Thursday, 21 April 2016

Dear Pope Francis - a Dialogue with Amoris Laetitia 2

For the first instalment of this dialogue, please go to this link.
From Twitter:

BTW, has anyone seen Tina Beattie respond to #AmorisLaetitia yet? Because I need her to give me my opinion.

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Votive Panel of Jan Očko of Vlašim, National Gallery, Prague (before 1371)

Dear Pope Francis,

In today's letter I focus on what I suspect may prove to be the most radical section in the apostolic exhortation - though I have yet to read it all.
3. Since “time is greater than  space”,  I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth (cf. Jn 16:13), until he leads us fully into the mystery of  Christ and enables us to see all things as he does. Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and  sensitive  to  its traditions and local needs. For “cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle… needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected."
The idea that "time is greater than space" is a refrain that runs through so many of your writings, I think it is a key to understanding your theology. I have spent many hours reflecting on it as you explain it in Evangelii Gaudium III, 217-237, and I discuss it in an essay at this link. I see it as inextricably linked to your Jesuit formation in the process of discernment, which brings with it the need for patience, mercy and prayerful contemplation before the mystery of God.

The privileging of time over space explains the spacing of the two Synods on the Family  a year apart. One opened up the issues in a risk-taking venture of dialogue and debate, when you encouraged bishops to speak openly and fearlessly, with parrhesia. This allowed for the airing of differences, and for a painful but necessary process of struggle and discernment in order to arrive at a harmonious solution to sometimes intractable problems. As you so beautifully express it in Evangelii Gaudium:
 The message of peace is not about a negotiated settlement but rather the conviction that the unity brought by the Spirit can harmonize every diversity. It overcomes every conflict by creating a new and promising synthesis. Diversity is a beautiful thing when it can constantly enter into a process of reconciliation and seal a sort of cultural covenant resulting in a “reconciled diversity”. (230)
This Year of Mercy is a time of healing and reconciliation after the inevitable frictions that the first Synod unleashed and the second did not and could not entirely resolve.

The privileging of time over space surely also informs the concept of gradualness that was such an important feature of the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family. This is a way of accepting and indeed affirming that there are many tensions and inconsistencies between the ideals enshrined in church teaching, and the messy and complex realities of human life. Instead of interpreting this in terms of sin and failure, we need to see ourselves as gradually moving towards ever more loving and truthful ways of living, with church teaching as an aspiration and inspiration to guide us, not as a set of rules and prohibitions to punish us. The love and mercy of God sustain us in this endeavour, as "the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth". This is a process of gradual becoming in our journey towards union with God. It makes me think of Gregory of Nyssa's insight that perfection is about journeying rather than arriving.

Your emphasis on contextuality and inculturation constitutes a freeing up of the static absolutism that has crept into church teaching in recent years. It unleashes a dynamic and open-ended movement of the Spirit within the interpretation and application of doctrine. This awareness of the ways in which historical contexts and cultures constitute the incarnational locus of the Christian faith resonates with that idea of harmonized diversity rather than either uniformity or fragmentation. You have on several occasions invoked the image of God who walks with us through history, who is always moving and accompanying us in the temporal unfolding of the human story, which is also the unfolding of God's story. Here is how I describe it in the essay referenced above:
Everywhere we look, Francis’ God is on the move. In one of his daily Mass reflections he speaks of encountering God ‘walking, walking along the path’, and he describes the mystery of the incarnation as ‘a history of walking … the Lord is still saving us in history and walking with his people’. His encyclical Laudato Si’ extends this to encompass the whole of creation moving towards its fulfilment. We are, says Francis, ‘journeying towards the sabbath of eternity … In union with all creatures, we journey through this land seeking God’ (LS§243).
Yet "the magisterium" seems still to be a rather static entity in the extract quoted at the beginning of this letter, even if its power and influence are being curtailed. The definite article is not a traditional feature of the Church's understanding of magisterial authority, which is a more pluriform and consensual forum than "the magisterium" suggests. There has been widespread theological debate in recent years over the different forms of magisteria that constitute the Church's teaching authority. This reclamation of the teaching tradition would lend considerable support to your project of diffusing and disseminating authority through different levels of parish and diocesan life, with a welcome return to the principle of collegiality that was affirmed but never implemented in the Second Vatican Council.

But a word of appeal: please Pope Francis, will you tell the bishops more emphatically and clearly that they are not accountable to the CDF in all the decisions they make, because some of them seem not to have heard you yet? I'm sorry to say, but some of the bishops are cowards when it comes to asserting their authority in a way that is responsible, pastorally attentive and wise. This is perhaps because they have become so accustomed to being controlled and told what to do over the last thirty years or so that they have lost their initiative and leadership skills, but I suspect it is also a problem of priestly formation, and it begins in the seminaries. That is also where all radical reform will need to begin, because we lay people are still far too easily bullied and silenced by the kind of clerical classes you have criticised so volubly.

Anyway, that's probably enough for today. To be continued.