Monday, 11 April 2016

AMORIS LÆTITIA: Reading it and my early-onset confusion

If God intended first to abandon us, says St Augustine, why did He send His Only-begotten Son down on earth to redeem all men, and show them the way to Heaven? Why should that son allow himself to be so cruelly tortured, and to be nailed to the cross for our sake?” Fr Franz Hunolt SJ (Hunolt’s Sermons Vol I, The Penitent Christian, Tenth Sermon, Benziger Bros, 1889) 

I did not get far into my reading of the Apostolic Exhortation, “Amoris Lætitia on Love in the Family”, before I had to stop and seriously consider what was being said and what it actually meant. In fact this was at just the third paragraph, which reads:

“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.” (Amoris Lætitia, para 3)

I found this more than somewhat perplexing on two counts. First of all, no source is given for the dictum ‘time is greater than space’ and so I can only but presume that it is taken from Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World” (November 24, 2013), where this dictum is posited as one of “four principles related to constant tensions present in every social reality” (paragraphs 221/2)

221. Progress in building a people in peace, justice and fraternity depends on four principles related to constant tensions present in every social reality. These derive from the pillars of the Church’s social doctrine, which serve as “primary and fundamental parameters of reference for interpreting and evaluating social phenomena”.[181]

The footnote adverted to here “[181]” directs us to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Chapter 4, Meaning and Unity, specifically para 161 which, however, is meaningless without its context, the preceding paragraph. These two read (footnotes omitted, except the Gospel ones and Guardini):

160. The permanent principles of the Church’s social doctrine constitute the very heart of Catholic social teaching. These are the principles of: the dignity of the human person, which has already been dealt with in the preceding chapter, and which is the foundation of all the other principles and content of the Church’s social doctrine; the common good; subsidiarity; and solidarity. These principles, the expression of the whole truth about man known by reason and faith, are born of “the encounter of the Gospel message and of its demands summarized in the supreme commandment of love of God and neighbour in justice with the problems emanating from the life of society”. In the course of history and with the light of the Spirit, the Church has wisely reflected within her own tradition of faith and has been able to provide an ever more accurate foundation and shape to these principles, progressively explaining them in the attempt to respond coherently to the demands of the times and to the continuous developments of social life.

161. These are principles of a general and fundamental character, since they concern the reality of society in its entirety: from close and immediate relationships to those mediated by politics, economics and law; from relationships among communities and groups to relations between peoples and nations. Because of their permanence in time and their universality of meaning, the Church presents them as the primary and fundamental parameters of reference for interpreting and evaluating social phenomena, which is the necessary source for working

Pope Francis then continues in Evangelii Gaudium:

221. … In their light I would now like to set forth these four specific principles which can guide the development of life in society and the building of a people where differences are harmonized within a shared pursuit. I do so out of the conviction that their application can be a genuine path to peace within each nation and in the entire world.

Time is greater than space

222. A constant tension exists between fullness and limitation. Fullness evokes the desire for complete possession, while limitation is a wall set before us. Broadly speaking, “time” has to do with fullness as an expression of the horizon which constantly opens before us, while each individual moment has to do with limitation as an expression of enclosure. People live poised between each individual moment and the greater, brighter horizon of the utopian future as the final cause which draws us to itself. Here we see a first principle for progress in building a people: time is greater than space.

223. This principle enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results. It helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations, or inevitable changes in our plans. It invites us to accept the tension between fullness and limitation, and to give a priority to time. One of the faults which we occasionally observe in socio-political activity is that spaces and power are preferred to time and processes. Giving priority to space means madly attempting to keep everything together in the present, trying to possess all the spaces of power and of self-assertion; it is to crystallize processes and presume to hold them back. Giving priority to time means being concerned about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces. Time governs spaces, illumines them and makes them links in a constantly expanding chain, with no possibility of return. What we need, then, is to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events. Without anxiety, but with clear convictions and tenacity.

224. Sometimes I wonder if there are people in today’s world who are really concerned about generating processes of people-building, as opposed to obtaining immediate results which yield easy, quick short-term political gains, but do not enhance human fullness. History will perhaps judge the latter with the criterion set forth by Romano Guardini: “The only measure for properly evaluating an age is to ask to what extent it fosters the development and attainment of a full and authentically meaningful human existence, in accordance with the peculiar character and the capacities of that age” (Das Ende der Neuzeit, Würzburg, 1965, 30-31).

225. This criterion also applies to evangelization, which calls for attention to the bigger picture, openness to suitable processes and concern for the long run. The Lord himself, during his earthly life, often warned his disciples that there were things they could not yet understand and that they would have to await the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 16:12-13). The parable of the weeds among the wheat (cf. Mt 13:24-30) graphically illustrates an important aspect of evangelization: the enemy can intrude upon the kingdom and sow harm, but ultimately he is defeated by the goodness of the wheat.

I am drawn to the conclusion that Pope Francis has concluded that as he has found what he believes to be — and seems to me to be (but I am no expert) — a perfectly functional way, which is entirely consonant — at least it seems to me to be (but I am no expert) — with the magisterium, to analyse society at large and its socio-politic problems so, too, can he use this method to analyse local church, metropolitan, diocesan, parish and family life and their ethical and moral problems.

Indeed, going back to re-read the third paragraph in light of all this, I now see that my conclusion must be right for I had forgotten that I initially had been perplexed by two things. Of course, the second was that Pope Francis had begun this paragraph by positing an axiom: “Since ‘time is greater than space’…”   

As I go on to read further, I shall have to keep in mind from Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis’s other three “specific principles which can guide the development of life in society and the building of a people where differences are harmonized within a shared pursuit”, which are:

(1) “Unity prevails over conflict”: Pope Francis avers that “the best way to deal with conflict… is the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process. “Blessed are the peacemakers!” (Mt 5:9).” (EG 227)

 (2) “Realities are more important than ideas”: “This calls for rejecting the various means of masking reality: angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, empty rhetoric, objectives more ideal than real, brands of ahistorical fundamentalism, ethical systems bereft of kindness, intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom.” (EG 231)

 (3) “The whole is greater than the part”: “The good news is the joy of the Father who desires that none of his little ones be lost, the joy of the Good Shepherd who finds the lost sheep and brings it back to the flock. The Gospel is the leaven which causes the dough to rise and the city on the hill whose light illumines all peoples. The Gospel has an intrinsic principle of totality: it will always remain good news until it has been proclaimed to all people, until it has healed and strengthened every aspect of humanity, until it has brought all men and women together at table in God’s kingdom.” (EG 237)

It will be interesting to see how these four principles come into play as I read on, especially this last. But, my, it's going to be a long haul if this is how hard the first wee bit has been!

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