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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Topsy and Tuptim Spar with Fr. Jimmy and Sr. Joanie on Chapter Six of Amoris Laetitia

I'm trying to be pastoral here. Get with the program, girls!
Chapter Six Paragraphs 199 - 258

Topsy and Tuptim are back at the church basement for the study group session on Chapter Six. Fr. Jimmy and Sr. Joanie both chirp enthusiastically about the chapter as they introduce the session.

Fr. Jimmy: we are getting into the application of Pope Francis' philosophy, his pastoral approach. He is calling for communities to develop initiatives that really meet the needs of engaged and married couples where they are. (Enthuses breathlessly) This document changes everything, opening the door to a Church that finally cares about all people.

Topsy and Tuptim exchange glances and grimace.

Sr. Joanie: (Nodding and smiling)...And don't forget, Father. It isn't just the clergy who are called to participate in the changes. We are all called to be part of the new solutions: nuns, priests, psychiatrists, social workers, married clergy, and especially the married laity. After all, (patting Fr. Jimmy on the arm)...what do a bunch of celibate clerics know about marriage?

Fr. Jimmy: (Laughing deprecatingly)...Yes, I admit it and I bow to the wisdom of those with experience. (Making an expansive gesture to take in the group)...You are all married or divorced. You certainly know more than Sr. Joanie and I do about the practical aspects of marital bliss (Puts on a sad face)...or strife and pain. (Pauses to show his sympathy for the suffering).... Well...let's split into our groups. You can get coffee as we rearrange.

The next few minutes are a chaos of shuffling chairs and chatter as the group rearranges itself. Once they are in their groups, the dialogue begins.

Charlie Davis: (A divorced participant in Fr. Jimmy's group)... Fr. Jimmy, the early Church accepted divorce and remarriage. When will divorced Catholics be invited back into full participation in their communities. I'm tired of being pigeon-holed as a second class Catholic. The fact that I'm on my third marriage shouldn't disqualify me from receiving the sacraments without having to sneak around to a parish where nobody knows me.

Fr. Jimmy: (Looking concerned)...Now, Charlie, you know I would never refuse you Communion. I leave that to your conscience. And I feel your pain. However we can all take hope. Amoris Laetitia
 doesn’t change anything of church doctrine or of canon law – but it changes everything.

Topsy: What about the indissolubility of marriage, Father? Doesn't changing the practice change the doctrine. And what about scandal?

Do you keep your promises?
Fr. Jimmy: (Scolding)... Topsy, you are always so negative. Mercy comes first. Rules aren't to be used as stones to beat up the weak and imperfect. This chapter gives lots of practical suggestions for helping couples be faithful to their promises, but also recognizes their difficulties and challenges. It seems clear to me as to many other observers, that there can be situations of divorced and remarried where on the way of inclusion, absolution and communion become possible. But we'll get to more of that later in the document. Chapter six is more focused on strategies to support married couples in a lifetime of love. We all recognize that as the ideal, even when it becomes impossible for many couples to realize. That, of course, is why the pope has simplified the annulment process.

Over in Sr. Joanie's circle, Tuptim and the nun are sparring over the implications of changing pastoral practice so that it actually results in changing doctrine. Sr. Joanie barely controls her anger at being challenged.

Sr. Joanie: (Standing up and shaking her finger)...Really, Tuptim, your understanding of the faith is immature, rigid, and pharisaical!. When we talk about doctrinal givens, things that are fixed, we're talking about something such as In what does marriage consist? The reception of Communion is not a doctrinal position. It's a pastoral application of the doctrine.... Just to repeat the practice of the past without any effort to see whether there is some awareness, openness, influence of the Spirit that might be helping us in total continuity with our past practice to find a new direction today...well that is being rigid, unpastoral, and judgmental. You really need an attitude adjustment. Our God is a God of surprises. The newness which God brings into our life is something that actually brings fulfillment, that gives true joy, true serenity, because God loves us and desires only our good.
Tuptim: (Smiling humbly)...Well, Sister, as I see it, the chapter mostly talks about supporting the bond and helping a couple keep their marital promises. The problem with the way you and Fr. Jimmy and a lot of bishops and cardinals are talking about the document, though, is that there's always this big BUT in the background. The marital ideal as taught by the Church is wonderful and beautiful, BUT the reality is that it's too hard for real couples to live. So there is always this "pastoral" exit to "make exceptions" to the doctrine in the so-called spirit of love and mercy. And then there are the paragraphs on quickie annulments. The pope's document on that mixes up obvious impediments to marriage like hiding a former marriage with other things that aren't automatic grounds for nullity.

Sr. Joanie: (Rolling her eyes and raising her arms in disgust)...Tuptim, you just see things as too black and white. We live in a rainbow world with many unique and difficult situations. Jesus understands that. We see His mercy throughout the Gospels.

Tuptim: We also see Him telling people to stop living in sin. Remember, "Go and sin no more?"

Sr. Joanie: (Outraged)...How dare you use that language. That's the language of exclusion. We are an inclusive and merciful Church. Couples in irregular situations are NOT "living in sin."

The meeting breaks up with participants arguing hotly about the various issues addressed. Charlie Davis corners Topsy and Tuptim to yell about how judgmental and unkind they are. Finally making their escape, they meet in the parking lot to review the session.

Topsy: Whew! That got a little hot to say the least. (Looks herself over)...No blood, just bruises.

Tuptim: (Rolling her eyes)...You should have been in my group. One thing I meant to bring up, but didn't get a chance... Did you notice when the document addresses Genesis and Adam and Eve in paragraph 221, it omits the part about Eve being taken from Adam's side? I found that disturbing, but I'm not quite sure why.

Topsy: Wow! Great minds. I felt the same way, so yesterday I called Hugh Owen at the Kolbe Institute and asked him about it. What an eye-opening conversation. Hugh said that passage shows God's plan for marriage from the very beginning -- that God actually forms Eve from Adam's side to affirm marriage as His plan for one woman and one man to be lifetime helpmates to each other.  And he told me that's the view of the Church from the very beginning. Pope Pius XI in Casti Connubii called the special creation of Eve, taken from Adam's side, and God giving her to Adam the prototype of all future marriages. 

Special creation of Eve, taken from Adam's side
Tuptim: That makes sense since Adam and Eve really were "one flesh."

Topsy: Fr. Jimmy sure doesn't think so! When I brought it up, he spent the next five minutes ridiculing anyone who could possibly believe Adam and Eve were real people instead of just a story. We got off on evolution. Sadly, most of my group agreed with him. I can just imagine how a discussion on that topic would have set off Sr. Joanie!

Tuptim: It doesn't take much. She really is an angry woman! Every time she opens her mouth I think of Donna Steichen's book, Ungodly Rage. It describes Sr. Joanie to a T. The biblical account makes absolute sense to me...not like evolutionary theory where everything comes from the primordial soup. (Laughing)...or from aliens seeding the planet like Richard Dawkins proposes, or on the back of a giant turtle.

Topsy: I think that kind of massive disbelief in creation is part of the problem. Hugh sent me a link to a symposium they held in Rome. One of the speakers, Fr. Thomas Hickey, addressed the special creation of Eve... Hmm....I know I have it here..... (Putting her notebook on the hood of the car and searching through her papers)...Yes, here it is. This is from Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Arcanum. "We record what is to all known, and cannot be doubted by any, that God, on the sixth day of creation, having made man from the slime of the earth, and having breathed into his face the breath of life, gave him a companion, whom He miraculously took from the side of Adam when he was locked in sleep. God thus, in his most far-reaching foresight, decreed that this husband and wife should be the natural beginning of the human race, from whom it might be propagated and preserved by an unfailing fruitfulness throughout all futurity of time." (Looking up)...Sad that what "couldn't be doubted by any" in the 19th century seems to be doubted by almost everybody today.

The Giant Turtle theory of the origin of the universe
Tuptim: (Pensively) This really makes Jesus' words more powerful when he told the pharisees Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of their hearts, but "from the beginning it was not so." 

Topsy: It's odd, isn't it, how few documents before Vatican II are cited in Amoris? It's like the Church suddenly came into existence in the 1960's and nothing any pope said before that has anything to teach us. 

Tuptim: That gives me an idea. Maybe after we finish this study group, we can start reading some of the encyclicals from earlier popes, starting with Arcanum? I have to say that one paragraph from Leo XIII is more clear than anything in Amoris. And (chuckling)...It's only eight pages long.

Topsy: Great idea! (Gathering her belongings and opening the car door)...Gotta run, Tuptim. See ya, kid!

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