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Evangelii Gaudium

Pope Francis's "Apostolic Exhortation" on Evangelization has been released. It is a long, rich, and personal document. Here is a thought for the day:

265. Jesus’ whole life, his way of dealing with the poor, his actions, his integrity, his simple daily acts of generosity, and finally his complete self-giving, is precious and reveals the mystery of his divine life. Whenever we encounter this anew, we become convinced that it is exactly what others need, even though they may not recognize it: “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23). Sometimes we lose our enthusiasm for mission because we forget that the Gospel responds to our deepest needs, since we were created for what the Gospel offers us: friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters. If we succeed in expressing adequately and with beauty the essential content of the Gospel, surely this message will speak to the deepest yearnings of people’s hearts. ... Enthusiasm for evangelization is based on this conviction. We have a treasure of life and love which cannot deceive, and a message which cannot mislead or disappoint. It penetrates to the depths of our hearts, sustaining and ennobling us. It is a truth which is never out of date because it reaches that part of us which nothing else can reach. Our infinite sadness can only be cured by an infinite love.

266. But this conviction has to be sustained by our own constantly renewed experience of savoring Christ’s friendship and his message. It is impossible to persevere in a fervent evangelization unless we are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to. It is not the same thing to try to build the world with his Gospel as to try to do so by our own lights. We know well that with Jesus life becomes richer and that with him it is easier to find meaning in everything. This is why we evangelize. A true missionary, who never ceases to be a disciple, knows that Jesus walks with him, speaks to him, breathes with him, works with him. He senses Jesus alive with him in the midst of the missionary enterprise. Unless we see him present at the heart of our missionary commitment, our enthusiasm soon wanes and we are no longer sure of what it is that we are handing on; we lack vigour and passion. A person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain and in love, will convince nobody.

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What the pope said about marriage and his denigration of "loving sentiment" is the traditional church line as exemplified by Muller's recent article ... http://www.osservatoreromano.va/portal/dt?JSPTabContainer.setSelected=JS... ... Muller says that 'love isn't a feeling'  (this comes from Aquinas).

But I think love is exactly a feeling.  I think the reason the church tries to teach otherwise is because it distrusts human nature, it doesn't have faith that a feeling can be lasting or be true, so it tries instead to redefine the emotion of love as some kind of duty or decision of the will.  And I think the church uses their new definition of love to try to keep people in loveless marraiges  (Muller even says women whose husbands beat them still should not get divorced).  But marriage is indeed now all about loving sentiment and I think that's the way it should be.

 

There is a certain amount of talking past each other that I sense going on in terms of sentiment/ephemeral vs. duty/permanence.

For me, love started with a feeling but it certainly required action, choice and steadfastness to develop into something permanent.   There were certainly times where my surface feelings were not loving at all, and I had to take action to communicate, to express myself, to hear, to listen, to seek healing; to make choices that prioritized what was good for us over what was good for me, to choose to be happy and grateful for what I have over regretting those sacrifices; and steadfast in not running away, not bailing, not giving up on us.

 

I think love needs to be different than a feeling and deeper. The feeling of love produces warmth, acceptance, harmony, satisfaction, etc. I am not sure how much this feeling characterizes the experience of most couples as they move through time together, or even our love of children. And there are certain characteristics and things about our loved ones that we do not even like!

Now I am a sentimental guy and can call on that when necessary to produce certain states. Listening to pieces of music, conjuring up memories, visiting places. And I share that with my wife and daughter. But there is no way that, and that alone, could sustain the commitment these last 20 years or so.

And I don't think that I am out of the ordinary when I say that to remain during stretches of time required me to call on a sense of duty and obligation. Ditto for her as I am not the easist person on the planet to live with I am sure.

Further, marriages are littered with affairs produced as a result of loving sentiments with other people outside of the partnership. Just talked with a friend a year ago who was believing this. My advice was to think this through very carefully. Go to a lonely place to really pray about this because loving sentiment, to be is fools gold. True love needs to be tested in fire.

Fr. Imbelli, it seems to me that the wording is an attempt to trivialize the importance of the emotional satisfaction which is an intrinsic aspect of the 'loving sentiment" that leads couples to marry, and which, one hopes, is not "ephemeral".  There is nothing "mere" about it. Although some marriages do not endure for a lifetime, the majority that do rely on emotional satisfaction and loving sentiment to sustain the marriage through the inevitable challenges that all married couples face as individuals, as couples, and usually as parents during their lives.  The bishops and Francis need to be more clear in distinguishing between the "ephemeral emotional satisfaction and loving sentiments" of romantic infatuation and the loving sentiments and emotional satisfaction that are intrinsic to the love that  holds two people together in marriage.  Their understanding of these emotions and sentiments seem to be academic rather than experiential. It is likely that at least some of these men  experienced romantic infatuations before becoming priests but they seem not understand the difference between those emotions and sentiments and those of married love.

My objection to this language is the focus on "obligation" to society and the trivializing of the emotional sentiments needed to support marriage. This statement -  "the indispensable contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple" implies that the individuals who are the married couple are simply cogs in society's machine, cogs whose  "feelings and needs" are unimportant and can be ignored.  But it is precisely because of the feelings of emotional satisfaction and of loving sentiments that people are willing to fulfill the obligations of marriage - obligations to one another and to any children they may have, not to society or the church. Without the emotional satisfaction of the love relationship, a couple will very likely fail to meet their marital "obligations" at some point and may divorce. Their obligation to their children is not broken by the dissolution of the marriage of course.

The French bishops (and Francis) seem to believe that the main reason for marriage is almost purely utilitarian - to satisfy what they perceive as an "obligation" to society (by those who do not choose a religious vocation) to marry and procreate.. This is an understanding of marriage that is (to me) wrong, although it was dominant for most of history and is still too prominent in the church.

" Muller says that 'love isn't a feeling'  (this comes from Aquinas)."

Crystal --

Muller has obviously oversimplified Aquinas.   St. T. most certainly does recognize that there are feelings of love (plural) -- more than one kind. 

Let's see now --  there's love of gumbo, love of puppies and kittens, love of kids, love of learning, love of music,  (it goes on and on), and then there's "true love", which, I'd say, is a thorough appriciation of another person's reality which sometimes even transcends our own proper love of ourselves.  (Yes, it's right and good to love oneself.)  Marriage, we like to think in this culture, is a matter of true love.  (There is also infatuation, the usual preamble to true love, but it doesn't last.)  

People are encouraged to wait to find a true love *before* marrying.  In other words, we certainly seem to agree that true love can come into being *before* marrigage.  My big question is:  if you don't need marriage to have a true love, then what is the difference between a simple true-love-relationship and a true-love-marriage?  In other words, why get married?  Why not just have hooked up single lovers?  

My point is that there really does seem to be a lot more to marriage than true love (no matter how important that feeling is).  So I ask:  what does marriage have that simple true love isn't/ doesn't have?  (Yes, I suspect the answer is very complex, and I don't think some people are going to like it.  Sigh.)

 I don't understand people who say marriage is about duty, obligation, an act of the will, etc.  If you love someone, then your good actions will flow from that love -  love, the feeling of love, is the engine that drives action.  When Jesus helped people, he didn't do it because it was his duty, he did it because he had "feelongs" about them - compassion and love, the Grrek word "splagchnizomai" (Luke 7:13).  And as  Paul said, you can give all your goods to the poor, but if you don't have love, it profits you nothing.
 

Ann,

There's an interesting article on love in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  One of the sections is on love as an emotion and I especially liked the opinions of Rorty ... http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/love/#5.2

From something I wrote to the local diocesan newspaper a couple of years back:

"(Mr. X) argues that the Catholic tradition of not ordaining women is following the practice of Jesus.  It can be (and has been) argued that what Jesus did during his lifetime was a far cry from what the church calls ordination today.

However, tradition is not an arbitrary thing; we believe that it is the leading of the Spirit of God to preserve the unity of the church.  On what grounds, then, can the church change a tradition?  When that tradition begins to compete with the gospel and no longer serves the gospel it must be questioned. The ordination of women is a theoretical possibility within the gospel; there are no instances where the gospels state that women cannot be ordained.   It is church tradition, not the gospel, that prohibits the practice.  The significant question is whether that tradition still serves the gospel, or has it come to work against the gospel. The tradition of an all‑male clergy has come to compete with the gospel, to be a stumbling block to the gospel, and no longer serves the gospel.  There is a need for changing such a tradition and instituting the practice of the ordination of women.

The Spirit can, and often does, make the church do something that it has never done before, as part of the ongoing unfolding of the work and will of God among the people of God. It is not necessary to make ordination a function of the priesthood of all believers in order to argue the case for women's ordination.  It is to the greater benefit of the life of the church to understand ordination as the Spirit's bestowal of a unique gift of office apart from the community of the baptized, without needing to exclude women from the giving of this office. "

It's really too bad that the ordination of women and marriage issues are such nevralgic points that almost all the energy goes into discussing those points, even though they are very much side issues of this document, and risk blinding us to everything else.We complain that many in the church hierarchy are obsessed by sexuality and gender and can talk about nothing else, but look at ourselves!

Crystal --

I agree with Rorty that our greatest love is complex -- it involves both the beloved and ourselves.  I also think that included among the various kinds of love that are part of this complexity we can distinguish love of the beloved (elicited because the other is intrinsically good) and love of the other because the other makes the lover feels fulfilled by his/her experience of the beloved.  The former is selfless, the latter is not, and there is a thierarchy of loves with pure love of the other being greater than pure love of the self.  (Don't ask me why, I just think that it is.).

It seems to me that the selfless love of the beloved impels us to do good to and for the beloved mainly for the sake of the beloved.  This is something like an obligation because there is a certain necessity about it -- if you *truly* love someone you will necessarily act for his/his benefit.  

This shows me is that acting out of a certain necessity is not a bad thing.  And so when we  act out of the necessity imposed by an obligation, then that too is not to be scorned beneath human dignity.   In other words, an obligation is a good thing, and fulfillment of an obligation is also a good thing. 

Do you think there are such things as obligations?

 

Thanks for your rich and deep responses to my Cherubino question. I hope Francis understands all this as well, and sees that same-sex couples often achieve the same marital bonding that is so precious a human experience.

It's really too bad that the ordination of women and marriage issues are such nevralgic points that almost all the energy goes into discussing those points, even though they are very much side issues of this document, and risk blinding us to everything else.We complain that many in the church hierarchy are obsessed by sexuality and gender and can talk about nothing else, but look at ourselves!

Claire, IMHO these issues are the "hot-button" issues that are driving people out of the church in the west, driving them out because the hierarchy has been so focused on them for so long, especially in the west, but also throughout the world. The official church's stance on some gender and sexuality-related issues hits almost everyone at home, where they live out the theoretical in their real lives, including in their marriages. But it also has altered political policy, even international policy (such as distribution of condoms as an HIV-AIDS weapon in Africa).  It's not just academic at times, the church's influence has contributed to a great deal of good in the world, but unfortunately also to tangible harm to many, both directly and indirectly.  Its denial of a sacrament to women and its myopic and distorted understanding of "complementarity" are not just of interest as an intellectual exercise, but  present an unfortunate lesson and example to many. The church's highly visible treatment of women as officially second-class conveys a message to all that it is God's will that women be subject to male dominance.  Francis has so far failed to address this reality, and he has also failed to address the issue of accountability for bishops who protect priests who are a danger to the young.  Unfortunately, Francis does not seem to truly even understand the implications of the women's ordination issue.  He, like his predecessors, is fixated on an understanding of the "feminine" that is very limited, still too influenced by historical patriarchy.

These issues are  tied to justice and truth and to love.  These are the issues of the early 21st century, and at some point the "official" institution may be forced to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking through the sensus fidelium and then perhaps to develop doctrine in a way that will reflect the truth experienced in the lives of the 99.9% of those who are not clergy but are the church. This would allow the institutional church to move on and change the focus to other isues of justice and truth - economic, war and peace, to any number of grand and overarching issues that are out there.  But the institutional church will have to resolve the "hot-button" issues first in a way that is understood by the people in the pews.  If it does not come to terms with them, the hemorraging  will continue, especially of young adults and their future children.

Studies have documented the dramatic increase in "nones" and SBNR especially during the last decade. They have also documented that in the US, young women are leaving the church at higher rates than young men for the first time since they started keeping track of these things.  Marriage and baptism data in the US published by CARA indicate that many of these young women are not returning to marry in the church as was seen in earlier generations, nor are they returning to have their children baptized in the church, a trend that has also become very noticable during the last decade or so. I am not surprised.  In the dicussion here it is easy to see just how wide is the divide in understanding of the sacrament of marriage between those who are married and those who aren't. Catholic teaching is developed exclusively by male celibates and their understanding is limited by the lack of lived experience with the intimate matters they are trying to legislate. While baby boomers and Gen X may simply ignore the church's dictums in many areas and continue to go to church and receive communion, increasing numbers of the young adult generation aren't showing up at all, except for a  small but very vocal group of neo-traditional young adults.

I am not an academic nor an intellectual, and Commonweal prides itself on targeting that market. The academic discussions here are interesting but often on an intellectual level only. At times the discussions don't seem to get past the theoretical to  the level of "the real", because a purely academic and intellectual understanding of some of even the less esoteric topics seemsat times to reflect a failure to see the forest for the trees.

Ann, I do think there are obligations and duties and that it;s good to fulfill them - I think the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy would put this under the heading "moral rsponsibility" - but I just don't want to call those things "love" (though there's probably some overlap).  I recycle ... I make a decision, a choice, to do so ... because I feel that as someone who cares about the envuronment, it's my duty, but that's not what I think of as love.  They do seem somehow connected, though.

I think the problem is that the churc h considers marriage a duty - a duty to the family, a duty to society, a duty to the church.  But this isn't the ancient or medieval past and people don't get married anymore out of duty, but out of love.  There is no good reason now, no duty, for someone to stay married to a wife-beater, for instance, but the church still thinks women should do this. There is no duty to stay married "for the sake of the children" because studies show now that such a thing actually damages children, but the church still uses this argument.  Socity has changed - no one usually gets married now to make sure they have "legitimate" heirs, or to merge kingdoms, or to make finaincial transactions, or to trade service for protection .... marriage isn't anymore a business contract and people aren't dirty rotten breachers if they change their minds/hearts about it.  It's all about love, now, and I think that's partly why the church so hates same-sex marriage- that is based on love

I agree with Anne - this stuff can't be compartmentalized.  For the church to say in one breath that it cares about the "little ones" and in the next that women are second class citizens (in however nice language) is to put the lie to the first statement. 

Ok, I get it. Now, someone cheer me up.

 

Anne C. --

 

Fine post.  About Francis and women --  I think that he means well, but simply hasn't known many adult women very well.  But he's improving.  In the last couple of days he repeated his unfortunate view of women as intuitive, nurturing complements of men, but he also added that women are needed not only in the home but in *business*!  I've never seen any man admit that before.  As to the ordination of women, I won't hold my breath.  But he's a fast learner, and maybe dealing with the CDF will lead him to see the weaknesses of their silly arguments against it.

 

Crystal --

 

I agree that in the ages when there really wasn't enough food to go around and when people died so young there was probably an implicit assumption that a person *ought* to marry and marry young to be sure the clan would survive.  That's pure Darwin, and Darwin was right about this.  But we're also *rational* animals, there is enough food, for Americans anyway, and Americans die relatively old.  So it's not surprising that marriage-for-the-sake-of-procreation is no longer the urgent necessity it used to be.  The official Church is hundreds of years behind history in coming to that realization.

 

Still, most people do have children, and people's duties to them have not changed one whit.  Children still have a right to both parents if possible, and so divorce is still a dreadful thing in most cases.  Unless the studies I've read about are totally wrong, children of one parent simply do not  flourish as children of both parents do.  (It even seems to be the case that parents who divorce when their children are *grown* still cause great suffering in their kid!  That's how primary an intact family is to human flourishing.) So it seems to me that the official Church is mostly right about that.  In practice, however, there seem to be terrible problems, not the least of which is that people sometimes seem to marry a genuinely incompatible person.  What to do about those failed marriages is  a horrendous problem.  At least it seems that many of the bishops, including Francis, are starting to realize that. 

 

 As I see it, the only solution at this point would be to be sure that those who are granted a license to marry are truly mature psychologically.  But how to determine that?*  To add to the problem, kids need to be raised to become psychologically independent, but that  is happening less and less these days!  See the new helicopter mothers.  Scary.  (Yes, I think the community has a right to protect children, and that includes protecting them from bad parents.  But, again, what does that mean in practice????)

 

*Improving the teaching of the Humanities in the schools might help with that -- the Humanities teach both empathy, one of the great marks of maturity, and also reasoning, another skill needed for satisfactory human relations. 

 

(I'll shut up now.)

So the bad guys have won. The ones who were obsessed with women and marriage issues have been successful at obfuscating the Gospel message so that it becomes inaudible, young people leave the church and older people spend their time fighting over those issues. Regardless of our stand on them, the fact that we spend our time on that means that we acknowledge that it is as important as they claim it is.

Claire,

I think Francis does believe in and want a Church with more distributed authority, in which everyone has an important role to play, and every part is open to anyone competent to take it on. But he is constrained by the statements of his predecessors, by long tradition in an institution that thinks of itself as timeless, and perhaps by assumptions he absorbed in his youth and has not fully shaken off.

It seems to me that the theological and cultural arguments, that a male priesthood is required by Christ or by nature or by the fitness of things, were never sound and grow weaker by the day.  It will be harder and harder to maintain them even for people who have long practice in saying doubtful things with a straight face.

That leaves only competence and faithfulness as qualifications, and women have long since passed those tests in every area of modern life. Besides, the history of male dominance in the world and in the Church is hardly an invincible argument for continuing it.

All of the great nonviolent struggles for equality and justice are won essentially the same way: by showing up every day, doing one's share and more than one's share of the work, speaking out tirelessly and without fear, keeping the pressure on, and never losing hope or good cheer. Eyes on the prize, as they used to say.

 young people leave the church and older people spend their time fighting over those issues.

 

I know a lot of older people, i.e, my age, who have walked away in 1) disgust, 2) anger, and/or 3) boredom later in their lives.

Being hatched and matched doesn't mean by any token that we will stick around to be despatched.

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About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is an associate professor of theology at Boston College.