Friday, April 08, 2016

Amoris laetitia: that footnote 351

Fr Jean Marie F.SS.R. performs the Ritus Aspersionis. Outside Eastertide, the accompanying
chant is about how we want to washed 'whiter than snow.' In Eastertide, the focus is on the
flow of this cleansing water, from the side of Christ on the Cross.
A passage making the same kind of point as the one I discussed in my last post is embellished with a footnote which has raised eyebrows - and was flagged up in the press conference. It is part of section 305.

Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.

Note (351): In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 [2013], 1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (ibid. , 47: 1039).

While this might not be as clear as one might like, I don't see what the fuss is about here.

On the main text, it is perfectly true that one can commit an act which is objectively sinful, without incurring the guilt of a subjective sin, if one is non-culpably ignorant that the act is sinful. This may be the result of ignorance about the nature of the act, as well as about the application of the moral law to the case at issue. 'Conditioning', in the sense of one's moral and practical education, may be involved in such mistakes.

It should be mentioned that ignorance of the most general principles of the Natural Law is not, in fact, possible, since is it written on our hearts (Romans 1:19f). Aquinas explains, accordingly, that moral ignorance is possible only of specific applications. Suprisingly, he then gives the example of ancient Germans apparantly not knowing that theft was wrong, which suggests that pretty basic parts of the Natural Law could still be at issue. Nevertheless, none of this is any use to liberals, as section 301 (discussed in my last post) makes clear, because the cases they want to focus on don't involve moral ignorance, however widely or narrowly construed. On the contrary, they want to talk about lifelong, practicing Catholics, well-informed about the Faith, constantly on the phone to the bishop and writing to the Catholic papers, 'churchy' people, or, as they say in Austria, 'candle cormorants' ('kurzlschlucker'). People who pay the Church tax. And naturally, if ignorance were an issue, it could be dispelled by a little teaching.

In light of this, the footnote, which anyway only repeats what Evangelii gaudium already said, is a statement of the obvious. The phrase 'the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy', reminds me of the splendid Fr Magdala Maria F.SS.R. at our recent Family Retreat, who after telling about the danger of eternal damnation in classic Redemptorist fashion, reminded us that his spitirual father and model, St Alphonsus, was 'a lion in the pulpit and a lamb in the confessional'. No one should be too afraid to go in the box.

And what of the Blessed Sacrament? Is it 'not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak'? Yes, this is perfectly true. Not for those in mortal sin - no, they are not weak, they are dead. They need to be brought back to life by sacramental absolution, in Confession. But when you crawl out of the Confessional, alive but weak, you should go to Holy Communion, and do so frequently.

Perhaps Pope Francis meant something else? I can only comment on the text we have. It went through a complicated process of editing and refinement, no doubt. Efforts were made, as they always have been made with important documents, to avoid statements which are wrong. At any rate in this passage, those efforts were successful.

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  1. Anonymous6:32 pm

    For an example of what's wrong with the footnote, examine Bishop Barron's comment on Amoris Laetitia:

    Notice the sloppy analysis of the divorced and remarried being called "irregular marriage" and "it is not possible to leave the second relationship because it is fruitful" and the distinction between "ideal" and "real". Divorced and remarried relationships are not irregular marriages, they are not marriages at all. They are either adulterous relationships or non-sexual co-habitation for an valid purpose (e.g. taking care of children, taking care of family, etc). The Eucharist is not a medicine for the weak who does not repent of his continual is a condemnation for such a person that will make him weaker.

    Similarly, the same can be said for sexual co-habitation. There are no positive elements in sin. Fidelity does not exist without commitment. Openness to children is not there, or if it is, it is sin to wilfully bring children into the world without commitment. True love is not there if you want the option to quit if it's inconvenient.

    The solutions to both problems is simple. Stop having sex outside of marriage. The sacraments are not open to you, nor can they do anything except harm you in that state.

  2. The priest in the picture is Fr. Jean ;-)

  3. On the issue of a "weak" versus "dead" member of the Church, Amoris Laetitia is in err. AL 299: "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"
    AL 301: "Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace."

    1. In that same paragraph,301, St Thomas Aquinas is quoted: “Certain saints are said not to possess certain virtues, in so far as they experience difficulty in the acts of those virtues, even though they have the habits of all the virtues”. I can offer one splendid example: Pope St John Paul II and his treatment of Fr Pedro Arrupe.
      I recall Fr Pedro's prayer: "Teach me your way of looking at people: as you glanced at Peter after his denial, as you penetrated the heart of the rich young man and the hearts of your disciples." I believe Pope Francis may be motivated by this sentiment and perhaps those who criticise might benefit by adopting it.

      As also the teaching of that great confessor, the Venerable Fr Felix Cappello SJ: “Principles are principles, and they remain firm and are always to be defended. But all consciences are not the same. In applying principles to consciences, we must do it with great prudence, much common sense, and much goodness. In your opinions and decisions never be severe. The Lord does not want that. Be always just, but never severe. Give the solution that offers the soul some room in which to breathe.”

    2. But as I explained, that is not the issue which Aquinas is addressing in the cited passage.

  4. There never has been a problem with objective, but not subjective sin. But the Church has a duty to point out this error and forbid the reception of Holy Communion until rectified. There is nothing to stop these adulterers coming to the parish fete in the meantime.

    As for the “ torture chamber” remark, that is a bit of a joke. What chamber. They seem to have stopped using it in my parish?

  5. But the reference to 'the sacraments' which are to be received by one in an on-going state of sin is naturally understood to mean confession and Holy Communion. And the term 'weak' is naturally understood to refer to those who are in the state just described, i.e. one of objective sin.

    Fr Thomas Crean OP

  6. The problem is the many people in today's world do not see divorce and remarriage as being sinful. This is why they see that receiving communion is ok. They would look at going to confession as something we do not need any more only those who are guilty need that. A remarried person is not guilty in today's understand. The Document does not change our teachings on the understanding of remarried couples. It asks us to understand the situation and to guide them to a solution that is in line with the Church's teachings we are to do this with charity.
    Our job as priest is to teach not to condemn, if a person in is a state of objective sin we are to teach and encourage them to refrain from receiving Holy Communion and to encourage them to seek a resolution to the objective sin. We are to teach what God has given us as the ideal, and if we do that they are the ones who understand not to receive Holy Communion. It is not ours to refuse because how do we know if that person had went to confession before the holy Mass and confessed their sins and did make a change of life so the they could receive Holy Communion. Are we to be the police or are to exercise charity. There is the question?

  7. Anonymous4:10 pm

    Regarding Aquinas' remarks on the Germans' theft, J Budziszewski wrote in First Things:

    'Certain moral matters are so obvious that at some level everyone already knows them - the wrong of adultery, for example, and the wrong of theft.

    Of course, this raises the question: If we already know them, then why is God’s precept necessary? In one sense, it is impossible to be mistaken about these fundamentals; they are right before the eye of the mind. And yet, as Thomas Aquinas remarks, “they need to be promulgated, because human judgment, in a few instances, happens to be led astray concerning them.”

    It is in this context that Thomas mentions the ancient Germans, among whom, he says, “theft, although it is expressly contrary to the natural law, was not considered wrong.” Thomas’ source, Caesar’s commentaries on the Gallic War, shows that what he had in mind was the Germans’ approval of stealing from tribes other than their own. These barbarians were “led astray,” however, not because they were ignorant of the wrong of taking what properly belongs to one’s neighbor but because they refused to recognize the members of the other tribes as neighbors. They didn’t justify theft; they told themselves that they weren’t really thieves.'