Tuesday, January 26, 2016

How Absolution For Divorce-Remarriage Can Rebuild Christian Truth Rather Than Destroy It

My thesis: Sacramental absolution affirms the person as person. It reconstitutes him positively in grace (i.e. in Love) and puts him on the road to achieving full identity as "another Christ." Such absolution, as loving affirmation, does not necessarily open the way to a recidivism of divorce but rather opens space to divine Love and ontological growth.     

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      God has the power to forgive all sin. But if the Church exercises that power with regard to the divorced-remarried, she runs the risk of undermining the metaphysics that has been in place to explain that divorce is a violation of the reality of marriage, and that which Moses granted because of the Jews’ hardness of heart “was not so from the beginning .[1]” The explanatory metaphysic is Greek in origin, and as such is abstract and objectifying. By “objectifying” I mean, non-historical, “already out there now,” a symbol of the real as independent of a knowing subject. It portrays man to be an individual substance of a rational nature, and statically so. If the Church meted out absolution for divorce and remarriage, it would be contradicting not only the words of Christ but also it would contradict the Greek/scholastic metaphysic that marriage is a permanent institution integrated by two individuals (philosophically: “substances of a rational nature”) whose “primary purpose is the procreation and education of children, with the secondary purpose to furnish mutual aid and a remedy for concupiscence. The essential characteristics of marriage are its unity and indissolubility, which obtain a special stability in Christian marriage by virtue of the sacrament.” So reads the 1017 Code (c. 1013) of Canon Law.

            Hence, Robert Moynihan wrote after reading the words of Pope Francis on January 1, 2016: “Is Francis, with his calling of the two-part Synod on the Family, and with his declaring a ‘Jubilee Year of Mercy,’ indicating in these words that he wishes to ‘open the doors’ to that ‘mercy’ and ‘forgiveness’ that would enable all repentant sinners to return to participate without scandal and without shame in the full life of the Church, in the life of Christ, including receiving Holy Communion?”Is that what he was saying in his homily?”

                And confronting that possibility, he entitles the next section of his “Letters”[2]:“One Concern.”  And that “concern” deals with the consequences if Francis opts for absolution for the divorced-remarried. The "concern" is that Francis will undermine the Catholic Faith, the entire moral system and the metaphysics at its base. Hear Moynihan out as he considers absolution for the divorced-remaried:

“(One) concern, in our present cultural circumstances, is this: that a praiseworthy papal desire to assist individual men and women suffering from the personal, individual wounds of their own lives (and there are tens of millions of them) not create an opening on another front which would cause unexpected harm to men and women -- and to the truth of the faith.

This is a concern because cultural forces inimical to the faith greatly desire to gain a victory in this particular battle, a battle which is only part of a very broad-based metaphysical war against the concepts of substantial being, personhood, the soul, personal fault, sin, guilt, repentance, and holiness of life -- the concepts which underlie the entire Catholic sacramental system... the concepts which underlie the entire Catholic faith.

The point is this: even if Christians all agree on the astounding, joy-causing gift of God's mercy toward all who seek His forgiveness, we may disagree on how precisely to express that fact, given our present circumstances and predicament.”

Thus,Moynihan… However, I would like to confront Moynihan’s reference to “a battle which is only part of a very broad-based metaphysical war against the concepts of substantial being, personhood, the soul, personal fault, sin, guilt, repentance, and holiness of life -- the concepts which underlie the entire Catholic sacramental system... the concepts which underlie the entire Catholic faith.”

I believe Moynihan is putting his finger precisely in the wound where the anxiety (his and others) about Pope Francis lies. My question is this: are the concepts of substantial being, personhood, the soul, personal fault, sin, guilt, repentance, and holiness of life,  concepts that underlie the entire Catholic sacramental system and the Catholic faith?”

I respond to Moynihan: The Greek metaphysics of substance cannot be the concepts that undergird the reality of the Catholic Faith nor the entire Catholic sacramental system. Greek metaphysics is from below from sensible perception and abstract thought. Christian faith and life are an assimilation of the Person of Jesus Christ Who is from above. Ratzinger, at the behest of Hans Urs Von Balthasar, formulated a theological epistemology which establishes the context in which the concept of reality, person, grace, sin, redemption, sacrament, etc. are to be found. And the context is scriptural in the question Christ asked the apostles: “Who do men say that I am; who do you say that I am?” (Mt. 16, 15).  Ratzinger offers Lk. 9,18 as the context of the question:  “And it came to pass as he was praying in private, that his disciples also were with him, and he asked them saying, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am? And they answered and said, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elias; and others, that one of the ancient prophets has risen again.’ And he said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’” In Matthew. Simon Peter answers: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 16).”
The philosophical explanation that Ratzinger gives is that “like is known by like.” In the previous two theses he advanced the point that Luke always offered Christ to be a Person praying, or Person in relation. Here, in the third thesis, when the apostles enter into the prayer of Christ to the Father, they experience in themselves (ab intus) who Christ is. That is, they know Christ by becoming “another Christ” Here, knowing at its greatest profundity – the experiential knowledge of God – is preceded by the action of going out of self. One knows God by becoming God

My first discovery of this epistemological topsyturvydom was Ratzinger’s presentation[3] of the divine Persons as relations: that the Father was not the Father and then engenders the Son; rather the Father was the action of engendering the Son. “Relationship is not something extra added to the person [mine: as an accident of substance], as it is with us; it only exists at all as relatedness.”[4] Ratzinger then drives the point home: “In this idea of relatedness in word and love, independent of the concept of substance and not to be classified among the ‘accidents,’ Christian thought discovered the kernel of the concept of person.” And then, “Therein lies concealed a revolution in man’s view of the world: the sole dominion of thinking in terms of substance is ended; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality. It becomes possible to surmount what we call today ‘objectifying thought;’ a new plane of being comes into view.”
   Robert Barron comes at the same point from the angle of creation in St.
Thomas. In the De Potentia above all – and now without the tutelage of Robert Sokolowski and Paul Tillich – Baron finds the Thomistic esse to be relational insofar as both God and the prototypical God-man are personally ecstatic.[5]

Affirmation (Relation) As the Reconstruction of the Human Person:

I believe forgiveness and mercy to be the supernatural strategy of Pope Francis for the reconstruction of Christ’s Church. The overarching theme that imposes itself is: affirmation that reconstructs persons. The point immediately appears in the papal coat of arms with the inscription: Miserando atque eligendo: Having received mercy, chosen. That is, having been forgiven, chosen to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  With this Francis has chosen his signature scriptural periscope: the vocation of Matthew:As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.”[6]
In the opening interview with Anthony Spadaro S.J. the pope wanted to define himself as Matthew, tax collector and sinner who is forgiven – and chosen. He refers to Caravaggio’s painting of same and remarks: “‘That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew… ‘It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff. Then the pope whispers in Latin: ‘I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.’”
Another signature vignette from Scripture in the same line was presented by Francis as bishop in 2001 at a book fair in Buenos Aires where he commented on the book “El Atractivo de Jesucristo” by Luigi Giussani. He said:  When Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love Me?”, “his ‘Yes’ was not the result of an effort of will, it was not the fruit of a ‘decision’ made by the young man Simon: it was the emergence, the coming to the surface of an entire vein of tenderness and adherence that made sense because of the esteem he had for Him–therefore an act of reason;” it was a reasonable act, “which is why he couldn’t not say ‘Yes.’”

We cannot understand this dynamic of encounter which brings forth wonder and adherence if it has not been triggered–forgive me the use of this word–by mercy. Only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord. I beg the theologians who are present not to turn me in to the Sant’Uffizio or to the Inquisition; however, forcing things a bit, I dare to say that the privileged locus of the encounter is the caress of the mercy of Jesus Christ on my sin.

In front of this merciful embrace–and I continue along the lines of Giussani’s thought–we feel a real desire to respond, to change, to correspond; a new morality arises. We posit the ethical problem, an ethics which is born of the encounter, of this encounter which we have described up to now. Christian morality is not a titanic effort of the will, the effort of someone who decides to be consistent and succeeds, a solitary challenge in the face of the world. No. Christian morality is simply a response. It is the heartfelt response to a surprising, unforeseeable, “unjust” mercy (I shall return to this adjective). The surprising, unforeseeable, “unjust” mercy, using purely human criteria, of one who knows me, knows my betrayals and loves me just the same, appreciates me, embraces me, calls me again, hopes in me, and expects from me. This is why the Christian conception of morality is a revolution; it is not a never falling down but an always getting up again.[7]
            The theological/psychological explanation of the above can be found in the remarks of Joseph Ratzinger on the necessity of relation as affirmation in the human person. Ratzinger wrote that joy takes place in man when he is in harmony with himself, with his I. But, he asks, “how does one go about affirming, assenting to, one’s I? The answer may perhaps be unexpected. We cannot do so by our own efforts alone. Of ourselves, we cannot come to terms with ourselves. Our I becomes acceptable to us only if it has first become acceptable to another I. We can love ourselves only if we have first been loved by someone else. The life a mother gives to her child is not just physical life; she gives total life when she takes the child’s tears and turns them into smiles. It is only when life has been accepted and is perceived as accepted that it becomes also acceptable…. If an individual is to accept himself, someone must say to him: ‘It is good that you exist’ – must say it, not with words, but with that act of the entire being that we call love. For it is the way of love to will the other’s existence and, at the same time, to bring that existence forth again. The key to the I lies with the thou. The way to the thou leads through the I.”[8]
            Psychiatrist Conrad Baars, M.D. writes that the lack of affirmation [Emotional Deprivation Disorder (EDD)] by a significant other produces: “feelings of inferiority and inadequacy, inability to establish normal rapport with one’s peers and form lasting friendships, feelings of loneliness and insecurity, doubts about one’s self-worth and identity, fear of the adult world, and often deep depressions. Although the energetic among them are able to succeed in business or profession, they fail in their personal lives. If married, they find it impossible to relate in a spontaneous and emotionally satisfying way with spouse and children. In matters of faith, dullness prevails as their feelings cannot participate in their spiritual life. Their religious experience is neither ‘a burden that is light,’ nor ‘a yoke that is sweet.’ Their psychosexual immaturity may express itself in various ways, for instance, in masturbation, pornography, homosexuality, sexual impotence or frigidity…
Cause of EDD: an inadequate feeling of self-worth. And this is the key to it all: “The source of the feeling of self-worth is always another person – the ‘significant other’ – who can either give or withhold it. The process whereby a person receives his or her feeling of self-worth from the ‘significant other’ is for every human being a bonum fundamentale. In a very special relationship with the significant other, the person is seen and experienced by the other as good, worthwhile and lovable. The pleasure of the approving and loving other is perceived in such a manner that the person literally feels this through his or her entire being.[9]/[10]

Persons Related to by Affirmation: “can be said to have received the gift of themselves. They feel worthwhile, significant and lovable. They possess themselves as man or woman. They know who they are. They are certain of their identity. They love themselves unselfishly. They are open to all that is good and find joy in the same. They are able to affirm all of creation, and as affirmers of all beings are capable o f making others happy and joyful, too. They are largely other-directed. They find joy in being and doing for others. The find joy in their love relationship with their Creator. They can share and give of themselves, be a true friend to others, and feel at ease with persons of both sexes. They are capable of finding happiness in marinate of the freely chosen celibate state of life. They are free from psycho-pathological factors which hamper one’s free will and are therefore sully responsible – morally and legally – for their actions.”[11]

[1] Mt. 19, 9.
[2] “Letters from Robert Moynihan” #1 (January 1, 2016).
[3] J. Ratzinger, “introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (2004) 183
[4] Ibid.
[5] “The humana being Jesus Christ, in perfect obedience ned openness to this ecstatic God, forgets himself, goes out beyond himself in love, gives himself in a sort of imitation of divine ecstasy. And in this radical self-emtpying, Jesus does not lose himself; rather , he becomes most fully himself…” R. Barron, homas Aquinas, Spiritual Master,” Crossroad (2000) 26.
[6] Gospel: Matt. 9, 9-18
[7] International Book Fair, April 17, 2001, Buenos Aires.
[8] J. Ratzinger, “Principles of Catholic Theology,” Ignatius (1987) 79-80.
[9] Note that John Paul II, writing to Teresa Heydel, remarked: “Everyone… lives, above all, for love. The ability to love authentically, not great intellectual capacity, constitutes the deepest part of a personality. It is no accident that the greatest commandment is to love. Authentic love leads us outside ourselves to affirming others.”  A month later, he wrote: “After many experiences and a lot of thinking, I am convinced that the (objective) starting point of love is the realization that I am needed by another. The person who objectively needs me most is also, for me, objectively, the person I most need. This is a fragment of life’s deep logic… The great achievement is always to see values that others don’t see and to affirm them. The even greater achievement is to bring out of people the values that would perish without us. IN the same way, we bring our values out in ourselves” (G. Weigel, “Witness to Hope” Cliffside Books [1999] 101-102].
[10] C. Baars, “I Will Give Themn a New Heart” St Pauls (2008) 12.
[11] Ibid 190.

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