The Pope and the Pastor
10. The Gospel offers us the chance to live life on a higher plane, but with no less intensity: “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others”. When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfillment. For “here we discover a profound law of reality: that life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others. This is certainly what mission means”. Consequently, an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that “delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ”.. –Pope Francis, Gaudium Evangelii
One of the unique marks of Pope Francis’ Apostolic exhortation is how frequently he quotes from other sources of the Church. The last quote (#6 above) comes from Pope Paul VI and in the previous paragraph he quoted from Pope Benedict XVI. Without specifically saying it, the Holy Father is showing us what it is to belong to the Church. We have a history that has been passed along to us, which helps us discern who we are and where the Spirit may be leading us.
“Dear young people, Christ is counting on you to be his friends and witnesses to his infinite love.” –Pope Francis Tweet, October 10, 2014
Synod on the Family
The Synod on the Family in Rome has received coverage in the news and lots of commentary on social media. Some media sources have said that Church doctrine may change. As a caution, please consider two historical similarities.
• In 1968 the Pope asked for a conversation about the use of contraception by Catholics. Many Catholic theologians, media people and even priests began to tell people the teachings on artificial contraception would change. This never happened. The Church, through Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, upheld the beautiful teaching given to us by God on marital union and procreation.
• Second, many seminarians after Vatican II were told priests would soon be permitted to marry. They were encouraged to continue their studies and go through with ordination. This permission to marry never happened. The Church upheld the current practice of the celibate priesthood.
We do not do any person a pastoral favor when we propose things, which we do not know about. We could very well be setting people up for disappointment and confusion in the future.
This is what I am certain of. We are being called to evaluate some of the pastoral ways in which we approach people, so that we can welcome and walk with them if they desire. We are being cautioned not to see people as their sins but like us: sinners in need of mercy. I suspect and hope many of us at St. Lambert parish already find ourselves open in this way or at least growing in openness to recognize our need to always be kind, compassionate and charitable. The Church however, is much larger than our parish, our diocese or the United States. The universal Church is taking time to discuss an important issue in cultures all over the world: the Family. The Holy Father has asked for an honest and open discussion. He has also acknowledged in the past that things can get messy. I think we’re there!
Changing our pastoral approach and having an open dialogue about where people are at in life is not the same as changing a dogma or a doctrine of the Church.
Some doctrinal points that can help us:
• All people are called to encounter Jesus Christ and receive His mercy.
• Persons who are divorced and in a state of grace are able to receive communion.
• Persons who are divorced but in a second civil (not blessed by the Church) marriage are encouraged to attend Mass but should not receive communion. If an annulment has not already been started or sought, I desire to assist in this process.
• Any and all sexual acts should always be open to life and completed within the bond of marriage.
• Marriage, by nature, can only occur between one man and one woman.
• Persons who find themselves with same-sex attraction have a place in the Church. They, like all people outside of marriage, are called to a life of chastity. This requires a great deal of courage but is possible with God’s grace and can bring about a life of happiness and peace.
• All Catholics should refrain from receiving Communion at Mass if they are in a state of mortal sin; if they have not fasted (only water and medicine are permissible – no gum, mints or other beverages) for one hour prior to receiving the Eucharist; or if there is any other personal and spiritual reason.
• Anyone who is in a state of mortal sin must go to confession before receiving Communion.
• Confession is a great gift and source of God’s abundant mercy. It is a place where sinners are healed and helped in the life of holiness.
Each point could be an entire thesis. I offer this brief statement as a way to encourage us to be patient with this process, to be discerning about what we take in and to be very cautious about what we say to other people. Many people do not understand what the Church believes and it is possible that many of you are confused as well. If I can be of help in any way regarding these issues, please speak with me. In my time here at St. Lambert I hope that I have revealed a pastoral heart that both understands the waywardness which can happen in life, as well as the great and miraculous gift that ordering life through the grace of Christ and the Church provides. I encourage you to ask me any questions that you might have.
P.S. Here is a quick tool that I use to gauge if a media source has a basic understanding of what can and cannot be changed in Catholicism. Frequently, when both women’s ordination and married clergy are listed as things that should change, the author does not understand Catholic teaching. The male priesthood is a doctrine, and therefore cannot be changed. The celibate priesthood (not allowing priests to marry) is a practice, so that could be changed.