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October 5, 2017

Amoris Laetitia

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Synopsis

This is Pope Francis’ controversial exhortation (2016) that followed the two Synods on the Family (2014 & 2015).

Resources

Observations

  • The title (The Joy of Love in English) is derived from the first words of the document.
  • Paragraph 57 states, “The Synod’s reflections show us that there is no stereotype of the ideal family, but rather a challenging mosaic made up of different realities…”. This seems to be a deviation from the Church’s perennial teaching that both the Trinity and the Holy Family are indeed stereotypes of the ideal family. These examples are even cited in paragraphs 29 and 30.
  • Paragraph 78 clearly indicates that those in “irregular unions” do not (but may someday) enjoy sacramental marriage.
  • Paragraph 83 asserts that the Church rejects the death penalty.

Summary

Introduction

  1. Family love is much desired today, especially by young people.
  2. The synod examined complex modern marriage/family issues to provide clarity to the Church.
  3. Solutions need not be doctrinal, but can differ by culture.
  4. The process was eye-opening. Contributions and considerations are recorded herein.
  5. It is fitting to write this in the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
  6. I will cover Scripture, current issues, Church teaching on marriage, love, pastoral advice, and a call for mercy and discernment.
  7. Many questions were addressed, hence the length of this writing. Read carefully and with purpose.

Chapter 1: In the Light of the Word

  1. The Bible is full of stories about families and their problems.
  2. The union of man and woman has existed since the beginning.
  3. The couple is made in God’s image, a sign of his creation.
  4. The fruitful love of the married couple is an image (icon) of God’s Trinitarian nature. Salvation history progressed through families, and thus, through the ability of the married couple to beget life.
  5. Love is an encounter, each giving the self to the other.
  6. The union is not merely physical, but the clinging of two souls in harmony.
  7. Children are a sign of continuity and are the building blocks of society.
  8. God should be found in the home, the domestic church.
  9. Faith is passed down through the family.
  10. Parents are responsible for education, and the children should respect them.
  11. Children are people, not property.
  12. Pain, evil, and violence can break up families, love and purity can be overturned by domination.
  13. The Bible also contains stories of family violence and hatred.
  14. Family problems are woven into Jesus’ parables.
  15. Thus, Sacred Scripture does not contain abstract ideas, but comfort for the suffering.
  16. Man is a laborer and work is essential to human dignity.
  17. Labor sustains the family and develops society.
  18. Unemployment, poverty, and hunger diminish the serenity of family life.
  19. Sin results in social degeneration and injustice; this includes the abuse of nature.
  20. Christ taught the law of love (by word and example), which bears the fruits of mercy and forgiveness.
  21. Love moves us toward tenderness.
  22. Thus we have examined the family in Scripture, a communion of persons in the image of the Trinity that should become an even greater dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.
  23. The Holy Family of Nazareth, and Mary in particular, are models for understanding the family experience.

Chapter 2: The Experiences and Challenges of Families

  1. The family is the future, and many studies have examined the challenges of today’s family, including the Synod.
  2. The family continues to evolve. It receives less outside support than in times past, but benefits from duty-sharing and improved personal communication.
  3. Extreme individualism is a danger to relationships, commitment, and the generous giving of self.
  4. In the light of such individualism, family life is seen as a benefit only when convenient.
  5. Christians cannot stop advocating marriage and should not impose it by rule, but should better understand and convey the reasons for choosing it.
  6. Marriage has been presented as an abstract theological ideal, with far more emphasis on the procreative aspect than on the unitive.
  7. Doctrine, bioethics, and moral issues have been the focus, not presenting marriage as a path to development, fulfillment, and grace.
  8. Thankfully, most people value permanent relationships and many experience the grace of the Sacraments, but too much pastoral energy has been spent denouncing worldliness instead of teaching how to find true happiness. The Church’s message is perceived as different from Jesus’ teachings.
  9. Christians cannot stop warning against cultural decline. Relationships are increasingly commoditized: consumed for certain benefits and then disposed of.
  10. The reasons for avoiding or postponing the start of a family are many. We must learn to arouse the courage of young people.
  11. Today’s culture does not harness affectivity, resulting in the inability of people (and thus marriages) to mature properly.
  12. Population decline is the result of politics, science, industrialization, social fears, consumerism, etc. The Church opposes State promoted/enforced population control.
  13. Weak faith in modern culture leads to distance from God and loneliness, both in individuals and in families. The State is responsible for helping young people realize plans for having a family.
  14. Public policy (juridical, economic, social, fiscal) should reduce family suffering (unemployment, healthcare, etc.) so that the family can nurture relationships within as well as participate in society.
  15. Irregular family constructs, war, terrorism, crime, and hardships of urban life contribute to the suffering of children. Scandalous abuse occurs when and where they should be the most safe.
  16. Migration can be beneficial to the family in some cases and destabilizing in others. Pastoral programs should be offered to those who leave as well as for those who stay behind.
  17. The family that welcomes a child with special needs is a special witness to faith and the gift of life.
  18. The same is true for the family that loves and cares for its elderly members, who too-often are considered a burden. The Church opposes euthanasia and assisted suicide as threats to the family.
  19. Poverty can greatly inhibit the personal growth of a child. The Church should offer comfort rather than judgment.
  20. Family life is often affected by everyday challenges such as job-related stress/exhaustion, addiction to television, lack of a common family meal, fear of the future welfare fo the children, etc.
  21. Drugs, alcohol, gambling, and other addictions contribute greatly to the breakdown of the family today.
  22. The weakening of the family threatens individual maturity, communal values, and moral progress of society. Only the family based on the traditional marriage can ensure the future of society. Other family constructs can only secure a certain level of stability at best.
  23. Some countries allow for polygamy, arranged marriages, and cohabitation (premarital and/or permanent), and legislation increasingly favors individual autonomy over the value of traditional marriage.
  24. The recognition of women’s rights has advanced in general, but a dignity equal with that of man is not yet fully realized.
  25. Men play an important role in family life and their absence is detrimental.
  26. Various forms of gender ideology deny the differences between man and women, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. Also, scientific advances allow for the separation of procreation and parenthood. Man today is tempted by culture to take the place of the Creator, instead of being a creature who respects what has been created.
  27. The challenges that families face today should drive missionary creativity.

Chapter 3: Looking to Jesus: The Vocation of the Family

  1. Families must be formed around the proclamation of the Gospel message (i.e. kerygma).
  2. Our teaching on the family must be inspired by, and indeed, can only be understood in the context of the Gospel message.
  3. This chapter is a summary of the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family.
  4. Marriage is a gift from God and must therefore be safeguarded.
  5. Jesus not only reaffirmed that marriage is indissoluble, but also taught that it is a restoration of God’s original plan for man.
  6. Jesus redeemed marriage and the family and bestows on them the grace to reflect the love of God and our communion with him.
  7. Jesus’ ministry was filled with interactions with families.
  8. The beauty of family life is exuded in the Nativity and the life of Jesus prior to public ministry.
  9. Nazareth can teach all families how to be a light in the world.
  10. Marriage is a community of life and love grounded in Christ through the spouses (Gaudium et Spes), and the Body of Christ is built up via the domestic church, making the Church manifest (Lumen Gentium).
  11. Church teaching has developed to include the responsibility of parenthood (Humanae Vitae) and the relationship of the family to the Church (Evangelii Nuntiandi).
  12. Family love is the way of the Church and, thus, marriage leads to holiness (Gratissimam Sane, Familiaris Consortio).
  13. Marital love based on the love of Christ becomes an icon of God’s relationship with his people (Deus Caritas Est), and love in general is a key principle of life in society (Caritas in Veritate).
  14. The Trinity resembles a family, and just as the Holy Spirit is a sign of the Father’s love for the Son’s bestowed at his baptism, so Holy Matrimony is a sacramental sign of Jesus for the Church.
  15. This sacrament is a sanctifying and salvific vocation, not merely a social convention, ritual, or sign of (human) commitment
  16. Marriage is a serious commitment of complete self-giving. The spouses become one flesh, just as Jesus took on the flesh of mankind.
  17. Physical union is expressed in complete consent; thus, marriage points to the mystery of the incarnation.
  18. The (Christian) man and woman are the ministers of this sacrament, which is manifested by their mutual concent and expressed in physical union. When a non-Christian couple is baptized, their (affirmed) marriage automatically becomes sacramental.
  19. The Gospel helps even immature and neglected marriages grow.
  20. Human relationships can only be truly understood in the context of Christ, yet (at least some of) the reality of marriage can be seen in other religious traditions.
  21. Pastoral care is warranted for those in irregular unions and the Church seeks the grace of their conversion, which, through deep affection and noteworthy stability, may lead them to sacramental marriage.
  22. Pastors must clearly state Church teaching while exercising careful discernment (situational awareness), and must not judge those seeking counsel.
  23. The conjugal union is naturally procreative. Children are the fruit and fulfilment of love.
  24. Man and woman share in the work of creation; thus they are instruments of God’s love.
  25. Having children is increasing becoming a small varible in a couple’s life plan, and the Church applauds couples who accept children into their lives, including children who are adopted or have disabilities.
  26. If the family is the sanctuary of life, then it is hypocritical for the spouses to reject or destroy it. Putting the right to one’s own body over the right of another to live effectively asserts that the other person is one’s property (sic. the right to choose when and how the property will be disposed of). This is the rationale for supporting the rights of conscientious objection and of a natural death (i.e. without treatment or euthanasia), as well as the rejection of the death penalty.
  27. The education of children is a right and duty of the parents, and all others involved (i.e. schools) are subsidiary and complementary, but cannot replace parents.
  28. The Church supports and assists parents in this vocation that is an intrinsic part of marriage.
  29. The family perpetuates the faith in its many facets. (CCC 1657)
  30. The Church is a family of families, and the Church and the family mutually benefit one anouther.
  31. Family love continually strengthens the Church, and the role of the family vocation is unique and cannot be replaced.

More to come…


March 21, 2016

SWTFA: Han & Leia

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When I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens a few weeks after it hit the theaters, I immediately started writing a post about what I liked and didn’t like about the film. The more I read other’s reviews, however, the more I realized that my post lacked substance, so I put off publishing it until eventually it died an editorial death. I continued to share my observations with friends and colleagues, of course, and one topic kept coming up: what in the galaxy happened between Han Solo and Princess Leia?


Han & Leia

Star Wars The Force Awakens Han & LeiaIndividually, the characters in this film were much less interesting than their younger renditions. Han went from cocky cowboy to cranky old man. This isn’t an unrealistic transition, I suppose, but it didn’t add anything of value to what I considered to be a flat performance by Ford. I only recall seeing two faint traces of the young smuggler during the whole film. The first is when Han and Chewbacca board the Millennium Falcon, and he utters the line made famous by the second teaser trailer, “Chewy, we’re home.” The second was when the idea came to him to throw the captured Captain Phasma into a space-station-grade trash compactor, a nod to his own experience on the original Death Star. Save for those two moments, if someone wanted evidence that Ford desperately wanted out of the Star Wars franchise, this film is it. I guess I can’t blame him too much. No actor likes to be typecast, and honestly, how many movies can you make about blowing up a big round gun floating around in space?

Fisher’s performance was worse. No longer the saucy, headstrong princess, Leia has been converted into a dried-up political and military leader…and a bitter one at that! Her expressions could be summed up as a collage of sadness, regret, and disappointment. To top it off, she has one of the worst lines in the movie, something to the tune of, “Luke is a Jedi, but you are his father…of course he’ll listen to you.” That’s what she said, but I can’t shake the notion that what went through her head was more like, “I’m setting you up, you smug, no-good, son-of-a-bantha. I’ll teach you to leave me in the middle of a family crisis. Sure, Ben will listen…right before he starts severing your appendages.” Maybe it was how she said it, or maybe it was her apparent lack of grief when she sensed (via the Force) that Han had died. “Well, you had it coming” was written all over her face. I’m probably alone in this theory. Everyone else is too busy talking about how Fisher hasn’t aged well, and she’s too busy complaining about age discrimination in the film industry.

Together Again (Or Maybe Not)

The fact that Han and Leia are not still together in TFA is (IMHO) problematic in a number of ways. Let’s start with basic storytelling. Through the original trilogy, we watch these characters grow, not just as individuals, but as a couple. At the end of New Hope, Han has collected his reward for saving the princess, and is ready to blast off to the next adventure. After Luke’s chastisement, Han has a change of heart and helps secure the destruction of the Death Star. Leia’s smile at the award ceremony punctuates her approval, and she doesn’t seem to mind the wink and the goofy grin she receives from Han. In the beginning scenes of Empire, the romantic tension between Han and Leia has obviously escalated. Like it or not, they are in a relationship. By the end of the movie, they deliver the famous “I love you/I know” lines just as Han is being frozen in carbonite. The “He’s my brother” scene at the end of ROTJ seals the deal. Han is a completely different person from the young smuggler we met at Mos Eisley, and Leia found herself truly capable of trusting someone else with her heart. They were cast into a classic love story in which they — as far as we ever knew — lived happily ever after. Much has been written about Star Wars belonging to the genre of myth, and this ending is exactly what we expect. So, they’re still together, right?

Wrong. Eventually, the honeymoon ended and they now have a son who apparently has had a few issues growing up. Now, I’m not going to speculate at this point about what happens between Ben and his parents, and how his uncle Luke may be a catalyst, but we do know that when things get tough, Ben turns to the Dark Side and Han heads for the hills (or whatever the space equivalent would be). That’s where TFA picks up, with Han and Chewy running a salvage business and Leia choosing to escape the pain of life by concentrating solely on her career. When their paths cross on the planet Takodana, it is clear that they really have chosen to go their separate ways and that they have little more to say to one another. He knows he did something wrong, but is too prideful to apologize. She’s too callous to care. Ben is the only thread that binds them at all. Following the rules of classic storytelling, it is not supposed to turn out like this. All of that buildup of plot and characterization in the first trilogy has been completely wasted!

So why the change of direction? I suspect it was for the same reason movies and television shows in general have changed so drastically in the last thirty years: a shift in modern culture. The myth is out of style. Family sitcoms poke fun at dysfunction instead of reinforcing family values. Society demands realism over mystery. The highly-popular CBS police drama CSI premiered in October 2000, a little over a year after the Force had to be explained in biological terms (i.e. Midi-chlorians) in Phantom Menace. Perhaps the writers of TFA felt that Star Wars fans needed another big dose of reality, and decided to blame the Solos’ broken home for Ben’s conversion to the Dark Side. Doing so not only complicated the story unnecessarily, it cheapened the plot as well. What source of pure evil could possibly have torn Ben away from a strong, loving family? Who cares? That’s not worth exploring. It’s far easier to blame it on the young man’s primary male model: pitiful good-for-nothing ol’ Dad. Killing the fairytale ending was a small sacrifice to make for yet another opportunity — for Disney, mind you — to tell millions of impressionable youth that the only real myth here is true love, and that the family unit is not a viable building block of society after all (despite eons of empirical evidence to the contrary). Indeed, this film is highly reflective of today’s popular culture.

Mentioning all of this in conversation usually evokes responses ranging from eye-rolling — as if I had just ventured off on some idealistic crusade — to outright argument. The latter is more likely to occur if the other person’s real-life circumstances closely align him or her with either Han or Leia. This supports my opinion that spinning the story in this direction is not only hurtful to those who are trying to heal from such wounds, but it also desensitizes society, inviting it to accept the failure of the family unit as normal.

Think You Could Do Better?

I’m not a screenwriter, so no, I probably couldn’t write the thing, but if it were up to me, the plot would’ve taken a completely different direction. Having evaded their First Order pursuers, Rey and Finn could’ve been delivered to a safe haven within the New Republic, perhaps through the intervention of BB-8, a next-generation astromech programmed with a mission to fulfill. There they would meet Han and Leia, still together and retired, who only desire the return of their son to the side of good (and perhaps to find Luke in the process). At their home, which I envision being an Arts & Crafts style structure nestled in the woods of a planet resembling Endor’s Moon, Han could deliver one of his best lines, “It’s true. All of it.” Taking this path would spare us from both the Rathtar incident and the visit to Maz Kanata’s Castle (neither of which I found to be essential to the plot), and still provide ample opportunity for Rey to discover her Force powers and face Kylo Ren in a lightsaber duel. Han could even volunteer to aid the Resistance in blowing up the latest gun-planet (if we must go there at all) in the hope of finding and saving Ben, thereby adding sincerity to Leia’s words (cited above) and genuineness to her anguish upon sensing Han’s death. And yes, I have no problem with Han’s death scene, but the campy psychobabble dialogue would absolutely have to go.

Conclusion

As a Star Wars fan, I must accept all of this as canon. It’s the official story, for better or worse. That doesn’t mean I have to let it sway me to accept the modern view of society and its devaluation of a morality held sacred by previous generations. Nor does it require that I believe the decisions made as the story continues to be told are the best possible. Quite the opposite, I think Disney missed out on a gold mine of opportunity to create a rich narrative. Nonetheless, it is what it is, and as a fan I look forward to the next installment.


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