I have to interpret it in this way. First, it is about seeing people in their circumstances, including the good that is alive in their circumstances. And that is why I believe we have to develop further in this area.”
In response to a question asking for clarification about where the Synod is heading with regard to homosexuals, Marx provides the following, beautifully clear and personal piece of thinking:
“Here it is fundamentally about looking at individual cases. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear that homosexuals are not condemned because of their orientation; the sexual practice, the sexual relationship cannot be accepted. This applies to other aspects too. But not everything is to be evaluated with an equal measure of negativity. [... I know] a homosexual couple who have been together for 30-35 years in a faithful relationship, which as a sexual relationship is not accepted by the Church, but they live together, one looks after the other, during the last phase of his life. Here, as Church, I cannot say that everything that these people have done during their lives is without value, because they have a homosexual relationship. This is what it is about, that one can differentiate here. Then, someone who is in a different relationship every day, will receive a different assessment in terms of spiritual accompaniment, that someone who tries to be chaste, or who is striving towards faithfulness, a faithful relationship. We are still not at the destination, where we could say: “Aha! Now we can say that all is in order.” Of course. But I can't just say that everything is either black or white. And it is difficult to make this understood sometimes and it is also the responsibility of individual pastoral care. [...] Maybe this cannot be encapsulated in rules, that may be correct, but nonetheless I can share a journey with them and also experience a maturing. No question about it! That is possible. On every human journey, including one that may be based on a mistake, there is growth and increasing maturity, there is improvement, there is something that can be lived through the spirit of the Gospel. It would be unthinkable to say that because you are homosexual, you can live nothing of the spirit of the Gospel. That's unthinkable! At least for me.”
Then, in the context of a question about the divorced and remarried, Marx declared forcefully:
“We must be close to everyone, each with their particular circumstances. We must give them opportunities to find their place in the Church. No one is excluded! No one is redundant! No one is marginalized! Exclusion is not the language of the Church!”
In response to a question about the principle of gradualness, Marx emphasized that:
“We must take the circumstances of an individual seriously. [...] In the relationships among people, which have become so varied, we must recognize the good they contain in terms of the Gospel being lived by them, without giving up the aim of sacramental marriage. But there is a variety of ways that lead there.”
Cardinal Marx's next answer, to the question of whether the teaching of the Church can change, was particularly important, and presented the same position as shared by Archbishop Paglia the other day and by Pope Francis on many occasions:
“Of course! Of course! Two thousand years of Church history isn't a repetition of always the same. First of all, the teaching of the Church isn't a static collection of statements that just sit there, but a development. The teaching of the Church does not change, it gets understood more deeply. [...] It is not like doctrine is given and we try to apply it. Instead, doctrine too is in dialogue with the pastoral.1 For example, the decision of John XXIII to call for a pastoral Council, is a dogmatic decision. This is not about saying: “Here is something solid that doesn't move and our problem is only about how to make people understand it.” Then it looks like it is people who are the problem. But that can't be! Doctrine is given, yes, it doesn't answer to the spirit of the times, but it can develop. Benedict XVI [...] said, with reference to the Council, that it wasn't a hermeneutic of rupture, of discontinuity, but a hermeneutic of reform. And this reform, naturally, also affects what is being said about teaching. Otherwise we wouldn't need theology anymore. A new discovery, a deeper discovery of what is meant by the truth of Christ, of what the Gospel wants to tell us today. The truth isn't a system, the truth is a person, with whom we speak. Just to say that the Church's teaching will never change, in this sense, that is too narrow a view. At it's core, Catholic truth and what the Gospel tells us remain unchanged, but whether we have discovered everything, whether we have found everything, that I dare to doubt.”
All I can say to that is: Amen! :)

1 Note that this point has been mistranslated by some as “doctrine is communicated pastorally,” which is a different position altogether.

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