My notes on Amoris Laetitia, Chapter 8. Accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness.
Monday, 7 June 2021
This chapter reads as though it is the purpose of the whole Letter. At the beginning of para 292 Pope Francis acknowledges the ideal of marriage in a particularly good and full way, but he doesn’t then go on to propose or ask that this should be expressed pastorally by the Church. Rather, we should simply try to make better, whatever our situation is.
He speaks about the “law of gradualness”, which JPII had spoken of in his Letter Familiaris Consortio. Using this principle, JPII looked at the concrete situation, but then led people towards where they should be. But Pope Francis is really saying that the ideal of marriage is unattainable, so we should lower our view of the ideal. That since there is some goodness in whatever situation people are in, we should now re-envision marriage. This is very suggestive of Hegelian idealism rather than the Gospel; that we make up our experience of life rather than be Christians, recipients of a transforming gift of life.
He seems to be promoting human effort with a good slice of moralism added to the mix. However, human effort doesn’t make something Christian!
In speaking about the accompaniment of concrete marriage situations, and their discernment, by pastors is hardly practicable. And what makes pastors the arbiters of marriages? God created marriage – why should anyone put them under a microscope?
In para 305 the Pope seems to say, quoting himself, that if anyone is trying to live the Christian ideal of marriage, they are living only an outward show. So, the Pope makes it clear that, if there is no ideal for marriage, all we can speak about is people’s experience of marriage.
Since this chapter reads as an apologia for those who don’t want to have an ideal for marriage, the question arises, is this a Magisterial Document or it is simply a discussion document?
My notes on Amoris Laetitia, Chapter 7. Towards a better education of children.
The chapter is a summary of what the Church teaches and, whilst teaching nothing new, the Pope does enunciate some key elements; what freedom is, the formation of the will. But because this Letter is addressed to the many and varied contexts that exist in the world, this chapter is actually very bland. The Pope doesn’t here offer a vision, or a strategy, or tools for responding to today’s needs.
Today’s needs call for a concrete response. Recognising the superficiality of today’s culture should lead the Church to respond with a concrete strategy and engage people where they are at. The heart of this situation is indeed the family, which should be the source of culture. In reality, since the 1960s we have seen the compartmentalisation of the family; we have separated ourselves from the family and looked to new sources of culture. These are principally the media, technology and “youth culture”. “Youth culture has developed in such a way that parents are now excluded from what is going on in the lives of their children.
This chapter raises very urgent questions, how can we help to nurture the family and to help parents in their educational task? How can we nurture the lives of young people so that they can distance themselves from the pressures of the media? This chapter does not answer these questions.
Wednesday, 26 May 2021
My notes on Chapter 5, Love made fruitful.
A very readable chapter, yet one that does not shed light on today's questions. Questions like, how do we attract people to Christian marriage? How do we enable an understanding of the unity of the person, and of the unity of persons in marriage? How do we speak about the unity of the ends of marriage? How can we even speak about the ends of marriage today?
Although this chapter speaks well about the fruitfulness of married love, the reality is that many people today do not live this. The culture does not offer a good environment to live marriage. Nonetheless, the problem lies not with marriage and the family, the problem lies with individuals such as us, who have a fallen human nature. The proclamation of the Gospel and the call to encounter Christ is the keystone.
Marriage today is not necessarily seen as a source of unity for the person, nor necessarily as the place of procreation. Today there is a new normality, and indeed, today's remedy for concupiscence is to indulge in it!
Perhaps the Pope is here trying to re-interpret the ends of marriage (the good of the spouses, children, and a remedy for concupiscence) in a new vocabulary. However, the lived reality today is very different from faith and life in Christ. The cultural context affects the message of the Church about marriage and the family. Before the values of the Enlightenment became the lived culture, the family was seen as the basis of society. Marriage was the 'inner sanctum' of society, the preserve of spouses where humanity was engendered and nurtured, and whose inner unity was the place from which the human project sprung. Following the Enlightenment, the individual became the basis for society. The 'inner sanctum' has gone and now the state and social currents are the basis of society. Marriage and the family and now adapted for today's purposes.
At the recent Council the Church set aside the remedy for concupiscence as the third end of marriage. Perhaps this was done out of a sense of optimism. Human resourcefulness takes the place of the former, more realistic view. However, marriage as a remedy for concupiscence is still there, though hidden. We don't know how to speak about it today. Perhaps we do need a new vocabulary here.
Marriage is best seen in the light of grace, yet trying to speak about it in this way can seem very foreign. This is the problem. Yes, there is a great goodness in marriage, which Pope Francis highlights, but he does so without leading it into the life of grace. This is a shame, because the people who are not trying to life the life of grace, do not easily see the natural goodness either.
Christ Jesus is the centre. When people have him in their lives they are filled with faith-filled hope. This hope is the presence of Christ Jesus in them. He incarnates hope in marriage. Actually, we need a vision of how the theological virtues, given in baptism, are active within marriage.
Monday, 24 May 2021
Chapter 4, Love in Marriage, gives a basic human and moral framework, not a theological one. It reads as a 'vademecum' for spouses, to help them to keep their love on an even keel. Or as a guide for couples preparing for marriage, helping them to discern what they want their marriage to look like.
This chapter does not give a vision for married life. It is not prophetic about how marriage needs to be in the world today. It is merely descriptive, whilst being morally optimistic about what love should look like in marriage.
Today, we live in an idealistic age, but find practically that our love can't live up to the ideal. Our culture has seen a sharp move away from the supernatural aspect of marriage to the natural aspect. The primary concern today is the love of the spouses, not of the family. Today, marriage is more about having a wedding - a celebration of 'us' - and not about marriage.
Amoris Laetitia seems to play up to this, rather than to challenge it, presenting an idealised and human-centred marriage. The big question remains, how do we evangelise marriage?
JPII's way was to hold before couples a Christ-inspired vision of marriage. He placed an ideal before us, whose starting point was Christ Jesus. Pope Francis' way is to place before couples the human aspect of marriage and suggest that this can come alongside Christ. His starting point is the here and now.
Neither of these ways appears to be a key for today. In fact, the key is evangelisation. That is, couples encountering Christ and being changed by him before they marry. Christian marriage is not a human symbol with a Christian veneer. We should first announce Christ to the couple who are preparing for marriage. And we need to be speaking about marriage, not a wedding.
Friday, 14 May 2021
Chapter 3. Looking to Jesus: the vocation of the family.
Here the Pope speaks about the imperfection of the sign of marriage. He's caught up with human imperfection, so he can't speak about the ideal, and as a consequence, he doesn't teach the perfection of marriage. This is somewhat Lutheran.
But if we don't have the vision of perfection, what is it that people are being called to?
Practically speaking, we need to look at how Christ is mediated in marriage; what is special and attractive about Christian marriage?
Perhaps the most important question to arise from this chapter is, how do we present Christian marriage to young people today?
First of all, what do young people today think that marriage is? Unless we know where they are, how do we know how to guide them towards where they need to be?
Secondly, what do we teach them? Many young people today are looking at a wedding, an event, and not at marriage, a communion of life.
Marriage is also a secular reality, whereas the other sacraments are not. So, how do we proclaim the qualitative difference between Christian marriage and a wedding or a relationship? What does Christian marriage add to life?
Amoris Laetitia has nice words to say, but remains quite distant from where people are.
For people of faith, the Pope's message no doubt inspires. But what about people of no faith? Today, the Church continues to provide services for people, as it used to do during the era of Christendom, but the times have changed. Today we need to evangelise.
The big question is, how do we inspire young people for Christ?
Thursday, 6 May 2021
My notes of Chapter 2, "The experiences and challenges of families."
Pope Francis appears to be saying that the way in which Pope John Paul II presented the ideal of marriage and the family has become remote to how people live. That way of looking at marriage and the family is no longer seen as an ideal, but as a judgement on people. Marriage and the family is an unattainable goal, according to Pope Francis. And so we need to look again at all the things that actually affect marriage and family life.
Pope Francis is calling the Church to stop putting the Christian vision before people, and instead, he is calling the Church to help people to live the nitty-gritty of marriage and family in a better way.
But what is lacking in his presentation is the foundation of marriage; that marriage is symbolic of the relationship between God and man. It seems to me then, that there is a Protestant anthropology within "Amoris Laetitia". Instead of applying the Gospel directly to people’s lives and calling them to allow grace to change us, there is a real sense of a negative anthropology – that we are in fact set in a fallen mode and must put up with that lot.
For priests, how do we experience marriage today?
1. We see the disintegration of marriage and family at large.
2. We observe that people no longer express the capacity for self-gift, and therefore, in some way, lack the capacity for marriage.
3. That people rarely, if ever, consult with us about these issues, but rather decide upon their own resolutions.
4. That today, the traditional cultural conformity - that everyone gets married - has gone, and that the sexual revolution has been integrated into people’s lives. The result is that people today want a relationship, but not marriage; this is the new cultural conformity. So, today conformity has moved away from what it used to be, and that which the Church gave her accord to. And there is now a new situation, which the Church cannot accord herself to.
5. Just as before, today also, a small minority actaullyget married with a sense of vocation.
What has caused this situation? This is very difficult to pin-point, but a loss of faith and the sexual revolution have played their part.
What is the response of the Church to this situation? This is also very difficult to answer. We know that we can’t shore up a shifting culture, still less a land-slide. Part of the answer lies, I believe, with Rod Dreher's "The Benedict Option", which implies new and small Christian communities who actually live Christian marriage and family, and who build themselves up in the Christian life, so that they can become a new leaven for the future.
Friday, 30 April 2021
My notes on this chapter, "In the light of the world".
This chapter reads as though it could apply equally to the natural family as to the Christian family; the sacrament of marriage makes no difference. It feels as though the Pope is looking here at the family as a human reality, and not as a Christ-centred one. The title of the chapter itself seems strange.
However, there are indications to the contrary. In paragraph 11 he says, “fruitful love becomes a symbol of God’s inner life.” Indeed, human beings are nothing without God.
Later in paragraph 11 the Pope mentions the mystery of the union of Christ and the Church. But this is the centre and foundation of marriage!
Again in paragraphs 27-30, the family is spoken of as a natural reality, but with a semi-Pelagian possibility – that we can make our families better if we try. That if we try to live well, God will bless our family.
No, the key to marriage and the family is the Nuptial Union between God and humanity and not mere human virtue. Living with God creates virtue and blessing!
The Pope seems to be telling people how they can make their families better on their own when I would expect him to proclaim the truth about marriage and the family.
Thursday, 29 April 2021
The recent winter lockdown was, in my estimation, much harder to live through than that of this time last year. The shorter days and dark evenings, the inclement weather and the reduced possibility for social contact hit us all hard. Nevertheless, since January till now, 2021 has been a very productive time. A few months ago I listed here all the things that I had done during lockdown 2020, and now, as we begin to open up again, I'm updating that list.
So, since new year 2021 I have:
I signed up for the Divine Renovation "Kick Start" seminars. These took place over four months, January to April, and were given by Matt Regitz. I'm still absorbing what we went through. Excellent, excellent!
I wrote four texts form parents on educating for love. These were a response to the new RHSE curriculum for schools. I sent them to my families as PDFs.
I began trialing the "Flocknote" parish software in the parish.
Certain books stand out in those that I have read since new year. "Sensing your hidden presence" by Fr Ignacio Larranaga - a prophet of our time. And "Pope John's Council" by Michael Davies - what a compendium of understanding of the recent Council and the currents that surrounded it. This is a thoroughbred book for anyone who wants to revisit the Second Vatican Council. Excellent!
I began live-streaming Masses, just one each week.
I had a new flat screen installed in the church, in place of the projector and screen. The new screen is so versatile and will be so useful for so many things.
I began producing a professionally printed monthly newsletter for the parish.
I led a Novena to St Joseph via Zoom and am now giving a three-week workshop on fatherhood in light of St Joseph, again via Zoom.
In late January I led a 10 week prayer workshop via Zoom.
Together with the other priests of the SJMV, we are continuing our chapter by chapter reading of Amoris Laetitia.
I don't intend to give further updates on my activities during lockdown. We are gradually opening up and I hope that 'normal service' will in due course return. Of course, things will be different, and it will be interesting to note, in the future, just how the virus has permanently changed our lives.
Sunday, 25 April 2021
Since last September, I have joined with all the other priests of the St John Vianney Society in making a study of Pope Francis' Letter, Amoris Laetitia. One of the priests of the Society, a priest from Burgundy, set out for us a study itinerary, with accompanying texts and helpful questions to guide us. We have been reading a chapter a month and have now just completed chapter seven of the Letter.
I have made my own brief notes as we have gone through the chapters and will publish these notes here, chapter by chapter, beginning with an introduction. I read Amoris Laetitia when it was first published but have found our common study of the text more helpful. I now have a much greater perspective on this Letter than previously.
In Pope Francis discourse to open the (first) Extraordinary Synod, and in his discourse to close the (second) Ordinary Synod, I note:
1. That he is intentionally placing all aspects on the table as equals (magisterial teaching, opinions, issues, arguments etc).
2. That he wants marriage and family to be looked at from the perspective of today’s issues, rather than from the perspective of foundational truths.
There is a sense in the Introduction to Amoris Laetitia that Pope Francis is avoiding the ideal of the family. There is also a sense from the Pope that we can’t attain the ideal which God wants us to be, so let's set the ideal aside. However, if there is no ideal to the family, then grace can seem to be something that is extrinsic to the family, something that is added to who we are. It feels as though he is speaking of the family with a Christian veneer! However, the reality is that grace is intrinsic to the family.
As an introduction to the text, these two addresses did not inspire me. Chapter 1 to follow.
Wednesday, 24 February 2021
Since values are spoken of so much today, I give my appraisal of them:
It is we who give value to a thing. Values are relative because we are continually making choices. So, values are also relative to objective truth. However, there are certain basic goods and values that flow from the human person, which always have to be respected. If they are not respected it is quite possible to hold and teach false values. Human values, if they are true, will lead to the person’s true good. If they are false, they put the person’s true good in jeopardy.
True human values flow out of the reality of human nature (all human faculties) and its true end (communion with God and one another.) We can summarise human values as:
· The value of life in its physical and moral integrity.
· The value of the procreation and education of children, and therefore of the family also.
· The value of truth and knowledge.
· The value of religion.
· The value of work, and therefore of leisure.
· The value of society.
· The value of friendship.
· The value of the common good, and therefore of justice.
None of these values is something that we have created because of circumstances, they all flow out of the reality of human nature. Re-assessing human nature does not necessarily lead to a truer understanding of the person, because you cannot use science, or history, or culture to construct an image of the person. Human beings are the authors of science, history and culture, not their servants. Human development follows from the moral strengthening of human nature as a whole. In other words, truth enables us to see who we are, and how to embrace that identity more fully.
The Catholic vision clearly presents the truth about human beings and their genuine moral unity and integrity. On the other hand, the secular vision has separated the inner and outer worlds of human experience; matter and spirit are dislocated. People who seek to shape public opinion today use this dislocation to separate particular values from their true context and then to explore how a new idea of the person can be construed. Ideology, instead of objective truth, can easily become fashionable. Even so, there is much in contemporary culture which should be redeemed – because, if redeemed, it can contribute to our true good. The truth about human beings reveals what is truly of value and what takes value away.
What is that makes a Catholic school Catholic? There are various takes on this: its vision, its ethos, having Mass celebrated there publicly, and calling itself ‘Catholic’.
My answer to the question, what makes a Catholic school Catholic, is: It is the staff who make a Catholic school Catholic. By that I mean that the staff are people who are evangelised and who live their faith, that they are formed in their appreciation and engagement with the life and mission of the Church, and that they are commissioned to teach, in the name of the Church, by a Catholic bishop.
The recent Council had the vision for Catholic schools and Catholic teachers; there it is for us to take up and put into action today.
Tuesday, 23 February 2021
The role of parents.
About this a comment is made; “The relationship between the school and parents is something to be desired and hopefully explored, and even evaluated.”
No, this relationship is already clear. The school is subsidiary to the parents’ role. The school can’t impose. Parents, however, can evaluate the school. The parents’ role is a human right, and not simply something that the Church teaches. To say otherwise opens the door for this relationship to be manipulated and the parents' role to be made subject to school and state.
Speaking about “sensitive or fast-changing subjects, online safety, and mental and physical well-being”, and how the school is better placed to deal with them is again very manipulative if not patronising of parents. What is at stake here are not cultural trends, but the truth about the human person, which the Church has the responsibility to nurture.
Well, the curriculum has its own agenda, separate and independent to that of the mission of parents and the Church. It is clear that this agenda intends to take the lead, and that all others are subsidiary. The agenda is to do with ways of living and life-style, whose nurturing is to be placed firmly in the hands of the school, making the ethos of the school concerned with new ideas of self-identity, rather than Christ Jesus and the Christian life. The parents’ role and that of any genuine educative agency is to form persons. And so the curriculum is a big problem.
The requirement to involve parents.
Their role is often evaluated from the perspective of Muslims! Why is this? Why is the Catholic faith not the foundation here? This is another big problem.
The model curriculum.
This is spoken of as being based on “core pedagogical virtue”. But what does this mean?
It is also stated that love is the basis of Christian morality. No, it is not. God and human nature is the basis of Christian morality. Moreover, love has to be learned.
Moreover, “we have to work for the Kingdom of God.” No, our effort does not produce the Kingdom of God. We are called to live with God. Christ Jesus uniquely enables us to do this. We are called to allow Christ Jesus to form us for true human identity, which is to live with God. Out of life with God, love emerges.
“Prayer and worship nourish our lives with God.” No, everything about a baptised person’s life is to do with God, we have been brought from darkness into light. Prayer and worship help to form our new lives in Christ. The disengagement of prayer and life which is implicit here is a big problem.
The ethos of the new 'Catholic' presentation is profoundly Pelagian and oriented to accommodating the secular agenda. This is especially dangerous at the level of anthropology. It is presented by people who appear to have an acquaintance with the Faith, in the sense of being able to comment upon it. However, commenting about matters of faith is not the same as being in living contact with the Lord.
Monday, 22 February 2021
Today’s project of ‘values-based education’, suggests that what being human means, comes from values.
No, it doesn’t, the meaning of humanity comes from God and from human nature.
Values, even Gospel values, are not the focus of the Christian life. No, our focus is the person of Christ Jesus, who transforms human beings; he is the entire good of humanity.
Values-based education can easily be manipulated today because truth is not referenced. Values can reflect opinion as well as they can reflect truth. Values are important, they reveal the way that we appreciate and understand reality. However, in the matter of RSHE we are looking at the most important values of all because these values are derived directly from humanity itself.
Some new ideas and associated rhetoric:
“Sex is rooted in the ‘image of God’”. Yes, it is, but how is this understood? If ‘image of God’ is used merely as catchphrase, it can become a merely ‘box-ticking’ exercise.
“Sex is rooted in the ‘image of God’ and therefore we are called to a life of discipleship.” This is not so and it sounds like a way of manipulating both the subject matter and the person. What we are speaking of here is first, anthropology, which is not here defined. And secondly, the concrete embracing of the Christian life. But discipleship is not the consequence of understanding our sexuality, but of a decision for Christ.
“Values that are taught about sexuality need to be in line with the values taught in the school.” This is such a sweeping statement, which lacks focus and meaning. Rather, what we need to look at is how everything that happens and is taught in a Catholic school should flow out of a genuine vision of who the human person is. Values should be taught alongside a genuine understanding of the human person, not on their own, as if they are the key. For instance, if we compare Catholic anthropology with secular anthropology, we will come to very different ways of looking at RHSE.
The relationship between the school and the Church or parish is spoken of.
But what is this relationship? Today it is not at all clear. Yet this relationship is the key to what a Catholic school is.
This matter was taught by the 2nd Vatican Council. Its decree Gravissimum Educationis gives a really great vision, and Paragraph 8 teaches about the relationship between the Church and the school:
"Since therefore, the Catholic school can be such an aid ... " The relationship of the school towards the Church is one of supporting the Church in her life and mission.
"But let teachers ... be very carefully prepared ... " The relationship of the Church towards the school is to feed the school with evangelised, catechised and formed personnel to carry out that mission.
We can’t merely assume the nature of this relationship, nor that anyone understands it, since in practice it is not clear. However, this relationship is the hinge of the whole matter, and so a conversation should be engaged in, involving all the different sectors, so that this relationship can be clarified. Such a conversation is an urgent need today, will take time and patience.
There is a lot of rhetoric in Catholic vision documents today, which ‘tick boxes’ regarding Christ and the Church, whilst not really engaging with either, and in which a secular and horizontal vision is the underlying ethos. The Christian life immediately becomes a human idea when it is in the hands of secularised people. The secular reality, which is in play today, marginalises the Living God and seeks to draw Catholics (parents, priests, teachers) into becoming agents of our neo-marxist State (the project to re-configure our lives and society upon the basis of newly construed ideas about sexual identity.) The key to any real development is evangelisation, not box-ticking, nor values.
Sunday, 21 February 2021
Saturday, 20 February 2021
As much for myself as for anyone else, I wanted to jot down the main things that I actually did during the nine months of lockdown in 2020. I'll do another post of what I subsequently did during the lock-down of 2021.
So, here goes for 2020:
- I formed and established a team of parish stewards.
- I formed and established a Parish Support Team - parishioners who could offer support within the community.
- I established a daily Mass and adoration schedule for myself.
- I conducted the Re-consecration of England as the Dowry of Our Lady on 29.3.20.
- I completely re-jigged and updated (in so far as I could) the parish data base.
- I began a twice-weekly email to those parishioners whose emails were on the data base.
- I began taking two walks each day. At lunchtime a 4 to 5 mile walk, and in the evening a 2 mile walk.
- I led a weekly Webinar on Zoom about the Holy Spirit in the nine weeks leading up to Pentecost.
- I began taking part, with three other priests, in a weekly Gospel sharing, every Thursday lunchtime.
- I privately made the 30 day Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola.
- I began weekly Zoom calls with parish groups.
- I took part in around 10 Webinars hosted by the Divine Renovation team, approximately one each month. These were particularly helpful.
- I encouraged a weekly parish Quiz Night to happen via Zoom.
- I began reading John Paul II's Theology of the Body again. I had read it once before, 1998/99.
- I took part in my monthly SJMV priests' fraternity, which meant being on Zoom for the best part of one Wednesday each month with a group of priests.
- I gave two live 'performances' via Zoom of a talk about how we could draw inspiration from the example of our martyrs during Penal times.
- When public Masses were allowed again, together with the stewards, we set the church up for the new protocols. Following this we developed a schedule of 4 public Masses and Confession each week. At the same time I established a screen and projector in the church to present notices and announcements.
- I took part in a priestly ordination in Leeds, and in a priest's First Mass in Walsall.
- I had a short break in Norfolk in early September.
- I wrote a sixteen part series on Life in Christ, which I sent by email as PDFs to all the Key Stage Two families in the parish.
- I joined the new Theology of the Body UK network and took part in its fortnightly Zoom seminars.
- I began launching the Choyr.com software in the parish.
- I read a number of books, amongst which these stand out as a particular focus: Transformation in Christ by D von Hildebrand, The Life of the Cure d'Ars by Abbe Trochu (my third and most fruitful reading of this book), The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.
- I developed the regular parish email postings into more attractive PDF mailings.
- I met via Zoom with all the different Key Stage Two parents' groups.
- I logged up quite a bit of wood in the garden for next winter (21/22) for my wood-burning stove.
- Throughout this year I have tuned in to the Youtube Channel, 'Sampson Boat Co', to watch the re-building on 'Tally Ho'.
- I celebrated Christmas with my brother and family.
I'll post on this years activities soon.
Thursday, 4 February 2021
Broadly speaking, for the part eight months I have lived the following schedule.
6.05am Petit Levee. Make tea. Reading followed by spiritual reading.
7.05am Grande Levee. Light wood-burning stove. Pray the Divine Office, Matins, Laudes, Terce. Consult diary. Consult parish email. Note particular appointments etc.
8.30am Celebrate the Mass, followed by a time of prayer.
9.30am Make phone calls, reply to emails, schedule on-line presence.
10.30am Petit déjeuner; oeufs o saucisse grillée avec tomate, o fromage grillée, o jambon avec salad, o chorizo con habas etc.
11am Preparation of presentations/resources
12.30am Walk of 3 to 4 miles.
2pm Continuation of preparation of presentations.
3pm Dejuner, the main meal of the day.
4.30pm Phone calls, emails.
5pm Vespers and Compline.
6pm Shorter walk and rehearsal of presentations.
7 - 8.30pm Zoom calls/seminars.
9pm Fin du jour.
9.45pm A coucher. 25 mins light reading. Pleine nuit.