Today's Gospel - Jesus walking on water telling the disciples: "It is I!"
Through the years I've known many fine religious and orthodox priests, who after ordination were eager to preach the Gospel without compromise, especially without moral compromise. To correct consciences, to not only propose, but to practically 'impose' Church teaching and every liturgical rubric.* With zeal they were zealous for the Lord. Pastoral experience mellowed them - the ones who remained priests, that is.
One friend, in his new assignment was asked to do an infant baptism for a couple living together without benefit of marriage. Father refused, and after he told me he had done so, I asked why. In part he said new thinking had it that infant baptism may not be the right thing to do, as well as telling me the more Catholic sense would be to refuse if the parents are not practicing Catholics, and so on. You all know those reasons. I explained that if that would have happened in my case, I may never have been Catholic.
Another young priest I knew wouldn't give marriage instruction/prep counselling to a cohabiting couple unless they separated and lived a part. I remember saying - but what if they just sleep in separate beds - considering the added expense of moving out and so on. He laughed and said I was naive to think they could live together chastely until marriage. Hopefully, such examples will be less likely to happen after this exhortation is promulgated. We underestimate ordinary people, who if shown the way - the ideal - and trusting that their inclination to seek to regularize their domestic situations is sincere, respect them enough to take them at their word when they agree to live chastely.
The new exhortation from the Holy Father speaks to these issues, the reality of family life in modern times. I've only read parts of it of course, but what I've read strikes me as just fine. In fact, it pretty much addresses issues honestly and clearly, and promotes pastoral care in a way that has been pretty much practiced for decades. The Holy Father doesn't depart from Catholic teaching, nothing is changed, but going forward, condemnations of 'public sinners' may be even less common than it is now. Despite the fact many online are already saying the Pope has abandoned Catholic teaching. He has not.
Bishop Barron posted a wonderful commentary on the Exhortation, and Padre Steve reprinted parts of it on his blog. I'll reprint just a couple of things Bishop Barron said.
On a spring day about five years ago, when I was rector of Mundelein Seminary, Francis Cardinal George spoke to the assembled student body. He congratulated those proudly orthodox seminarians for their devotion to the dogmatic and moral truths proposed by the Church, but he also offered some pointed pastoral advice. He said that it is insufficient simply to drop the truth on people and then smugly walk away. Rather, he insisted, you must accompany those you have instructed, committing yourself to helping them integrate the truth that you have shared. I thought of this intervention by the late Cardinal often as I was reading Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia.
[...] the Pope also honestly admits that many, many people fall short of the ideal, failing fully to integrate all of the dimensions of what the Church means by matrimony. What is the proper attitude to them? Like Cardinal George, the Pope has a visceral reaction against a strategy of simple condemnation, for the Church, he says, is a field hospital, designed to care precisely for the wounded (292). Accordingly, he recommends two fundamental moves. First, we can recognize, even in irregular or objectively imperfect unions, certain positive elements that participate, as it were, in the fullness of married love. Thus for example, a couple living together without benefit of marriage might be marked by mutual fidelity, deep love, the presence of children, etc. Appealing to these positive marks, the Church might, according to a “law of gradualness,” move that couple toward authentic and fully-integrated matrimony (295). This is not to say that living together is permitted or in accord with the will of God; it is to say that the Church can perhaps find a more winsome way to move people in such a situation to conversion. - Da Mihi AnimasThese matters are way over my head of course, but what I see is the Holy Father opening doors, windows, and untying knots for ordinary people to come into the Church. Effectively ministering to them, going out onto the highways and bi-ways to accompany them back home. I also see him affirming those pastors who have already, for decades, ministered to the so-called misfits, outsiders. Those pastors we've often condemned as liberal - too liberal - who nonetheless ministered to those in irregular situations. Who knew, until now, these so-called liberals have been missionaries, chaplains in a field hospital, truly ministering - giving the Bread of Life to those who would otherwise maybe not fit in so well at a 'normal' parish?
Will Amoris Laetitia end all debate on these matters? Hardly. But it does indeed represent a deft and impressive balancing of the many and often contradictory interventions at the two Synods on the Family. As such, it will be of great service to many suffering souls who come to the Field Hospital. - Bishop Barron
*"Then I feel it is helpful to reaffirm that the Church does not impose but rather freely proposes the Catholic faith ..." - Pope Benedict XVI