Saturday 18 November 2017

"Love not in word but in deed": World Day of the Poor

 When the Successor of Peter establishes a "World Day" he exercises his office in a very particular way. Whilst there may well be a single event at an international level, the real success of such a day depends on the collaboration of the bishops in their local Churches and of the Catholic faithful in each of their particular places in the Church and in the world. A "World Day" represents a highly collaborative exercise of the Papal office.

This Sunday sees the first celebration of a World Day of the Poor, instituted by Pope Francis. The Holy Father opens his message for the day as follows:
“Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18). These words of the Apostle John voice an imperative that no Christian may disregard. The seriousness with which the “beloved disciple” hands down Jesus’ command to our own day is made even clearer by the contrast between the empty words so frequently on our lips and the concrete deeds against which we are called to measure ourselves. Love has no alibi. Whenever we set out to love as Jesus loved, we have to take the Lord as our example; especially when it comes to loving the poor. The Son of God’s way of loving is well-known, and John spells it out clearly. It stands on two pillars: God loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:10.19), and he loved us by giving completely of himself, even to laying down his life (cf. 1 Jn 3:16).  
Such love cannot go unanswered. Even though offered unconditionally, asking nothing in return, it so sets hearts on fire that all who experience it are led to love back, despite their limitations and sins. Yet this can only happen if we welcome God’s grace, his merciful charity, as fully as possible into our hearts, so that our will and even our emotions are drawn to love both God and neighbour. In this way, the mercy that wells up – as it were – from the heart of the Trinity can shape our lives and bring forth compassion and works of mercy for the benefit of our brothers and sisters in need.
Pope Francis' suggestion that we should enter into an encounter with the poor that involves a sharing in their lives brings to mind the Houses of Hospitality of the Catholic Worker Movement or the "teams" of Madeleine Delbrel. Pope Francis also reminds us that, for the Christian, poverty represents a call to follow Christ (I have added the emphasis below). For the religious and lay faithful who live according to the evangelical counsels, this is their orientation towards the poor.
Let us never forget that, for Christ’s disciples, poverty is above all a call to follow Jesus in his own poverty.  It means walking behind him and beside him, a journey that leads to the beatitude of the Kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 5:3; Lk 6:20).  Poverty means having a humble heart that accepts our creaturely limitations and sinfulness and thus enables us to overcome the temptation to feel omnipotent and immortal.  Poverty is an interior attitude that avoids looking upon money, career and luxury as our goal in life and the condition for our happiness.  Poverty instead creates the conditions for freely shouldering our personal and social responsibilities, despite our limitations, with trust in God’s closeness and the support of his grace.  Poverty, understood in this way, is the yardstick that allows us to judge how best to use material goods and to build relationships that are neither selfish nor possessive (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 25-45).
Pope Francis, following the Year of Mercy, wishes that this day will each year prompt the Catholic community in its exercise of the works of mercy.

Tuesday 14 November 2017

Respect and appreciation for differences ...

In the light of a current news story in the UK, these two passages from Amoris Laetitia make for interesting (and balanced) reading. The second paragraph rightly distinguishes those things that are  variable (denoted by the terms "masculinity" and "femininity", and carefully exemplified) from that which cannot be varied and which is addressed in the first paragraph - the difference and complementarity of our bodies given to us as two sexes (denoted by the terms "male" and "female"). I have added my own emphases.
285. Sex education should also include respect and appreciation for differences, as a way of helping the young to overcome their self-absorption and to be open and accepting of others. Beyond the understandable difficulties which individuals may experience, the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created, for “thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation… An appreciation of our body as male or female is also necessary for our own self-awareness in an encounter with others different from ourselves. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment”. Only by losing the fear of being different, can we be freed of self-centredness and self-absorption. Sex education should help young people to accept their own bodies and to avoid the pretension “to cancel out sexual difference because one no longer knows how to deal with it”.
286. Nor can we ignore the fact that the configuration of our own mode of being, whether as male or female, is not simply the result of biological or genetic factors, but of multiple elements having to do with temperament, family history, culture, experience, education, the influence of friends, family members and respected persons, as well as other formative situations. It is true that we cannot separate the masculine and the feminine from God’s work of creation, which is prior to all our decisions and experiences, and where biological elements exist which are impossible to ignore. But it is also true that masculinity and femininity are not rigid categories. It is possible, for example, that a husband’s way of being masculine can be flexibly adapted to the wife’s work schedule. Taking on domestic chores or some aspects of raising children does not make him any less masculine or imply failure, irresponsibility or cause for shame. Children have to be helped to accept as normal such healthy “exchanges” which do not diminish the dignity of the father figure. A rigid approach turns into an over accentuation of the masculine or feminine, and does not help children and young people to appreciate the genuine reciprocity incarnate in the real conditions of matrimony. Such rigidity, in turn, can hinder the development of an individual’s abilities, to the point of leading him or her to think, for example, that it is not really masculine to cultivate art or dance, or not very feminine to exercise leadership.
A key point to note: the openness to roles that might at one time have been associated with one sex rather than the other, outlined in n.286, does not contain any suggestion that this openness should be identified with a sense of being a person of the wrong sex. This paragraph does not suggest that flexibility in roles is to be associated with a fluidity of sex/gender.

Saturday 4 November 2017

.... with Pope Francis and not against

I have already observed on this blog that I believe that much of the responsibility for the alleged confusion following Amoris Laetitia must lie with those who have promoted that confusion by a persistent campaign of criticism of the Apostolic Exhortation articulated in part in terms of, oh irony, condemnation of the confusion caused by it and by Pope Francis.

A strand in the criticism has been a discussion of whether or not Amoris Laetitia, both as a document in itself or seen in terms of its specific content, can be considered a document of the Ordinary Magisterium (capitals intended). The intention of this line of argument has been to suggest that, if it is not part of the Magisterium, it can therefore be considered non-binding. The term "Magisterium" in this context refers narrowly to teaching offered as teaching for the universal Church and which is permanent in its character and therefore applicable over all time - Magisterium with a capital "M".

This has appeared to me to be rather beside what is the real point. Whatever we think of it, Amoris Laetitia is clearly an exercise by Pope Francis of his office as the Successor of Peter. It may contain pastoral indications that apply to particular situations of our own times, and therefore might not apply in the future; and it may contain indications for pastoral action that are for a time rather than being such that a future generation might consider binding. But it might also contain parts that are of more permanent value (for example, Chapter IV on love in marriage). In this, it is no different than many other actions of the ordinary magisterium, that is, of the exercise of their office by the Successors of Peter and the bishops in communion with him. The strict discussion of whether or not it is "Magisterium" appears somewhat sterile in this context; the real question for Catholics today is a  rather different question.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet's address to the Canadian Bishops conference very subtly captured the appropriate response (with my emphasis added):
So we must re-read Amoris Laetitia in a spirit of pastoral conversion that assumes, first of all a genuine and unprejudiced receptivity to the pontifical teaching; secondly, a change of attitude in the face of cultures that are far from the faith; thirdly, a convincing testimony to the joy of the Gospel that emerges from faith in the Person of Jesus and his loving and merciful gaze upon all of human reality.
The reading from St Peter Chrysologus offered as the "Meditation of the Day" in MAGNIFICAT for yesterday struck me as very apposite. St Peter Chrysologus is commenting on the Gospel text for yesterday's Mass, in which Jesus dines at the house of a leading Pharisee (Luke 14:1-6). The title given to the meditation was Jesus Went to Dine:
When he had entered the house, it says. In the house there was a trap, in the greeting a trial, in the seat at table a snare .....There jealousy was burning, envy was inflamed, anger was being cooked up, pretence provided the seasoning, and all the courses of slander were being made ready.
And, nevertheless, there that Lamb of God was eating, and not to be fed, but to be killed, just as if he knew none of this. He certainly was eating, brothers, not as if he were ignorant of this, but so that at least by his companionship, by their very intimacy and the gracious way in which he dined together with them, their ferocity might be tamed, their anger soothed, their envy extinguished. Then by his very humaneness these men might now return to being human again, they might acquire some affection, they might notice his gracious charm, they might welcome their parent, they might recognise his kindness, they might acknowledge his powers, they might love his curative treatments, and they might desire, and not attack, his acts of healing.