November 17, 2014, Monday — Francis: “The family is the foundation”

“We need answers, not more questions and discussion… We need doctrineclarified — not blurred! The Synod  has abandoned faithful, loyal Catholics—- who have been trying to defend their Faith under the onslaught of the media and the anti-Catholic, secular world culture. The Synod is, in fact, giving ammunition to those who want to destroy the fundamental beliefs of the Faith!”—Mary (email letter to me)

“Does he (Pope Francis) not realize the repercussions? Perhaps he doesn’t. I don’t know whether he’s conscious of all the consequences of some of the things he’s said and done that raise doubts in people’s minds.” —Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, recent interview with the Crux website of the Boston Globe

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The quotes above suggest the complexity and passionate intensity of the present debate over a number of moral questions within the Catholic Church, almost a month after the end of the October 5-19 bishops’ synod.

Many seem to feel, as does Mary in the letter above, that there is a need for greater clarity from Church authorities on Church teaching on issues like divorce, remarriage, homosexuality, and the pressure to recognize homosexual unions as “marriages.”

I argued in my letter #33 (and still believe), that there will not be any change in established Church doctrine. But precisely this affirmation has outraged many, because it is widely perceived, and believed with passionate conviction, that the changes being proposed in the pastoral care of individuals would, de facto, be changes in doctrine.

This widespread desire for greater doctrinal clarity suggests that there is, right now, a “pastoral problem” that may not have been anticipated — or, if anticipated, may have been underestimated.

Since this seems to be so, perhaps it would be a good idea for someone authoritative in the Church to set forth clearly what the boundaries of the current debate are.

In addition to a desire for greater doctrinal clarity, there is considerable perplexity about the intentions of Pope Francis.

In America, the retired Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, 77, who is ill with cancer, recently said that if he were to meet Pope Francis, he would like to ask him for an explanation of his plans. (Link: http://www.cruxnow.com/church/2014/11/16/what-americas-ratzinger-would-like-to-ask-pope-francis/)

His interviewer, John Allen, writes: “To begin, George said he’d like to ask Francis if he fully grasps that in some quarters, he’s created the impression Catholic doctrine is up for grabs. Does Francis realize, for example, “what has happened just by that phrase, ‘Who am I to judge?’”…

“Does he not realize the repercussions? Perhaps he doesn’t,” George said. “I don’t know whether he’s conscious of all the consequences of some of the things he’s said and done that raise doubts in people’s minds.”

George, with surprising candor, even wonders out loud whether Francis is acting in haste because he feels he does not have much time, perhaps even because he believes that the end of the world and the Second Coming is near.

George recalled that one of Francis’ favorite books is The Lord of the World by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, a Catholic convert who was the son of a former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury. The 1907 apocalyptic fantasy culminates in a showdown between the Church and an anti-Christ figure who to almost everyone seems “decent” and “reasonable,” but who demands that the Churches give up their belief in Christ.

George said he’d like to ask Francis a simple question: “Do you really believe that?” and added: “I hope before I die I’ll have the chance to ask him how you want us to understand what you’re doing, when you put [the end-times] before us as a key to it all.”

Perhaps, George said, the sense that the end is near explains why Francis “seems to be in a hurry.”

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Conversion

Several observations might be made.

The first concerns “conversion.”

I spoke at length today with someone close to Pope Francis who told me he believes that almost everyone has overlooked the word which is most important to Pope Francis: conversion.

What Francis wishes to do, he said, is to accompany people on their walk of faith, meeting them where they are, until they can be brought to that moment when they can, freely, embrace the teaching of the Church about both faith and morals, that is, about what is to be believed and what is to be done and not done.

“The missing word is conversion,” this person said. “The decisive moment when one recognizes Jesus and embraces his commandments and sets out on the path of discipleship.”

One reader expressed this concept in an eloquent way:

“What does Pope Francis want, anyway? As far as I can tell, this is what he would like for me, and for everyone: for me to be a friend of Christ, an intimate of Christ, such that I become another Christ, even Christ himself — ipse Christus  — so that I then communicate Christ, so that in knowing me, others can come to know Christ himself… Not to communicate doctrine in the first place — doctrine reveals aspects of the mystery of Christ as conceptually articulated. A person has the appetite for this when they are coming to know Christ. When Christ is looking at them in the face. Through and in my face…

“I believe this is why Pope Francis is forever leading us what amounts to a worldwide, personal examination of conscience. That is what his preaching at Santa Marta often is. That is what his concluding address to the synod of bishops was.

“This is why, as much as I loved Pope John Paul II as a father, and as much as I loved Pope Benedict for the depth and clarity of his thinking (ocean bottom two miles down and visible), Pope Francis in this last year and a half has changed me more, in a more direct way then either of them.”

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Two other letters

Letter #1:

“First, unlike the extreme Traditionalists who view the Synod events as proof that we have a modernist Pope and that they are thereby justified in disobedience “in view of the extreme crisis in the Church,” faithful Catholics know that the dogma of papal primacy requires that we give full obedience to the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff, not only in matters of faith and morals, but also in matters of ecclesiastical discipline. We have no other path to follow except to trust that the Holy Spirit will never allow a pope to lead his flock into genuine error.

“Second, while it is licit to give a perfectly orthodox interpretation to Pope Francis’ statements and to those approved by the Synod, the issue remains as to whether such an orthodox reading is also the correct and intended meaning. Only time will tell. Until then, faithful Catholics have no choice but to pray and await the fulfillment of events — trusting in God that, in any event, the orthodoxy and the unity of the Church must, and will, be maintained — one way or another.” —Dennis

Letter #2:

“Thank you for your most recent letter. Your words moved me deeply and clearly came from a place deep within your heart, the place where the Spirit lives and breaths.

“Your words resonated with me in particular because a few days ago I heard Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and host of the documentary series “Cosmos”, argue passionately for a purely scientific view of the universe, a universe devoid of the Holy. His lecture was interesting yet ultimately fell flat. He failed to rise above the dimensions of space and time and wonder at the transcendent glory of God.

“As for your critics–don’t take such folks too seriously. I don’t seem to recall Jesus commanding us: “Criticize your brother!” Seems to me He said something more like, “Love your brother.” The critics will come and go but Christ and His Church shall remain.”

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“The family is the foundation”

And, as if to recognize the need to make his attitude toward the traditional Church teaching on the family even more clear, Pope Francis this morning gave the following address to a congress sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (headed by Cardinal Gerhard Mueller) that opened today the discuss “The Complementarity of Man and Woman.”

Most coverage of this talk picked up on the final paragraph, where Francis announces, for the first time publicly, that he will travel to the United States in September, 2015, for the World Meeting of Families.

But in this address, the Pope makes very clear that he regards marriage as something between a man and a woman. And he affirms the right of a child to have a father and a mother.

“Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity,” Francis said.

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“We Must Foster a New Human Ecology”

By Pope Francis

November 17, 2014

Dear sisters and brothers,

I warmly greet you. I thank Cardinal Mueller for his words with which he introduced our meeting. I would like to begin by sharing with you a reflection on the title of your colloquium. You must admit that “complementarity” does not roll lightly off the tongue! Yet it is a word into which many meanings are compressed. It refers to situations where one of two things adds to, completes, or fulfills a lack in the other. But complementarity is much more than that. Yet complementarity is more than this.

Christians find its deepest meaning in the first Letter to the Corinthians where Saint Paul tells us that the Spirit has endowed each of us with different gifts so that-just as the human body’s members work together for the good of the whole-everyone’s gifts can work together for the benefit of each. (cf. 1 Cor. 12).  To reflect upon “complementarity” is nothing less than to ponder the dynamic harmonies at the heart of all Creation. This is a big word, harmony. All complementarities were made by our Creator, so the Author of harmony achieves this harmony.

It is fitting that you have gathered here in this international colloquium to explore the complementarity of man and woman. This complementarity is a root of marriage and family. For the family grounded in marriage is the first school where we learn to appreciate our own and others’ gifts, and where we begin to acquire the arts of cooperative living. For most of us, the family provides the principal place where we can aspire to greatness as we strive to realize our full capacity for virtue and charity. At the same time, as we know, families give rise to tensions: between egoism and altruism, reason and passion, immediate desires and long-range goals. But families also provide frameworks for resolving such tensions. This is important.

When we speak of complementarity between man and woman in this context, let us not confuse that term with the simplistic idea that all the roles and relations of the two sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern. Complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children — his or her personal richness, personal charisma. Complementarity becomes a great wealth. It is not just a good thing but it is also beautiful.

We know that today marriage and the family are in crisis. We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.

Evidence is mounting that the decline of the marriage culture is associated with increased poverty and a host of other social ills, disproportionately affecting women, children and the elderly. It is always they who suffer the most in this crisis.

The crisis in the family has produced an ecological crisis, for social environments, like natural environments, need protection. And although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology.

It is necessary first to promote the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its
non-material goods. The family is the foundation of co-existence and a remedy against social fragmentation. Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity. That is why I stressed in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium that the contribution of marriage to society is “indispensable”; that it “transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.” (n. 66)  And that is why I am grateful to you for your Colloquium’s emphasis on the benefits that marriage can provide to children, the spouses themselves, and to society.

In these days, as you embark on a reflection on the beauty of complementarity between man and woman in marriage, I urge you to lift up yet another truth about marriage: that permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart.  I urge you to bear in mind especially the young people, who represent our future. Commit yourselves, so that our youth do not give themselves over to the poisonous environment of the temporary, but rather be revolutionaries with the courage to seek true and lasting love, going against the common pattern.
Do not fall into the trap of being swayed by political notion. Family is an anthropological fact – a socially and culturally related fact. We cannot qualify it based on ideological notions or concepts important only at one time in history. We can’t think of conservative or progressive notions. Family is a family. It can’t be qualified by ideological notions. Family is per se. It is a strength per se.

I pray that your colloquium will be an inspiration to all who seek to support and strengthen the union of man and woman in marriage as a unique, natural, fundamental and beautiful good for persons, communities, and whole societies.

I wish to confirm according to the wishes of the Lord, that in September of 2015, I will go to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. Thank you for your prayers with which you accompany my service to the Church. Bless you from my heart.

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