Monday, May 28, 2018

Why does Amoris Laetitia relegate the Eucharist to a footnote?

One aspect of Amoris Laetitia that has baffled many observers is why Pope Francis left the discussion of whether the divorced and remarried can receive the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist to a mere footnote.  At the same time, proponents of Amoris Laetitia have chided its opponents for focusing so much energy on a footnote.  What matters, they say, is the new pastoral approach that Pope Francis is calling for with respect to families in distress.

That explanation doesn't fly with critics.  Access to the sacraments is the most important part of a Catholic's life.  The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life.  It is inconceivable to Amoris Laetitia's critics that the Pope would leave such an important question to a footnote.

To resolve this dilemma, we must distinguish between (1) that which is objectively most important at all times and places and (2) that which the Pope desires to emphasize for a given audience at a particular time and place.  Some matters of faith (e.g., the Apostles Creed, the Most Holy Trinity, the Ten Commandments, the Seven Sacraments) are always of preeminent importance.  Nevertheless, the Pope may feel that the Church is deficient in matters of relatively less importance (e.g., the duty to pay just wages, to welcome the immigrant, to care for the environment) and devote more pages to such matters than to the fundamentals.  Where the fundamentals are related to such matters, the Pope may note the relationship briefly in the midst of a larger discussion of the lesser matters.

This is particularly true in an Apostolic Exhortation, which is generally not intended to clarify doctrine but to call the Church to action in an area that the Holy Father feels is important.

Applying this logic to Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia, we can see that Pope Francis is more concerned with how the Church treats the divorced and remarried as a general matter than with whether the divorced and remarried are receiving the sacraments.  Given that the Catholic Church has, through numerous documents over the past four decades, repeatedly explained that the divorced and remarried are, at least as a general matter, not to receive Holy Communion, this would indicate that the current sacramental discipline of the Catholic Church is not an area of primary concern for Pope Francis.  He is more concerned with how the Church treats the divorced and remarried outside of the sacraments.

The primary concern of Pope Francis is that the divorced and remarried not be made to feel excluded from their parish.  Pope Francis explains this clearly in paragraph 299 of Chapter Eight:
I am in agreement with the many Synod Fathers who observed that “the baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal. The logic of integration is the key to their pastoral care, a care which would allow them not only to realize that they belong to the Church as the body of Christ, but also to know that they can have a joyful and fruitful experience in it. They are baptized; they are brothers and sisters; the Holy Spirit pours into their hearts gifts and talents for the good of all. Their participation can be expressed in different ecclesial services, which necessarily requires discerning which of the various forms of exclusion currently practised in the liturgical, pastoral, educational and institutional framework, can be surmounted. Such persons need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church and experience her as a mother who welcomes them always, who takes care of them with affection and encourages them along the path of life and the Gospel. This integration is also needed in the care and Christian upbringing of their children, who ought to be considered most important”.
Prevenient Grace vs. Sanctifying Grace

Of course the question of access to the sacraments cannot be avoided if the Catholic Church wants the divorced and remarried to feel that they are part of the life of the Church.  Why then, does Pope Francis only address the sacraments in a footnote?

The answer is that what happens before the reception of the sacraments is most important in determining whether the sacraments are received worthily and profitably.  A penitent must have contrition in order to be absolved in the Sacrament of Penance, and a recipient must be in a state of sanctifying grace to receive Holy Communion.  Sanctifying grace is destroyed by mortal sin and restored through the Sacrament of Penance when the penitent is properly disposed, i.e., contrite.

Contrition is not something a penitent generates in his or her self.  It is not the fruit of human effort.  Rather, the Fourteenth Session of the Council of Trent teaches that contrition "is even a gift of God, and an impulse of the Holy Ghost,—who does not indeed as yet dwell in the penitent, but only moves him,—whereby the penitent being assisted prepares a way for himself unto justice."

In other words, contrition is a gift of God's grace.  Not sanctifying grace, which makes a person just and increases their righteousness, but prevenient grace.  The Sixth Session of the Council of Trent describes the working of prevenient grace as follows:

The Synod furthermore declares, that, in adults, the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God, through Jesus Christ, that is to say, from his vocation, whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through his quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace: in such sort that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, neither is man himself utterly inactive while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch as he is also able to reject it; yet is he not able, by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in his sight. Whence, when it is said in the sacred writings: Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you, (Zechariah 1:3) we are admonished of our liberty; and when we answer: Convert us, O Lord, to thee, and we shall be converted,  (Lamentations 5:21), we confess that we are prevented (anticipated) by the grace of God.
The two verses cited by the Sixth Session of the Council Trent describe the beginning of the working of prevenient grace in the sinner:  "Convert us, O Lord, to thee, and we shall be converted."  Prevenient grace begins with God calling the sinner, not to the law, not to obedience, but to Himself.  It is then, with the sinner's gaze fixed on God, that prevenient grace moves the sinner toward contrition:

Now they [adults] are disposed unto the said justice, when, excited and assisted by divine grace, conceiving faith by hearing, they are freely moved towards God, believing those things to be true which God has revealed and promised—and this especially, that God justifies the impious by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; and when, understanding themselves to be sinners, they, by turning themselves, from the fear of divine justice whereby they are profitably agitated, to consider the mercy of God, are raised unto hope, confiding that God will be propitious to them for Christ's sake; and they begin to love him as the fountain of all justice; and are therefore moved against sins by a certain hatred and detestation, to wit, by that penitence which must be performed before baptism: lastly, when they purpose to receive baptism, to begin a new life, and to keep the commandments of God.

The problem faced by the Catholic Church today is how to draw an apostate world back to the obedience of faith.  The vast majority of people in the world today know the Church's teachings on sexual morality and have rejected it.  Simply repeating the Church's moral teaching, even explaining the logic and benefits of the teaching, is not enough.  Not only is it not enough, it is secondary in importance to bringing people back to the person of Jesus Christ.

In his first Encyclical Letter, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI wrote:
Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.
In other words, being Christian is not a result of adhering to the Church's ethical teachings, but the result of encountering Jesus Christ.  Obedience to the law is the result of this encounter:
Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere “command”; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.
Pope Francis has continued the approach of Pope Benedict XVI of seeking to draw all men and women back to Jesus Christ.  In the beginning of his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis writes:

I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”.
Given that sinners must come to Jesus Christ to receive God's prevenient grace that in turn moves them to conversion and contrition, it is not only wise and prudent, but doctrinally necessary, for Pope Francis to begin the sinner's process of conversion simply by calling them back to Jesus Christ.  And Jesus Christ is to be found in our churches:  in a real way in the tabernacles of every Catholic church in the world, and in a mystical way in every baptized Catholic person.  Accompanying and integrating the divorced and remarried into the life of the Church is, in and of itself, bringing them back to Jesus Christ.  It is bringing them to the source of of prevenient grace, which is the only thing that can generate in the sinner the contrition necessary to be absolved in the Sacrament of Penance, which in turn will infuse him or her with the sanctifying grace necessary to receive Holy Communion.

This is what Pope Francis wishes to emphasize in Amoris Laetitia.  The Church is at ground zero with millions of Catholics who have fallen away from the faith.  Before anything, they must be brought back to Jesus Christ, and that requires accompanying and integrating them into the life of the Church.

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