instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Corrigere delinquentem magis ad severitatem

Today was the last RCIA session of the year, and I finally achieved my goal of not saying anything. (Or at least nothing that anyone could think was intended to be instructive. After the presenter joked about not being sure whether a turn of phrase she used came from our pastor or the Pope, I said, "The Pope is less busy. He'll return your email." And when the RCIA director asked if I had any parting comments, I said, "See you next week." (You know, Mass.) Other than that, silence.) The closest I came to having an audible thought was while looking at the list of the spiritual works of mercy:
  • To instruct the ignorant 
  • To counsel the doubtful 
  • To admonish sinners 
  • To patiently bear with those who annoy us 
  • To forgive offenses willingly 
  • To comfort the afflicted 
  • To pray for the living and the dead
This middle one is more often expressed as, "To bear wrongs patiently."  The presenter went with this version as being more concrete -- and besides, St. Thomas renders it "to bear with those who trouble and annoy us" (portare onerosos et graves).

Another catechist offered a variation on the old joke that admonishing sinners seems to come naturally to people, and I imagined an amended list:
  • To admonish the ignorant 
  • To admonish the doubtful 
  • To admonish sinners 
  • To admonish those who annoy us
  • To admonish prior to forgiving offenses
  • To admonish the afflicted 
  • To admonish the living and the dead
In an uncharacteristic moment of prudence, I kept this to myself. This particular crew of baby Catholics doesn't strike me as likely to weaponize the catechism. But let me try this here:

One item on the second list is merciful. At first glance, though, it looks like the other six items, none of which is merciful. It may similarly be difficult to be altogether sure whether a particular instance of admonishment is merciful.



Sunday, April 10, 2016

An icon, not an idol

"The natural order has been so imbued with the redemptive grace of Jesus," Pope Francis writes, "that 'a valid matrimonial contract cannot exist between the baptized without it being by that fact a sacrament.' [AL 75]

Marriage is a natural sign of the Trinity, present from creation ("God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." "The LORD God said: 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him.'"). AL 11 extends the sign from the married couple to the human family:

The couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon – not an idol like those of stone or gold prohibited by the Decalogue – capable of revealing God the Creator and Saviour. For this reason, fruitful love becomes a symbol of God’s inner life.... [T]he couple’s fruitful relationship becomes an image for understanding and describing the mystery of God himself, for in the Christian vision of the Trinity, God is contemplated as Father, Son and Spirit of love.
The love of God, perfect and complete in itself, overflows into this perfectly gratuitous creation we are all a part of, that all of creation may give glory to God, joining according to the nature we've been given in that one eternal act of love. In a similar way, the love of a family is to overflow into the rest of creation, drawing a similar response -- although, since the family is an icon, not an idol, the love with which creation responds to the family's own love isn't returned to the family itself, but through the family returns to the Source of all love.

All that is simply what families are, necessarily, from the very nature of things as God created them.

To that, Christian families -- which is to say, fruitful Christian (and therefore sacramental) marriages -- add the supernatural sign of the union of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, and His Church. This is so, not through God's act of creation, but through His act of redemption, through Jesus' passion, death, and resurrection. That is simply what Christian families are, necessarily. Ephesians 5:21-33 may be best known for, "Wives should be subordinate to their husbands," but the key is verse 32: "This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church." And as the Church as a whole is to proclaim the Gospel to every creature, so the domestic church of the Christian family is to proclaim the Gospel to every creature it encounters. A Christian family, based on a marriage that can only exist as a sign that effects the grace it signifies, is to demonstrate -- not just among its members, but to all who encounter it -- the sacrificial and salvific love that held Jesus to the cross and brought Him forth from the grave on the third day.

It's not really up to us whether our particular love or marriage is actually fruitful. The will to be fruitful is what we can provide; the rest is in God's hands.



Saturday, April 09, 2016

Love is patient

In p. 91 of Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis discusses St. Paul's teaching that love is "patient" (in Greek, makrothyméi):
This does not simply have to do with “enduring all things”, because we find that idea expressed at the end of the seventh verse. Its meaning is clarified by the Greek translation of the Old Testament, where we read that God is “slow to anger” ( Ex 34:6; Num 14:18). It refers, then, to the quality of one who does not act on impulse and avoids giving offense. We find this quality in the God of the Covenant, who calls us to imitate him also within the life of the family. Saint Paul’s texts using this word need to be read in the light of the Book of Wisdom (cf. 11:23; 12:2, 15-18), which extols God’s restraint, as leaving open the possibility of repentance, yet insists on his power, as revealed in his acts of mercy. God’s “patience”, shown in his mercy towards sinners, is a sign of his real power.
Someone who is impotent to change things is not makrothyméi when they endure them without complaint (which is not to knock endurance without complaint). Off of which thought I riff thusly:

Sheep are not sheeplike. A thing can only be like something else, something it is also in some way unlike. While it is good for a sheep to do things sheep do, it's not remarkable, much less virtuous or praiseworthy or glorious, because the sheep lacks the capacity to do anything else.

We praise Jesus as the Lamb of God because He is also the Lion of Judah. He is a lamb-like lion, and we glorify Him for it.

Moreover, we are called to follow Him, in this as in all He has revealed to us. There aren't many aspects of our lives in which we have more real power than in the relationships within our own families. If this seems more evident in familial relationships that lack love -- the cold and distant father, the son who breaks his mother's heart -- that speaks to St. Paul's point that love is patient, that for the good of the beloved it forebears even the legitimate exercise of power.

Parents need to be patient in this sense with their children, so that they can learn to make the right choice when their parents aren't there to make it for them. Spouses, too, need to be patient, not only so we don't "end up incapable of living together, antisocial, unable to control our impulses, and our families will become battlegrounds [AL 92]," but to leave room for the other to grow in love for us. Husbands and wives who are always corrected right away will not develop the habit of correcting themselves; not only will they remain dependent and immature, they aren't given the opportunity to show love for their wives and husbands that correcting themselves affords. Impatience, even without anger, hurts both the lover and the beloved.