Friday, October 31, 2014

Law of graduality: living with the imperfect

Thomas Reese  |  Oct. 31, 2014Faith and Justice

During the Synod of Bishops on the family, the bishops in Rome struggled to find a way that the church could be a loving mother while still being a clear teacher -- something all parents can relate to. If when the kids come home for Thanksgiving, they are met by a nagging parent, they will not return for Christmas.
No child wants to be greeted at the door with questions like, "Is that a nose ring?" "You got a tattoo?" "Who are you sleeping with now?" "When are you getting married?" or "When am I going to get a grandchild?" No, what they want when they come home for Thanksgiving is a hug, a welcome. "I am so happy you are here!" "I love you!"
The bishops realized that a very large percentage of the faithful are either in "irregular" unions (cohabitation, divorced and remarried, gay relationships) and/or are practicing birth control. How to pastorally deal with these people was one of the central questions at the synod.
The bishops made clear that they were not going to change church teaching on these matters, but they realized that threatening hellfire and brimstones was not working. In fact, it was driving people away from the church. Numerous bishops admitted that terms like "living in sin," "intrinsically disordered" and "contraceptive mentality" were alienating.
On the other hand, overemphasizing the loving mother, they feared, would give the impression that these were minor issues that could be ignored. People would conclude that all sexual unions are equal, and there is no reason to be married in the church.
One solution to this quandary was the "law of graduality," proposed by some bishops. For many bishops, this was a whole new concept, even though it had been around for a while. In A History of Catholic Moral Theology in the Twentieth Century, Jesuit Fr. James Keenan reports that after Humanae Vitae, confessors were hearing from penitents who accepted the encyclical's teaching but strove unsuccessfully to observe it.

These people were confessing, with great frequency, but still asking: were they sinners each and every time they practiced birth control, even though they tried to adhere to the church's teaching without excuse? In particular, they wanted to know were they to absent themselves from Communion, even though it could help them grow in the moral life?

In response to these queries, confessors recommended the practice known as the law of graduality.
"Through this law," Keenan writes, "confessors encouraged the laity to understand that gradually they would make the law a reality in their lives and that in the meantime the sacraments could accompany them along the journey."
Keenan notes that Pope John Paul II referred to the law of graduality favorably in Familiaris Consortio (1981), although he differentiated it from "the gradualization of the law, that is, moderating the universality and/or force of the law itself." The law is clearly expressed, but "it was for the laity to gradually adhere to it," Keenan explains.

This was not a left-wing, liberal idea, as can been seen by its support from John Paul, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, and Cardinal Alfonso L√≥pez Trujillo, whom Keenan cites. Tettamanzi even extended the idea to homosexual persons.

The law of graduality was a pastoral response to concrete people, not a softening of the law. "Pope John Paul and Tettamanzi had argued that using birth control was always in itself wrong," Keenan writes, "and that failure to acknowledge the truth of the teaching would 'gradualize', that is, 'relativize', the church's law."
Not all moral theologians saw this solution as a convincing remedy. Keenan cites Jesuit Fr. Josef Fuchs, who argued that "if the demands of the couple's marriage meant that they 'had' to practice birth control, then the morally right act would be to use birth control." For Fuchs, there was no need for them to go to confession in the first place.
Still, the law of graduality is not as huge a change as progressives hope or as conservatives fear. There is no change in teaching, but in how individuals are pastorally cared for. But many, if not most, of the bishops at the synod were unfamiliar with the law of graduality, and they knew if they were confused, then so would be their priests and people. As a result, reference to the law was dropped from the final document. Don't be surprised if the same idea returns next October and gets a better reception.

Where the law of graduality becomes pastorally critical is on the question of Communion. The traditional approach has been to say that people practicing birth control or in irregular unions are in mortal sin and destined for hell. As a result, they cannot receive Communion.
Rather than seeing sins as going into two boxes (mortal and venial), most moralists would see actions on a continuum of lesser to greater evil. In addition, a person might be imperfect in one area of his or her life and better in other areas. Thus, a divorced and remarried couple might be exemplary in their faithfulness to one another, their care for their children, and their contribution to the community.
Under these circumstances, could not a confessor tell a person in a less-than-perfect relationship that they may go to Communion as long as they are struggling to live the best possible life that they can? As Pope Francis has said, Communion is not a reward for the perfect, but medicine for the sick.
At the end of the synod, Pope Francis reported that zealous traditionalists were tempted to "hostile inflexibility," while progressive do-gooders were tempted to treat symptoms rather than causes. Finding the happy middle ground of compassion and truth is what the bishops will be looking for between now and next October.
[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. Follow him on Twitter: @ThomasReeseSJ.]

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Changed Holiday

Halloween has taken off commercially like never before. Stores are filled with costumes and decorations of all types. Zombie movies and horror stories are all the rage and even radio stations play Halloween music. It is incredible how this holiday has evolved.

Growing up in the middle of a state forest, I absolutely enjoyed Halloween because it was a fall holiday that celebrates the splendid colors of the fall season. I appreciated the religious overtones to the reflective final weeks of the liturgical year that were being ushered in after one last blast of faux-scariness. Peace would descend upon the last as the last leaves would fall from the maples, elms, and poplars. Halloween always conveyed to me that something more final was afoot.

I think the appeal today has more to do with dressing up as one's heroes than it does putting on the gore. My nieces and nephews and their friends are trying to look authentically like their favorite cartoon characters or as someone who is filled with goodwill. The older crowds likes the gory stuff of the undead, but it never seems like pagan worship, just a masquerade party whose limits are surreal. Most however dress as fashionably as they can.

The store decorations are to welcome people into a festive time rather than to scare demons away. Halloween wreaths and greeting signs are becoming much more tasteful. They blend in with the autumnal atmosphere. I'm sure school children are taught that the origins of this festival was to scare away the evil spirits in order that the souls of the faithful departed may rest eternally in peace.

One of the mainstays of the Halloweens of my youth was the abundance of candy, most which were artfully crafted by neighbors for Trick or Treaters. Those days of community distribution of baked goods are now replaced by in-house parties where the sweet and salty goodies can be traced back to parents who staff the events.

A few traditional candies remain on the market shelves: the all-sugar candy corn, jellied pumpkins, waxed lips, and other former penny-candy delights. Halloween storefronts seem to have more decorations than they do candy.

Pumpkin has certainly taken off as a seasonal speciality. Pumpkin saturation is everywhere from coffee, to muffins, candles, air scents, and whatever else enhances the season. These days, you cannot avoid pumpkin.

Candy was once a rare treat in 19th century America. They were produced by confectioners to be sold in pharmacies. Confectioners would confect prescription drugs and sometimes these medicines were imbedded (to everyone's knowledge) into candy. The old saying holds, "A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down." Candy was meant to treat common infirmities. I recall some candies even tasting like medicine, Necco wafers, cough drops, clove gum, and other unique candies.

With the easier access to sugar, entrepreneurs found that offering candy was a marketing device to get people into their stores. Universal dentistry was not yet in place and some people developed a dietary moralism about the evils of candy. Halloween was a special time of the year in which candy could be distributed more freely.

Today, it is not easy to tell what is candy and what is not. Energy bards like Fiber One and those that are covered in memory-enhancing dark chocolate seem to have the same quality of chocolate bars, but they are sold as something different. We abhor candy, but love these treats. Fruit roll-ups and juice drinks are filled with the sugar we love and hate. Candy has simply taken another form in our consciousness. Candy bars are so much smaller than a mere 25 years ago, but they are new and improved. Bite sized morsels are designed for us to indulge, but delicately respecting our diets. The landscape, like the Halloween holiday, has changed.

For me, I focus on the pumpkins and gourds, the falling leaves, and the apple picking. I like the long walks in the great outdoors with my camera as the fading light encroaches upon the land. I begin to think about those who have gone to God during the past year and I ask them to pray for us during these troubled times. Halloween is the setup for the real holiday. I simply begin to remember and to prepare for what lies ahead and I want to enjoy life in Christ as he is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I want to feel the communion of saints, living and deceased, and I want to take the time to feel alive again. Halloween appeals to my sensory world and it feeds my imagination and gives meaning to a redeemed world of goodness.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cranberry Bogs

To see photos of a Cranberry Bog, click on the link below:

Pope Francis speech at the conclusion of the Synod

Pope Francis arriving at the Synod Hall
(Vatican Radio) At the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, Pope Francis addressed the assembled Fathers, thanking them for their efforts and encouraging them to continue to journey. 
Below, please find Vatican Radio's provisional translation of Pope Francis' address to the Synod Fathers: 
Dear Eminences, Beatitudes, Excellencies, Brothers and Sisters,
With a heart full of appreciation and gratitude I want to thank, along with you, the Lord who has accompanied and guided us in the past days, with the light of the Holy Spirit.
From the heart I thank Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, Bishop Fabio Fabene, under-secretary, and with them I thank the Relators, Cardinal Peter Erdo, who has worked so much in these days of family mourning, and the Special Secretary Bishop Bruno Forte, the three President delegates, the transcribers, the consultors, the translators and the unknown workers, all those who have worked with true fidelity and total dedication behind the scenes and without rest. Thank you so much from the heart.
I thank all of you as well, dear Synod fathers, Fraternal Delegates, Auditors, and Assessors, for your active and fruitful participation. I will keep you in prayer asking the Lord to reward you with the abundance of His gifts of grace!
I can happily say that – with a spirit of collegiality and of synodality – we have truly lived the experience of “Synod,” a path of solidarity, a “journey together.”
And it has been “a journey” – and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say “enough”; other moments of enthusiasm and ardour. There were moments of profound consolation listening to the testimony of true pastors, who wisely carry in their hearts the joys and the tears of their faithful people. Moments of consolation and grace and comfort hearing the testimonies of the families who have participated in the Synod and have shared with us the beauty and the joy of their married life. A journey where the stronger feel compelled to help the less strong, where the more experienced are led to serve others, even through confrontations. And since it is a journey of human beings, with the consolations there were also moments of desolation, of tensions and temptations, of which a few possibilities could be mentioned:
 - One, a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.
 - The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”
 - The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).
 - The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.
 - The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them “byzantinisms,” I think, these things…
Dear brothers and sisters, the temptations must not frighten or disconcert us, or even discourage us, because no disciple is greater than his master; so if Jesus Himself was tempted – and even called Beelzebul (cf. Mt 12:24) – His disciples should not expect better treatment.
Personally I would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as St Ignatius called it (Spiritual Exercises, 6), if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace. Instead, I have seen and I have heard – with joy and appreciation – speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parresia. And I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the “supreme law,” the “good of souls” (cf. Can. 1752). And this always – we have said it here, in the Hall – without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life (cf. Cann. 1055, 1056; and Gaudium et spes, 48).
And this is the Church, the vineyard of the Lord, the fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wound; who doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans. The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.
The is the Church, our Mother! And when the Church, in the variety of her charisms, expresses herself in communion, she cannot err: it is the beauty and the strength of the sensus fidei, of that supernatural sense of the faith which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit so that, together, we can all enter into the heart of the Gospel and learn to follow Jesus in our life. And this should never be seen as a source of confusion and discord.
Many commentators, or people who talk, have imagined that they see a disputatious Church where one part is against the other, doubting even the Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church – the Holy Spirit who throughout history has always guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.
And, as I have dared to tell you , [as] I told you from the beginning of the Synod, it was necessary to live through all this with tranquillity, and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place cum Petro and sub Petro(with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.
We will speak a little bit about the Pope, now, in relation to the Bishops [laughing]. So, the duty of the Pope is that of guaranteeing the unity of the Church; it is that of reminding the faithful of  their duty to faithfully follow the Gospel of Christ; it is that of reminding the pastors that their first duty is to nourish the flock – to nourish the flock – that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep. I made a mistake here. I said welcome: [rather] to go out and find them.
His duty is to remind everyone that authority in the Church is a service, as Pope Benedict XVI clearly explained, with words I cite verbatim: “The Church is called and commits herself to exercise this kind of authority which is service and exercises it not in her own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ… through the Pastors of the Church, in fact: it is he who guides, protects and corrects them, because he loves them deeply. But the Lord Jesus, the supreme Shepherd of our souls, has willed that the Apostolic College, today the Bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter… to participate in his mission of taking care of God's People, of educating them in the faith and of guiding, inspiring and sustaining the Christian community, or, as the Council puts it, ‘to see to it... that each member of the faithful shall be led in the Holy Spirit to the full development of his own vocation in accordance with Gospel preaching, and to sincere and active charity’ and to exercise that liberty with which Christ has set us free (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, 6)… and it is through us,” Pope Benedict continues, “that the Lord reaches souls, instructs, guards and guides them. St Augustine, in his Commentary on the Gospel of St John, says: ‘let it therefore be a commitment of love to feed the flock of the Lord’ (cf. 123, 5); this is the supreme rule of conduct for the ministers of God, an unconditional love, like that of the Good Shepherd, full of joy, given to all, attentive to those close to us and solicitous for those who are distant (cf. St Augustine, Discourse 340, 1; Discourse 46, 15), gentle towards the weakest, the little ones, the simple, the sinners, to manifest the infinite mercy of God with the reassuring words of hope (cf. ibid., Epistle, 95, 1).”
So, the Church is Christ’s – she is His bride – and all the bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter, have the task and the duty of guarding her and serving her, not as masters but as servants. The Pope, in this context, is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant – the “servant of the servants of God”; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim, despite being – by the will of Christ Himself – the “supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful” (Can. 749) and despite enjoying “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church” (cf. Cann. 331-334).
Dear brothers and sisters, now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.
One year to work on the “Synodal Relatio” which is the faithful and clear summary of everything that has been said and discussed in this hall and in the small groups. It is presented to the Episcopal Conferences as “lineamenta” [guidelines].
May the Lord accompany us, and guide us in this journey for the glory of His Name, with the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of Saint Joseph. And please, do not forget to pray for me! Thank you!
[The hymn Te Deum was sung, and Benediction given.]
Thank you, and rest well, eh?

Pope Paul VI is almost a saint.

Here are four of his biggest legacies

Paul VI makes his way past bishops during a session of the Second Vatican Council in 1964. (CNS file photo)

  • Pope 

    As he wraps up a Vatican meeting marked by sharp debates over sex and morality, Pope Francis on Sunday will honor one of his most controversial predecessors by beatifying Pope Paul VI, who is most famous for reaffirming the Catholic church's ban on artificial contraception.
    Beatification puts Paul one step shy of formal sainthood. The move might seem out of step with Francis' pastoral approach given that Paul's birth control ruling, in the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, set the stage for the culture wars that overtook Catholicism after Paul died in 1978.
    A wide swath of Catholics, especially in the U.S. and Europe, were furious over Paul's decision. They were convinced that the ban would be lifted and that Paul was shutting down the reforms that had begun a few years earlier with momentous changes adopted by the Second Vatican Council.
    Many conservatives, on the other hand, hailed Humanae Vitae for reasserting traditional doctrine, and the division foreshadowed the deep splits that have played out even in this month's high-level synod in Rome -- a polarization that Francis says he wants to overcome.
    Yet Francis is trying to accomplish that goal by focusing not so much on Humanae Vitae but on Paul VI's many other groundbreaking, though often overlooked, contributions:
    Paul VI, the refomer
    Chief among them was Paul's call for a more missionary church that would be open to the world and one that would dialogue with other Christians and other believers, and with nonbelievers, too. "For us, Paul VI was the great light," Francis said in an interview in June, referring to his years as a young priest.
    In addition, like Francis, Paul was a vocal champion of the church's social justice teachings, and he sought to embed those concepts as foundation stones of Catholic doctrine. He also implemented a system of regular meetings of bishops, called synods, to promote a more collaborative, horizontal church. That's a legacy Francis built on this month when he convened a free-wheeling synod of bishops deliberately modeled on Paul's vision.
    "This synod, as it is unfolding, is what Paul VI had in mind -- a real debate among bishops," said Massimo Faggioli, an Italian-born theologian and church historian at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn.
    Paul VI, an 'evangelical' pope
    For Francis, the key to Paul's pontificate was his 1975 exhortation on evangelization, Evangelii Nuntiandi ("On Proclaiming the Gospel"), which Francis has called "the greatest pastoral document written to date."
    In that landmark document -- largely overshadowed by the contraception encyclical -- Paul said that the church itself "has a constant need of being evangelized," and he wrote that people today listen "more willingly to witnesses than to teachers," so Catholic leaders above all must practice what they preach.
    "The world calls for, and expects from us, simplicity of life, the spirit of prayer, charity towards all, especially towards the lowly and the poor, obedience and humility, detachment and self-sacrifice. Without this mark of holiness, our word will have difficulty in touching the heart of modern man. It risks being vain and sterile," Paul wrote in words that could have come from the pen of Francis.
    In fact, in November 2013, Francis sent a personal representative to a meeting of the U.S. bishops and had him read those passages to the hierarchy, followed by clear instructions that Francis, like Paul, "wants 'pastoral' bishops, not bishops who profess or follow a particular ideology." Francis also asked all eight cardinals in his special advisory groups to reread Evangelii Nuntiandi.
    Paul VI, the pilgrim pope
    Elected in 1963 on the death of St. John XXIII, amid intense debates among bishops at the Second Vatican Council, the former Cardinal Giovanni Montini inherited the difficult task of seeing the council through to its conclusion in 1965. In the following years, he pushed through the council's changes, including updating the liturgy from Latin to the vernacular and completing a major reorganization of the Roman Curia.
    He also discarded the papal triple tiara and other trappings of the monarchical papacy, sending a message "that the pope was not a king, but a bishop, a pastor, a servant," as the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops put it in one of its tributes.
    And Paul -- not his globe-trotting successor, John Paul II -- was the original "pilgrim pope," the first pontiff to travel outside Italy in the modern era.
    On his first trip, Paul met the Eastern Orthodox patriarch in Jerusalem in 1964, and during Paul's eight other foreign journeys he visited Asia -- a knife-wielding artist in the Philippines tried to stab him -- Africa and Latin America. In 1965, Paul became the first pope to visit the U.S., where he celebrated Mass at Yankee Stadium and delivered a ringing denunciation of war to the United Nations General Assembly.
    His calls for economic justice were controversial but just as powerful. Because of that track record, Paul was a hero not only to Francis but to many other priests of the time who went on to become church leaders.
    "Pope Paul helped me to understand that you don't need to be a brilliant theologian, a charismatic speaker or have the courage of a martyr to evangelize," said Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., who until his recent retirement was the last bishop heading a U.S. diocese to be appointed by Paul.
    Paul VI, the bridge builder
    But Paul is also returning as a hero for many in the newer generation. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines, a rising star in the global church, has praised Paul for his efforts to unify the church, citing Paul's motto: "No one defeated; everyone convinced."
    Yet, as Tagle told Catholic News Service, because of that approach, Paul "would be attacked from all sides" and "would never become a star the way the other popes were."
    Indeed, critiqued by the left over birth control and by the right for reforms to the liturgy, Paul in his last years was depicted as a Hamlet-like figure of equivocation. His end did seem tragic, as he aged rapidly under the burdens of the office, governing the church at a time of massive social upheavals abroad and close to home.
    In the spring of 1978, a longtime friend of Paul's and a prominent Italian political leader, Aldo Moro, was kidnapped and executed by left-wing terrorists in Italy despite an impassioned appeal by the anguished pope. Paul died three months later, "one of the holiest and most loving of Popes" but also "one of the saddest," as the editors of the Catholic magazine  Commonweal wrote at the time.
    Will Francis wind up achieving what Paul could not by healing divisions and pushing the church forward? Or will he suffer a similar fate?
    Despite the many affinities between the two popes, Faggioli said that "the difference between Paul and Francis is the kind of boldness, courage -- in a way, recklessness -- that Francis clearly has. He's taking huge risks, while Paul VI was always much more cautious."