22Oct

Comfort or confusion?

Pope Francis

The first session of the Synod on the Family has ended and the Pope has issued a balanced speech to gather it together.  I urge you to read it carefully.

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! Thank you, and rest well, eh?

For me it raises as many questions as it answers. Though, in fairness, that is not so much because of the speech as the Pope who issued it.  He does seem a most perplexing fellow- one whom nobody can really pin down. People praise and fear him in equal measure but none point definitively to his agenda.

Do we take the speech as a sign that the deposit of faith is in safe hands? Or should we fear the liberal forces unleashed via this debate given how strong are the pressures on the church now that the thinking of the sexual revolution is becoming a global ideology?

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23 thoughts on “Comfort or confusion?

  1. Do we take the speech as a sign that the deposit of faith is in safe hands? Or should we fear the liberal forces unleashed via this debate given how strong are the pressures on the church now that the thinking of the sexual revolution is becoming a global ideology?

    Is this an admission that it is possible (not necessarily that it has happened in this case, but that the possibility is not unthinkable) for a man currently holding the office of Pope can err on matters of fundamental truth, and that this is why it is so dangerous to place such absolute authority over doctrine in the hands of one fallible human being?

    1. No. The faith cannot be changed but it is to state that chaos and confusion might result if people were led to imagine that there is legitimate grounds for knowing the faith but not sticking to it

      1. So what if this Pope, or a future Pope, were to declare that, say, the church had been wrong and homosexual activity was not actually sinful?

        Would that not put you in the position of either affirming the Pope’s authority (and betraying the true faith) or sticking to the true faith (and so rejecting the authority of the Pope, and therefore no longer being truly a Roman Catholic)?

        Previously when I’ve asked this question I’ve been told, ‘That could never happen.’

        But it looks now like it could. It looks (given how close the votes were) like it is possible that in future someone could be elected to the Papacy with that kind of liberal agenda (if it hasn’t happened already).

  2. You often trumpeted the fact you left Anglicanism where you were tired of defending the Catholic Faith. The irony of your present situation cannot be lost on your readers. You seem to be showing you are a natural ‘protestant’ by worrying if the Pope is a Catholic! At least your Church has YOU to keep it on the right path – even if Pope Francis is showing signs of wishy-washy Anglicanism.

    1. I left Anglicanism because it so manifestly opted not to be catholic (small C) in any way, shape or form. I quite understood, having witnessed the lives of the saints, that joining THE Catholic church would not lead to a life of ease of comfort and that the faith would need defending at all times.

  3. I think that some folk (Anglicans, mainly) assume that the Catholic Church will abandon its doctrine after two minutes of debate, in the manner of their own communions.

    This will not happen.

    1. So you think it is not possible that this Pope, or any future Pope, might declare the Church to have been mistaken about homosexual activity (or, indeed, any sex outside marriage) being sinful, or about the permanent nature of marriage?

      1. I think that such a contingency is imaginable, but not possible. since the teaching of the Catholic Church on these sexual matters is firmly grounded in the Scriptures and has been taught semper, ubique and ab omnibus, what ground is there to change it (were that possible) save for the promptings of the Zeitgeist?

        We can see, of course, how much such a “libertine turn” has brought throngs of alienated people back to the Episcopal Church and the Church of Sweden, and no doubt it will have the same effect in the England, so the Catholic Church will be swimming against the tide in resisting it.

        1. I think that such a contingency is imaginable, but not possible. since the teaching of the Catholic Church on these sexual matters is firmly grounded in the Scriptures and has been taught semper, ubique and ab omnibus, what ground is there to change it (were that possible) save for the promptings of the Zeitgeist?

          So you think it’s not possible that a future Pope, even more sympathetic to liberal ideas than this one, might try to change it even though there is no reason to do so?

          It would be wrong of the Pope to do so; but Popes are human and, therefore, fallible like the rest of us. Is is possible for Popes to make mistakes, is it not; it is possible, is it not, for them to fall under the sway of a mistaken ‘Zeitgeist’?

  4. Hello Fr Ed,

    Unfortunatley I think the question of schism has been raised by this pontificate and that cannot be a good thing. As Pope he should defend the faith and protect the flock from error, it is then down to the free will of the flock if they follow that teaching or not which is where protestants diverge but when the Pope raises the question that he too may be protestant then we are in a mess – what is he trying to do!
    St Michael defend us in battle!

    Tien tay foy.

    Patrick.

  5. “He does seem a most perplexing fellow- one whom nobody can pin down. People praise him and fear him in equal measure, but none can point definitively to his agenda.”
    These sound remarkably like the words spoken by his friends and enemies about Jesus: he too refused to be pinned down and have his mission dictated to him by the agenda of his interlocutors. Maybe if we talked less and listened more to God in prayer, we might change, and hear Jesus’ voice for the world.

  6. As Pope he should defend the faith and protect the flock from error, it is then down to the free will of the flock if they follow that teaching or not which is where protestants diverge

    Actually I think you’ll find that where Protestants diverge is that they think the Pope has already led the flock into error.

    Protestants (real Protestants, not liberal Anglicans) are the spiritual descendants of those who found themselves in the dilemma of seeing the Pope and the Magisterium promoting something contrary to the true faith, and decided that loyalty to the true faith trumped loyalty to the authority of the Pope.

  7. The one thing I would say this speech does is to carefully avoid drawing conclusions. I think people have been desperately trying to do so on the Holy Father’s behalf. Not a good idea.
    What I do see is someone trying to square a circle. How to offer comfort to those who feel pushed to the margins of the church whilst at the same time preserving the deposit of faith. To date I think most people would see themselves on one side of the argument or the other. Pope Francis is I think seeing where the church could offer some comfort but without destroying what it fundamentally stands for. It’s brave and a bit high risk but I hope he succeeds.

  8. I find a lot to agree with in IanG’s posting. But I do still think that the Pope himself actually wants to go a bit farther. When, for example, he says about homosexual poeple ‘who am I am to judge?’, he’s going a bit farther. When he says to a divorced Italian man debarred from communion ‘the Church will not let you down’, he’s going a bit farther. There can be ways of ‘squaring circles’, of not ditching doctrine but not making it central, of trying to help people. Such ‘ways’ can be argued to be Jesus-like. Jesus, ‘wine-drinker’, ‘friend of publicans and sinners (including prostitutes)’ doesn’t seem, in the NT, to spend much time castigating them but rather to spend his time being with them. I do think Pope Francis is seriously Jesus-like, in obvious ways that his predecessor obviously wasn’t. Equally obviously, I’m arguing here, as I always do, as a liberal Christian, but I do also try to be honest, and my honest view is that this Pope is trying to tilt things more towards compassion than to the dictates of traditional doctrine.

        1. I thought we might at least share in decrying the fatuous statement that Dr Bergoglio is more “Jesus like” than Dr Ratzinger – especially coming as it does from someone who holds the Latin chair at a Northern Redbrick.

          1. Only one person has ever been Jesus-like. The rest of us just struggle and fall short.
            As for Pope Francis, he seems to be living by the Thomas Merton adage:
            Do not be one of those who, rather than risk failure, never attempts anything.

  9. Hello S,

    I cannot agree with your premise. The protestants have not only rejected the authority of the Petrine ministry but changed the actual basis of Christian theology by immediatley deleting books from the Bible and as we see today changing teaching on marriage, ordination etc etc.
    The teaching of the Church cannot be changed from that handed on to us however it is possible that the heirachy of the Church may become so detached from the truth that they loose their way and seek to follow the protestant direction, which has erred and by that error seeks to lead Christianity to change its teaching.

    There is only one true version of the Faith and that is the one held by the Church since the inception of the Christian faith and that Church is known as the Roman Catholic Church. We have however at this time quasi protestant/politicians at the helm.

    Let all the Angels and Saints protect us during this time of trial.

    Patrick

    1. The protestants have not only rejected the authority of the Petrine ministry but changed the actual basis of Christian theology by immediatley deleting books from the Bible

      No, I think you’ll find that what happened was that the Protestants corrected the Church’s error of adding books to the Bible which were not actually authentic.

      and as we see today changing teaching on marriage,

      Non-liberal Protestant denominations have not changed teaching on marriage. You may be mistaking liberal Anglicans for Protestants, but I assure you, they are no more the heirs of Luther and Calvin than the Quakers or Unitarians are.

      ordination etc etc.

      Again, I think you’ll find it was the Protestants who corrected the error of ordaining Christian ‘priests’, as if we needed Priests other than our one High Priest in Heaven.

      There is only one true version of the Faith

      This is correct.

      and that is the one held by the Church since the inception of the Christian faith and that Church is known as the Roman Catholic Church

      This is not; the Roman Catholic Church does not hold to the faith which was held at the inception of the Christian faith, having over the years introduced various erroneous innovations such as Christian priests (there were no Christian priests at the inception of the Christian faith, as a quick look at Acts will demonstrate; the idea of the Christian Priest was invented in the second or third century), invented sacraments, and various Marian doctrines that have no basis in scripture.

      The point of Protestantism was, and is, to get rid of these erroneous accretions of the centuries and try to recapture more accurately the true faith that was ‘held by the Church since the inception of the Christian faith’.

      1. “No, I think you’ll find that what happened was that the Protestants corrected the Church’s error of adding books to the Bible which were not actually authentic.”

        Sorry, laddie, but you’re quite wrong there. The Christian Church right from the start received the Septuagint as it’s scripture. The current Jewish OT canon, which for some bizarre reason many Protestants adhere to, was fixed by a Rabbinic council in Jamnia in AD 100.

  10. “a most perplexing fellow…none point definitively to his [the Pope’s] agenda.” Precisely his strength, I suspect. In fact he spells out his agenda quite clearly here:

    “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.”

    What perplexes those with their own agenda is that he sees this mandate of the Risen Lord to Peter as his priority, to be shared with the pastors of the Church; others, I fear, are more caught up with their own ‘sub-agenda’ and are disappointed that he is not.

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