Human Freedom +Amoris Laetitia Session

We read at today’s Holy Mass: This is the fasting I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke. (Isaiah 58:6)

sistine isaiahWhat does it mean for man truly to reign over himself in freedom? We need to know that, in order to co-operate with it. As we read: above all sacrifices, the Lord demands my co-operation with the true freedom of my neighbors. Not to mention: my co-operation with the true freedom He wills for me, myself.

Freedom comes from knowledge. We can only make free choices about things that we know and understand. Human knowledge extends only so far, so human freedom extends only so far. We don’t have absolute freedom. Only God knows everything, so only God can act with absolute freedom.

But we human beings do have it in us to reign over all the other creatures in the material cosmos. For us to serve anything beneath us means slavery. And we can’t enslave ourselves to each other, either. Which means we must cultivate free minds.

How about if we strive during Lent 2017 to attain genuine independence of thought? If I have an independent mind, I will know how to respect my neighbor’s right to exercise his or her independent mind.

How? By smashing my interior idols. God alone has absolute authority to teach me the truth. I must offer Him constant access to my mind. By keeping silence. By reading unfamiliar things. By listening to others patiently. By speaking only what I know to be true. By eliminating gossip from my life altogether.

amoris-laetitia-coverThe free person is not the one who serves nothing. The free person is the one who learns from God and serves Him out of love. When I live this free life, I will know how to respect everyone else’s right to live it, too.

We had an illuminating parish study session on Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia yesterday evening. Since Lent is supposed to be hard, I distributed a six-page handout and gave some pop quizzes.

We agreed, I think, that we possess a shining nugget of gold. Namely, the image of marriage which we behold when a man and a woman exchange vows before a clergyman and the holy altar–and then go home and start making babies.

This image shines with a particular light: the light of God giving life. Human beings can and do bind themselves to the service of such a mystery. And our conjugal service to God the Giver of Life goes to the death, just as Jesus went to the death to espouse Himself to His people.

In order for sex or marriage to make sense, they must mean the same thing. Neither prudish nor crass, we recognize our own origins in this reality. And we recognize in Christ crucified, in His sacred wounds, the revelation of the meaning of life. Eternal Love made us to be His friends forever.

Which brings me to this: The more times I read Amoris Laetitia, the less I get out of it. I’ll give you my current bottom line on it.

Catholics living in “irregular” sexual situations can and do receive Holy Communion all the time, without consulting the parish priest. Perhaps they do so with tranquil consciences. No one gets scandalized who doesn’t know. The communion lines at our parishes here in Roanoke are anonymous-enough places.

If someone initiates a conversation with a parish priest about his/her irregular sexual situation, it’s because s/he does not have a clear conscience about it. Trying to shepherd souls lovingly, I of course cannot close the door on such a conversation with a “get away from me, sinner!”

But, by the same token, saying, ‘go ahead and receive Holy Communion,’ seems to me like closing the door in a different way. I have read Amoris Laetitia three times through, and have yet to find anything that convinces me that it makes sense to tell people having sex outside of canonical marriage that they’re fine.

Sed contra: In an interview with the National Catholic Register, Cardinal Coccopalmiero proposed this case:

Think of a woman who lives with a married man. She has three little children. [Note: Apparently the man’s children; not hers.] She has already been with this man for 10 years. Now the children think of her as a mother. He, the partner, is very much anchored to this woman, as a lover, as a woman. If this woman were to say: ‘I am leaving this mistaken union because I want to correct my life, but if I did this, I would harm the children and the partner,’ then she might say: ‘I would like to, but I cannot.’

In precisely these cases, based on one’s intention to change and the impossibility of changing, I can give that person the sacraments, in the expectation that the situation is definitively clarified…How can she leave the union? He [her civilly married spouse] will kill himself. The children, who will take care of them? They will be without a mother. Therefore, she has to stay there.

I see problems. Instead of saying, Yes, of course, go to Holy Communion! I would ask if she thought she should tolerate her husband’s suicide threats, since they are no less aggressive than threats to her life. I would ask if he had sought to obtain an annulment, so they could be married in church. I would try to point out to her that she was being exploited.

In other words, with all due respect, I think the Cardinal’s case is not very convincing.

Would love to read you thoughts, dear reader!



3 thoughts on “Human Freedom +Amoris Laetitia Session

  1. First, a wonderful experience/teaching last evening and a inspiring homily at noon Mass.
    Now, to the woman in the example. I struggled with conflicting ideas about the situation and the options. Sometimes “seeing both sides of a situation” is a major headache! But in the end, the fact of the matter is that she apparently willingly entered into a situation that was outside the beliefs and teachings of the Catholic faith. If I read this correctly, she made a decision to live as his wife with a man married to another woman. The reference made to “her civilly married spouse” leads me to think the man’s marriage was not of the church, but just of civil law. Not sure that matters, unless it’s meant to make a distinction that his marriage may not be recognized by the Catholic Church, although that seems to me more of a “technical point” because he still made a vow to another woman. Now she wants to receive the sacraments. As simplistic as this question may seem, what about the ten years? What has she been doing all those years? Or perhaps she has struggled all these years with a desire to receive the sacrament and is just now finding the courage to ask. Not sure that really matters although perhaps it may. Is there a reason she now wants to receive the sacrament, such as terminal illness? I understand the reasoning presented that leaving the “mistaken union” would create great hurt to the children and the man she has lived with for ten years. So it seems to me her options are: 1. Go to the Catholic church and receive the sacraments without confessing her situation. 2. Go to a protestant church and receive communion with no questions asked. 3. Take steps to rectify the situation, such as those presented by Fr. Mark. 4. Live in a “brother-sister” relationship with the man for the sake of the children (easier said than done likely). 5. Just live with the situation she has created and forego taking the sacraments. So, now we ask, perhaps, what about a loving God who forgives if we confess our sins? When Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, he said, “Go and sin no more.” I am sure anyone caught in this situation would prefer the priest say she may receive the sacraments but can she in her own heart be at peace with that? In the end, does it finally come down to being between her, God and the priest, or just between her and God? But if we don’t truly believe and try to practice what we confess (even as we often fail!), then what is the meaning of anything? This question is obviously for far more learned minds than mine.

  2. It seems to me that there is only one answer. If a man and woman who are living together without the ability to marry because of a valid marriage existing between one or the other with another spouse, then they would have to live as sister and brother without spousal relations, to receive the sacraments.

  3. 1. How does one acquire the grace to recognize the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to know and act in her specific situation if not through the sacraments?
    2. We catechize by our life and our example. The children have to be the primary consideration.

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