The Ecclesiastical Controversy (Compendium Included)



Why do they call Rogue One a “stand-alone” movie? Well….How do I put this delicately, without spoiling the movie for you, if you haven’t seen it?

The likable male and female leads, apparently in love, share an embrace at the movie’s end. Perhaps they whisper to each other “till death do us part.” But at that point in the great Star-Wars narrative, the Death Star exercises its power, and, well…let’s put it this way: “till death” ain’t very long in this case, and dead people generally don’t appear in sequels. Ergo, this film stands alone.

Also: Dead people don’t have sex. Maybe that sounds morbid. But our Lord Jesus made a point of highlighting that fact (Matthew 22:30) And I believe the inevitable celibacy of the dead can put a lot of things into proper perspective…

…Now, most people do not find Roman Synods particularly interesting. And even fewer people have the patience to read ecclesiastical documents of over 250 pages.

amoris-laetitia-coverI daresay most Catholics don’t even know that we have a Church “controversy” going on right now. But, in point of fact, we do.

Of what do we dispute in this ecclesiastical controversy? you ask.

A group of cardinals expressed doubts about the meaning of our Holy Father’s latest formal teaching document, the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation called Amoris Laetitia, “The Joy of Love.”

Actually these Eminences expressed doubts about just a few paragraphs. Like this one:

It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being. (Amoris Laetitia 304)

The Cardinals express their doubt about how to interpret this:

Does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II that emphasizes that conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts? …For those proposing the creative idea of conscience, the precepts of God’s law and the norm of the individual conscience can be in tension or even in opposition… (Doubt #5, and Explanatory Note. )

The cardinals raise a pertinent question. And I find Fr.Antonio Livi’s ambivalence about Amoris Laetitia even more penetrating, because it takes into account the distinction between external law and internal conscience in the life of the pilgrim Church:

Here [in paragraph 304] the discourse [of Amoris Laetitia] is even more ambiguous, because it voluntarily confuses the “external” evaluation of the moral situation of the conscience of the faithful with their “internal” situation before God: the condition of the individual’s conscience flees the human eye, even that of the spiritual director or confessor, and the authority of the Church is not called to give judgment on the conscience (“de internis neque Ecclesia iudicat” — the Church does not judge what is internal). Therefore the evaluation of the external, that which remains evident to the eyes of men, is what is enough for a merely prudential judgment which does not pretend to be absolute and definitive but concerns the duty of the ecclesiastic authority of recognizing the external behavior of men conformed to the verbal law as just and to sanction the unjust ones.

If you’ve read this weblog for a while, you know that these questions have pre-occupied me for some time. So I present to you a little compendium of my writings over the past 2 1/2 years on the great “communion-for-the-divorced” controversy. Consider it a Solstice-Day gift.

Click the links and dive in, as you like. I think you might find the Cardinals’ dubia, and the questions raised by the venerable doctors Grisez and Finnis (which you can read by clicking here) hidden in my musings. But I have tried to tackle things from my own ponderous, even lugubrious, goofball-existentialist perspective…

First, the historical context in which I, for one, see the Synod on the Family, and its aftermath. I called it “the Synod of Tweets” because the Catholic-press news coverage rarely penetrated beyond the 140-keystroke limit, and because many Synod Fathers tweeted their way through the whole thing, leaving us wondering how they possibly could have listened to all the speeches. Also: I tried to present the recent-historical context, which involves the early career of a great hero.

In the fall of 2014, I wanted to give a speech on honesty, if only I could have had the Synod floor myself.

Next, I raised some questions I have about the holy-communion controversy…

  1. Does the distinction ‘law vs. mercy’ really makes sense? (Also, divine laws against whitened sepulchers).
  2. Does giving yourself an annulment make sense? PS. Alanis Morrisette sings the rationale for marriage law.
  3. Does it make sense for Germans to try to turn the Catechism into bilge-water? With a good answer from Nova et Vetera

I tried to coach everyone through any confusion they experienced following the Synod. I heartily advised walks.

How about a spiritual context? I gave a homily on mercy and promises, and a homily on loving prudently.

princeThen our Holy Father gave us his very, very long Apostolic Exhortation. It has a lot in it, but not everything. It has the teaching of St. ThereseAmerica magazine made a super-lame video about it, and Prince unwittingly sang about it.

Now we find ourselves ready for Christmas 2016, and many internet enthusiasts see this as a moment of great crisis in the Catholic Church. Meanwhile, most Catholics hardly know anything about any of this; the Redskins’ crisis impinges more directly on our daily lives.

I will certainly have much more to say. (For instance, CLICK HERE for a sermon on “pastoral accompaniment”. Or HERE for one about erring on the side of obedience.) I believe that carefully reading Amoris Laetitia will inspire and inform us. I intend to lead an adult-ed study, here at St. Andrew’s in Roanoke, early in AD 2017.

I think studying the Catechism also will help us. And studying the Holy Bible. Studying the teaching we have received from our loving God.

IMHO, this controversy is actually not much of an ecclesiastical controversy for the 21st century. After all, I think it comes down to is this: Do we human beings need to submit our minds to God’s teaching? Do we receive the teaching of the Church for what it truly is? Namely, God’s kind, thorough, and wise instruction of His beloved children?

This was a controversy within the Church for our parents and grandparents. Catholics questioning Church teaching is a 20th century thing. Catholics did that, I guess, because 20th-century man rejected Divine Revelation, on the grounds that submitting to it meant humiliating one’s great human self beneath one’s dignity. But then St. John Paul II came along and pointed out to everyone that no one can achieve greater dignity than: sonship in the Son, Jesus Christ, God made man.

We still need time, of course, to reflect more deeply on the mystery of the Incarnation, and the Church’s communion with God Incarnate. But I think the 20th-century controversy about humble, obedient faith demeaning the human soul has long since fallen by the wayside, at least among Catholics. We know perfectly well that we do not have God’s intelligence.

In the 21st century, we Catholics do not expect the Church as a human institution to be perfect. We perceive that God reveals Himself through Her, in spite of Her limitations on the human level. So any “tension” between the Church’s rules and my supposedly liberated conscience? It really just doesn’t exist. To the contrary, I know that my adherence to the Church’s clear guidance is what allows me to live a genuinely free life–free of all the other nonsense that this world throws at me to try to entrap me in its misery.

In other words, my obedience within the great family that is the Catholic Church ensures my freedom from all pagan slaveries–especially the cruel slavery of imagining that I’m utterly on my own when it comes to having a relationship with God. After all, I will face Him in death sooner or later. And the Church has laws precisely to help me prepare for that inevitable day.


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