Papal controversy— "Scandalous changes", Samanes Park, Guayaquil (Ecuador) Monday, 6 July 2015.
I have seen a lot of consternation expressed over the last week about some remarks the Holy Father made in a homily in Ecuador. This was somewhat overtaken by the extraordinary events of yesterday, but they are still for many, more disconcerting than the bizarre gift of the Bolivian President.
CNN put a definite spin on the comments with their article here. Daniel Burke, their religious editor, thinks that Francis was hinting at "scandalous" changes for the Catholic Church. While this may well be wishful thinking on the part of CNN, Burke's interpretation is not idiosyncratic, and so we, the faithful are left scratching our heads at these words from Francis' homily in Ecuador:
"Shortly before the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Church will celebrate the Ordinary Synod devoted to the family, deepen her spiritual discernment and consider concrete solutions to the many difficult, significant challenges facing families in our time. I ask you to pray fervently for this intention, so that Christ can take even what might seem to us impure, scandalous or threatening, and turn it, by making it part of his 'hour', into a miracle. The family today needs this miracle."The original Spanish is:
"Poco antes de comenzar el Año Jubilar de la Misericordia, la Iglesia celebrará el Sínodo Ordinario dedicado a las familias, para madurar un verdadero discernimiento espiritual y encontrar soluciones y ayudas concretas a las muchas dificultades e importantes desafíos que la familia hoy debe afrontar. Los invito a intensificar su oración por esta intención, para que aun aquello que nos parezca impuro, como el agua de las tinajas nos escandalice o nos espante, Dios—haciéndolo pasar por su «hora»— lo pueda transformar en milagro. La familia hoy necesita de este milagro."The full text in Spanish is available here.
What are we to make of the Holy Father’s strange pronouncement here?
Perhaps it is just the secular media bias, I thought, they want to see a condonation of homosexuality in everything the Pope says, but here it is on CNS. It really doesn't seem any clearer.
The full text of the homily is here. To be fair, the comment flows on immediately from the statement about the IMPORTANCE of the family, It is difficult to see how it could be flagging up a complete abandonment of the family? He seems to be talking about family as a hospital where no one is rejected. He said:
“Strong families help build strong individuals and strong societies. They are the place where “our hearts find rest in strong, fruitful and joyful love… When the Church asks governments to assist families it is not asking for “alms,” but rather payment of the “social debt” societies owe to families.”Are those criticising these remarks reading far too much into the Pope's comments here? Certainly a homosexual couple might make one interpretation - but I am sure that Pope Francis certainly did not mean that he intends the Synod to approve of Same Sex Marriage! Likewise a divorced and remarried couple. But the big problem in Latin America (and also to a lesser degree here in England) are people living together and not getting married at all.
Let us consider the context: the Pope is a Latin American speaking to a Latin American audience.
A priest friend told me that in the last few years (both before and after Pope Francis's election) he has come across a number of Latin American women who have told him that they could not get their children baptised in Latin America because they were single mothers. I think hardly any priests in England would refuse to baptise the child of a single mother, but this has been happening in Latin America. You would think that with the example of St Martin de Porres (who was illegitimate), priests in Latin America would realise that Canon Law does not fobid the baptism of children of single mothers. Pope Francis has repeatedly said that priests should not refuse baptism in these cases..
Strangely there has not been much comment about this in the blogosphere. Soon after his election as Pope, the Holy Father married a number of couples in Rome - including some couples who were already living together. You might remember this caused headlines? And some people were saying that people who had been living together cannot get married in Church. Of course, people should not live together before they get married and if they do they should not receive Holy Communion at Mass. And of course they should go to Confession before getting married.
I think that we should give the best and most generous interpretation to what he says - rather than give his words the worst interpretation. Let's face it, most of the couples coming forward to get married are already living together. And this is the sort of situation that is much more common in South America. I suspect that is what the Latin Americans would have understood by Pope Francis's words.
I will ask Fr Anthony Doe what he thinks on Saturday!
Remember: a Synod has no authority to change Church Doctrine.
As a Doctor would say: "Repeat this three times a day after meals. But do not take any Tablets."
Meanwhile, moving away from the media interpretation of what the Pope says and looking at what he actually does say; there are lots of really beautiful moments on this tour. I think it is really powerful; the Pope is on his native turf and, as intimated above, has the ability to speak to the people of South America in a way no Pontiff has spoken to them before. He is more aware of the reality of their lives, the challenges they face, their hopes and concerns.
The legitimacy of the Pope's empathy for the people of South America was expressed in his greeting to the people at the shrine of Divine Mercy in Guayaquil, Ecuador, when he said:
Good morning! Let us pray to Our Lady, together:I certainly felt that was a very sincere prayer to offer before he celebrates Mass!
Hail Mary, full of grace, The Lord is with thee…
Now I will celebrate Mass, and I hold you all in my heart. I will ask for each one of you, I will say to the Lord, “You know the names of those who were there”. I will ask Jesus for great mercy for every one of you; I will ask Him to care for you and to cover you with His mercy. May Our Lady always be by your side.
The family is the nearest hospital; when a family member is ill, it is in the home that they are cared for as long as possible. The family is the first school for the young, the best home for the elderly. The family constitutes the best “social capital”. It cannot be replaced by other institutions. It needs to be helped and strengthened, lest we lose our proper sense of the services which society as a whole provides. Those services which society offers to its citizens are not a type of alms, but rather a genuine “social debt” with respect to the institution of the family, which is foundational and which contributes to the common good.At the Mass for the Evangelization of Peoples, celebrated in Quito’s Parque Bicentenario, Ecuador, he made some very interesting and pertinent remarks (again, my emphasis):
The family is also a small Church, called a “domestic Church” which, along with life, also mediates God’s tenderness and mercy. In the family, we imbibe faith with our mother’s milk. When we experience the love of our parents, we feel the closeness of God’s love.
I think of those hushed words of Jesus during the Last Supper as more of a shout, a cry rising up from this Mass which we are celebrating in Bicentennial Park. Let us imagine this together. The bicentennial which this Park commemorates was that of Latin America’s cry for independence. It was a cry which arose from being conscious of a lack of freedom, of exploitation and despoliation, of being “subject to the passing whims of the powers that be” (Evangelii Gaudium, 213).
I would like to see these two cries joined together, under the beautiful challenge of evangelization...We who are gathered here at table with Jesus are ourselves a cry, a shout born of the conviction that his presence leads us to unity, “pointing to a horizon of beauty and inviting others to a delicious banquet”
“Father, may they be one... so that the world may believe”. This was Jesus’ prayer as he raised his eyes to heaven. This petition arose in a context of mission: “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world”. At that moment, the Lord experiences in his own flesh the worst of this world, a world he nonetheless loves dearly. Knowing full well its intrigues, its falsity and its betrayals, he does not turn away, he does not complain. We too encounter daily a world torn apart by wars and violence. It would be facile to think that division and hatred only concern struggles between countries or groups in society. Rather, they are a manifestation of that “widespread individualism” which divides us and sets us against one another (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 99), they are a manifestation of that legacy of sin lurking in the heart of human beings, which causes so much suffering in society and all of creation. But is it precisely this troubled world, with its forms of egoism, into which Jesus sends us. We must not respond with nonchalance, or complain we do not have the resources to do the job, or that the problems are too big. Instead, we must respond by taking up the cry of Jesus and accepting the grace and challenge of being builders of unity.
Evangelization can be a way to unite our hopes, concerns, ideals and even utopian visions. We believe this and we make it our cry. “In our world, especially in some countries, different forms of war and conflict are re-emerging, yet we Christians wish to remain steadfast in our intention to respect others, to heal wounds, to build bridges, to strengthen relationships and to ‘bear one another’s burdens’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 67). The desire for unity involves the delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, the conviction that we have an immense treasure to share, one which grows stronger from being shared, and becomes ever more sensitive to the needs of others (cf. ibid., 9). Hence the need to work for inclusivity at every level, to strive for this inclusivity at every level, to avoid forms of selfishness, to build communication and dialogue, to encourage collaboration. We need to give our hearts to our companions along the way, without suspicion or distrust. “Trusting others is an art, because peace is an art” (cf. ibid., 244). Our unity can hardly shine forth if spiritual worldliness makes us feud among ourselves in a futile quest for power, prestige, pleasure or economic security. And this on the backs of the poorest, the most excluded and vulnerable, those who still keep their dignity despite daily blows against it.