As God says to us in Isaiah, “Come, let us reason together.”
At the start of the Synod on the Family it seems as good a time as any to address those who are less than pleased with Pope Francis and his style, a style that has left me exasperated at times as I have had to repeatedly tell people, “No, that’s NOT what Francis was really saying.” It begs the question, “What is Francis really saying?”
To any reasonable observer of the current pope, Francis has not said anything that is contrary to the faith. He has spoken forcefully against women’s ordination. He has spoken forcefully and repeatedly about our obligation to the poor and the least (Big mistake in some self-righteous, pro-life circles). He has spoken forcefully against the dissolution of marriage, stating that it is impossible to dissolve a marriage that exists. So how can a pope say such a thing, yet streamline the annulment process? Easy. Consider for a moment this example set by a pastoral pontiff.
Annulment is not merely a church-sanctioned divorce. It isn’t a divorce at all. It is a process of investigating the condition of the couple at the time that vows were exchanged and coming to a determination of whether or not there were impediments that prevented the couple from being able to freely enter into holy matrimony, to confer the sacrament on one another. The deacon or priest is there to witness on behalf of the Church and to invoke God’s blessings. Sometimes the tribunal finds that there were factors that nullified the exchange of vows, and sometimes they don’t.
A streamlined process does not change the historical facts of each case. Either the exchange of vows was valid, or it wasn’t. Getting to that resolution sooner rather than later is pastorally wise and most merciful. I have walked that road with friends going through the process, and it is searing. It’s never easy to look back over what so very many divorced people identify as the greatest failure of their lives, to relive the worst of it before a tribunal, and to accept that perhaps the problem was on that person’s part.
Worse than that are the modern day Pharisees, who point to their own interpretations of the law, who throw stones at the divorced, and at the bishops who preside over an ever-rising tide of annulments. But is this rising tide such a mystery? As the world disintegrates around our ears, as more and more pathology besets the family, is it really all that shocking, or a stretch to suggest that more and more people are unprepared to enter into holy matrimony? And to the greatest critics, the question must be asked, “What would you have the Church do about it?”
What is an acceptable solution to screening for marriage, beyond the Premarital Investigation the Church already performs? Many of the factors that nullify the exchange of vows are not so visible at the outset. Yet, Francis has been pilloried in many quarters for overseeing the streamlining of the process that finds the facts and renders a yes or no decision. That doesn’t make it easier for a marriage to fail. It makes the process less crushing for those who suffer through it.
So, as we say in Brooklyn, “What’s the problem here?”
For many, Francis is no John Paul II or Benedict, and this blog addressed those concerns here. This blog has also addressed the ultimate reality regarding this pope:
He. Is. Peter.
One simply cannot claim to have been properly formed by John Paul II or Benedict XVI and treat this pope with the sort of disdain that has cropped up on the political right in the Church in alarming proportions. At least wait for him to actually do something heretical before lighting that stake he’s been tied to. And that brings the focus back to the current synod on the family. Francis inherited a Church filled with bishops chosen by John Paul and Benedict who are in open rebellion, whose proposals at this synod are dangerous and destructive. He must deal with them, but make no mistake, they are John Paul and Benedict’s legacy to him, along with all of the good and holy bishops, along with all that these two giant popes have written and taught.
The synod will no doubt be filled with men who propose all manner of codification of modern error in sexuality and family life. Rather than see this as an occasion of the Church’s demise, it ought to be used as a opportunity to teach the world what our Catechism holds on marriage. It also points to a laziness on the part of some who identify as orthodox (small O), or conservative, of being disciples of John Paul and Benedict.
It’s easy to be against abortion if one would never have an abortion, to be against birth control, if one would never use it, to be against gay ‘marriage’ when one is heterosexual. Those can be easy virtues because they do not challenge us. They can be easy to personally oppose, and that goes for this heterosexual, married, pro-life blogger who has never used birth control. They can be difficult to proclaim and suffer the slings and arrows from family, friends and colleagues, and that goes for this heterosexual, married, pro-life blogger who has never used birth control. But even proclaiming the truth in these matters is not enough. Jesus says very clearly in Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who calls, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in Heaven.”
Francis sees this clearly, and challenges us to focus on the poor and the least. But we don’t want that focus, the one God repeats over, and over, and over from Leviticus to Revelation. Many pro-life Catholics believe that the fetus takes precedence. God and Francis disagree. They identify with all of the oppressed, including the militant gays and lesbians inside and outside of the Church.
Francis understands that Jesus died for them as well, that we have an obligation to them in love. So Francis adopts an inviting posture. He receives them, and their gay and lesbian ‘spouses’ and their families. He doesn’t require conversion and adherence to our catechism and code of canon law as a precondition for being welcomed. But that roils a great many of John Paul and Benedicts’ disciples, whose opprobrium is exactly that of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. If we marvel at how the Pharisees had Jesus in their midst for 33 years and missed the boat, it’s really no different with many disciples of John Paul and Benedict who had them for 35 years. A heart of stone that doesn’t want the challenge of personally living out the will of God by getting their hands dirty with sinners should check again under their fingernails. Whose dirt is that?
Those who speak openly and repeatedly of an impending schism are themselves its author if it ever comes about. Such talk, when coupled with the fact that this pope’s greatest sin is lack of talking point discipline in a 24-hour news cycle and instant communication, is sinful and dangerous. It is scandalous and caustic, and tears at the Body of Christ. Talk of schism before a synod convenes is thuggish Chicago politics of intimidation. It won’t work in the City of Rome or the Kingdom of God. If schism be our lot, then good riddance. John Paul and Benedict wouldn’t have recognized them anyway.
For the rest of us, the same Jesus who promised His Apostles to send them the Holy Spirit who would lead them to all truth, keeps His promises, Chicken Littles notwithstanding.