So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Sample This! Archbishop Sample on the misuse of Amoris Laetitia.

Excerpt from: 'A TRUE AND LIVING ICON', a pastoral letter on the reading of Amoris Laetitia in light of Church teaching by the Archbishop of Portland, Oregon, the Most Reverend Alexander K. Sample.


Misuses of Amoris Laetitia

Despite the clear teaching of the Church, some have misused elements of Amoris Laetitia to support positions that are not compatible with Church teaching. This has created some confusion and consternation amongst the faithful. (You said it, Your Excellency!) Given the nature of doctrinal and moral development, certain positions are incompatible with genuine doctrine, pastoral practice, and sacramental discipline. Since such positions are illicit, Amoris Laetitia cannot be legitimately used to offer support for them. The text cannot and ought not be misused in support of the following three errors.

Misuse One: Conscience Legitimizes Actions Contravening Divine Commandments
“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey... . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.” Conscience enjoins us to do good and refrain from evil, and listening to and following conscience is a mark of human dignity and awesome responsibility. When we act, we shape not only the world around us but also our own character, even, at times, affecting our eternal well-being. Given the seriousness of this responsibility, each person has the right and obligation to obey their conscience.

Amoris Laetitia affirms the magnificence of this freedom, for “human dignity itself demands that each of us ‘act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within.’” Given the difficulty and complexity of various situations, as well as the level of formation, knowledge, and virtue of the person, the Exhortation (Note: Amoris Laetitia is an "exhortation". Can a pope (or his ghostwriter) misdirect his flock? Remember, St. Paul chided St. Peter for behaving one way with Gentle Christians alone and another way when Jewish Christians were present: Galatians 2:11-14.) notes that a person “can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while not yet fully the objective ideal.” (Perhaps 'standard' or 'norm' might be words preferable to 'ideal'. The Christian life, the design God has for man, is more than an ideal. It is a reality that God in Jesus Christ provides grace to attain.)

This does not support the claim that conscience supersedes an objective moral law. Ignorance, enslavement to passions, an incorrect understanding of moral autonomy, or the absence of virtue may reduce a person’s subjective culpability when sincerely following erroneous conscience, and in some instances “the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him.” But in no way does this diminish or negate the objectivity of the evil, or privation, or disorder committed.

Conscience is not a law unto itself, nor may conscience rightly disregard or supplant the commands of God as taught by the Church. St. John Paul II explicitly rejected the possibility that private judgments of conscience could “legitimize so-called ‘pastoral’ solutions contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium” or allow individuals to violate exceptionless moral norms.

The Church never desires to “replace” or circumvent conscience, knowing that persons are “capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations.” But conscience can err, and “freedom of conscience is never freedom ‘from’ the truth but always and only freedom ‘in’ the truth.” Thus, the Church, parents, and lawful authority are called always “to form consciences.” A person sincerely responding with as much generosity to God’s commandment as they can, is nonetheless called to “remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal (standard/norm) to be more fully realized.”

Because persons are free, conscience can develop and mature. No one is trapped within a permanently erroneous conscience, and by God’s grace and moral education can cooperate in attaining a well-formed conscience. Pope Francis notes, for instance, the serious responsibility of parents in “shaping the will of their children, fostering good habits and a natural inclination to goodness,” and of moral education for “cultivating freedom” to “help develop those stable interior principles that lead us spontaneously to do good.” Human dignity, he reminds us, calls us to act in a personal way, from within, and it is precisely formation in the virtuous life which “builds, strengthens, and shapes freedom.”

Conscience as an inner law inscribed by God “bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments.” Conscience is internal, but conscience is given by God in such a way that the moral commandments, and the authoritative interpretation of those commandments by the Church, are not external impositions on a person. Moral teaching forms conscience, enlightening a person so they can recognize, love, and willingly follow the objective moral truth, however incorrect their previous judgments may have been. This is particularly true for the baptized, who are united with Christ and have Christ’s own mind and life in them through grace (1 Corinthians 2:16). Let us not forget the hope of divine filiation, that in baptism we have become new creatures, born anew from within.

There is a grave obligation to assist in the formation of conscience. As St. John Paul II reminded, in full conformity with the Catholic tradition, when people approach the Church with the questions and challenges of their conscience, “the Church’s reply contains the voice of Jesus Christ, the voice of the truth about good and evil. (Hey Cardinal Kasper, did you hear that?) In the words spoken by the Church there resounds, in people’s inmost being, the voice of God....” Elsewhere, he links moral formation to the charity of the Gospel itself: “the concrete pedagogy of the Church must always remain linked with her doctrine and never be separated from it. With the same conviction as my predecessor, I therefore repeat: ‘To diminish in no way the saving teaching of Christ constitutes an eminent form of charity for souls.’"

Encouraging or silently accepting an erroneous judgment of conscience is neither mercy nor charity. Proclaiming the Good News, including the moral demands entailed by the nature of marriage, is a work of mercy, and all parents, schools, Catholic institutions, teachers, theologians, pastors, religious, and bishops have “the ‘grave obligation’ to be personally vigilant that the ‘sound doctrine’ (1 Tim 1:10) of faith and morals is taught” for the proper formation of conscience.

Misuse Two: Under Certain Conditions Divine Prohibitions Admit of Exceptions

Mitigating factors can mean that a “negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person involved.” Consequently, the Exhortation notes that it would be “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... . It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations.” As the Holy Father reminds us, the moral law is not a cudgel: “a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives.”

Some have improperly used these considerations to claim that absolute prohibitions admit of exceptions, particularly when weakness of will or the complexity of a situation makes living up to the rule extremely difficult. This is incorrect.

It is true that keeping the objective law is not sufficient to demonstrate full fidelity to God, neither are moral laws empty formulae which are kept even when one’s intentions and character are indifferent or hostile to their purposes. As St. Paul reminds us, Christian perfection is not mere rule keeping, but the fullness of virtue: “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal... . If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1, 3). As St. Thomas Aquinas explains, a person’s right external behavior does not necessarily entail that they have chosen the good act for its own sake or from a firm disposition of virtue, let alone that they have fulfilled the law with the perfection of charity.

But it remains the case that certain actions are absolutely prohibited, for in no instance is it possible to choose them with a good will. As St. John Paul II explains, certain positive commandments, while unchanging and universal, admit of widely varying means to accomplish them. Moreover, at times external circumstances can impede a person’s ability to perform such good acts. There are negative commandments, or prohibitions, on the other hand, which are universally binding in each and every circumstance. They admit of no exceptions whatsoever and can never be chosen, in any way or for any reason, in “conformity with the dignity of the person” or with the “goodness of the will.” Further, unlike positive commandments, external circumstances can never hinder a person “from not doing certain actions,” especially if one is prepared “to die rather than to do evil.” Doing good, thus, admits of more flexibility and context than avoiding evil, which is why the “Church has always taught that one may never choose kinds of behavior prohibited by the moral commandments expressed in negative form in the Old and New Testaments.... Jesus himself reaffirms that these prohibitions allow no exceptions: ‘If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.... You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery... .’”

Further, consciously choosing actions in violation of exceptionless moral prohibitions remains impermissible even if one has made a general or overarching commitment to the good—the so-called fundamental option. That is, it is not enough to have a general intention to do and be good even when choosing actions morally illicit in themselves. Some actions ought never be chosen, and the “negative moral precepts, which oblige without exception” are to be accepted by the faithful as obligations “declared and taught by the Church in the name of God, the Creator and Lord.”

Still, as described throughout Amoris Laetitia, the real situation in many societies is such that general values, laws, economic conditions, and changing social mores means that many people find themselves in “irregular” situations and unions. The Church, following the example and teaching of the Lord, offers mercy. With the Samaritan woman, Jesus “addressed her desire for true love, in order to free her from the darkness in her life and to bring her to the full joy of the Gospel.” Confronted with her need, her thirst for love, He offers himself, the living water (John 4:10).

Accompanying the weak in their weakness, Jesus offers his own life to and for them—the Church does the same. Like a caring Mother, “the Church is close” to those who find the moral teachings on marriage and sexuality difficult, those in situations which are “often very arduous and at times truly tormented by difficulties of every kind.” Grace and mercy and accompaniment are the way of the Church as she cares for all, for Jesus is the Good Shepherd who does not will that any should be lost. (Mercy should, of course, be extended to those who, through no fault of their own, have fallen upon difficult circumstances. Mercy is not a 'pass' for those who have deliberately chosen the darkness of sin and who love their sin more than the newness of life that God offers in Christ Jesus. God's justice does not excuse nor permit a man's continuing willful disobedience. If one deliberately chooses to persist in sin (e.g., an adulterous second "marriage"), then he who rejects God's invitation and who rejects God's design for marriage must live with the consequences of his or her choice. That is, unless he wants to leave behind his sinful lifestyle and be reconciled to God. God is waiting for us to repent, and when we do He welcomes us as the father did when his prodigal son returned home (St. Luke 15). The prodigal did not ask the father to excuse his dissolute life. The son, rightly, laid down his life and humbly admitted to his actions: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son." God does not abandon us to our sins. He calls us and provides the grace to return to Him and to enjoy His feast of love.)

At the very same time, the Church which is Mother is also a Teacher who “never tires of proclaiming the moral norm that must guide the responsible transmission of life. The Church is in no way the author or the arbiter of this norm. In obedience to the truth which is Christ, whose image is reflected in the nature and dignity of the human person, the Church interprets the moral norm and proposes it to all people of good will, without concealing its demands of radicalness and perfection.”

As Teacher and Mother, “the Church never ceases to exhort and encourage all to resolve whatever conjugal difficulties may arise without ever falsifying or compromising the truth.... Accordingly, the concrete pedagogy of the Church must always remain linked with her doctrine and never be separated from it.” In her patient instruction, the Church follows the “law of gradualness,” knowing that persons grow in stages in their ability to know, love, and enact the moral good. However, with respect to exceptionless prohibitions, the law of gradualness is “not a ‘gradualness of law’ ... [f]or the law is itself a gift of God which points out the way, a gift for everyone without exception; it can be followed with the help of grace, even though each human being ‘advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God....’” That which is prohibited is prohibited for all, in every circumstance.

Misuse Three: Human Frailty Exempts from Divine Command

With genuine compassion, the Holy Father exhorts us to “proclaim the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the mind and heart of every person.” We cannot forget the frailty and weakness of God’s children, or as the Synod Fathers realistically describe, “[u]nder certain circumstances people find it very difficult to act differently. Therefore, while upholding a general rule, it is necessary to recognize that responsibility with respect to certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases.”

While authentic pastoral care always accompanies people in their suffering and frailty, some have misused the Exhortation’s rightful insistence on the logic of mercy to claim that objectively wrong acts can be accepted, even perhaps sanctified, if a person judges he or she cannot do differently. Not only does this misapply mitigating factors for subjective responsibility with determinations of objective rightness, but it empties the cross of its power. Claiming that individuals cannot change their ways is tantamount to denying the efficacy and power of grace, of denying that God can do what he promises.

The moral law is neither alien nor hostile to human well-being and capabilities. The natural moral law is an internal law, the law of our own nature, and its demands, however challenging, are in keeping with our natural capacities and tends toward the fulfillment of our deepest desires: “Since the moral order reveals and sets forth the plan of God the Creator, for this very reason it cannot be something that harms man, something impersonal. On the contrary, by responding to the deepest demands of the human being created by God, it places itself at the service of that person's full humanity with the delicate and binding love whereby God Himself inspires, sustains and guides every creature towards its happiness.”

Further, not only by nature but also by grace is family and marriage life sustained and strengthened. For the baptized, marriage is a sacrament and brings with it sacramental grace and the grace of state to aid and assist, strengthen and convert: “By taking up the human reality of the love between husband and wife in all its implications, the sacrament [of marriage] gives to Christian couples and parents a power and a commitment to live their vocation ... and they receive both a command which they cannot ignore and a grace which sustains and stimulates them.”

In his abundant kindness, God does not issue commands from afar, but accompanies us always, offering his gracious assistance to all those in need. Christ is the great physician, the good shepherd, and our brother who has been tempted as we have, and his merits can become our own. Because of this, the law is “a gift for everyone without exception ... [and] can be followed with the help of grace.”

Only because God’s gracious assistance is available does the Church teach the law of gradualness and carefully identify mitigating factors in personal culpability. If a person could not grow, either by nature and grace, we could not speak of gradualness as they develop in responsibility, knowledge, and love. If grace were not able to assist them, they would be mired in sin, unable to do otherwise, without the freedom to convert. They would not be free and neither grace nor mercy nor forgiveness would be available to them, for they would not be the sort of beings to whom such are offered. Those beings operating only by instinct or natural compulsion are incapable of voluntary actions which can be forgiven or graciously assisted— such beings are not in need of redemptive mercy. If one could never convert, grace would be impotent, unnecessary, and irrelevant. The human being, created in the image of God, “is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons. And he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead.”

Consequently, while the Church follows the logic of mercy for all who struggle with frailty, consigning anyone to the inevitability of frailty and the impossibility of doing otherwise negates the logic of mercy: “In every situation, when dealing with those who have difficulties in living God’s law to the full, the invitation to pursue the via caritatis must be clearly heard.” Not only is the invitation to live in the perfection of love offered to every person in every situation, but it is offered fully: “in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal (standard) of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur.... A lukewarm attitude, any kind of relativism, or an undue reticence in proposing that ideal (standard/norm), would be a lack of fidelity to the Gospel and also of love on the part of the Church... .”

Amoris Laetitia honestly and boldly describes the serious difficulties facing families and marriages in our time, never papering over the challenges or offering a false optimism. The Good News is never unrealistic, for it depends always on the initiative and action of God, through whom we are capable of doing all things. Christian hope, unlike mere optimism, places “our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” Relying on this hope, we know that the “Lord’s presence dwells in real and concrete families, with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes.” Grace is always available, as is the freedom of our own natures, and it is always merciful to look for God’s assistance even in the most troubled of situations, for nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

No comments:

Post a Comment

"A multitude of wise men is the salvation of the world(.)—Wisdom 6:24. Readers are welcome to make rational and responsible comments. Any comment that 1) offends human dignity and/or 2) which constitutes an irrational attack on the Catholic Faith will not go unchallenged. If deemed completely stupid, such a comment will most assuredly not see the light of day. Them's the rules. Don't like 'em? Move on.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...