Monthly Archives: June 2015

Waldstein, O. Cist., Against Liberalism, OR: Why All Democracies Must Fail

A bold and excellent statement in favor of a truer conception of the State and the Common Good than that of Liberalism. Whatism? Liberalism. More to come on Liberalism.

But to cut to the chase: The political offspring of liberalism is: Modern Democracy.

We Catholics have forgotten that our principles are rather uncomfortable with the Modern Liberal Democracy. By “liberal” I do not mean “Democratic Party vs. Republican.” I mean both. More to come on it. Fr. Edmund Waldstein is an outstanding Cistercian priest, a defender of the True Faith and a rising intellectual. May his future be bright!

I would also recommend the website with which Edmund Fr. Waldstein works.

Sunday at St. Peter’s in Lindsay, TX

On a weekend getaway with my family, I went to St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Lindsay, TX. An old German parish. Very beautiful, architecturally and artistically. The liturgy was beautiful too. I thought to myself, well this is a very reverent celebration of the Novus Ordo.

The thought also occurred to me that its beauty was in direct proportion to its approximation to the Extraordinary Form. Direct proportion.

Particulars? Well, obviously the structure of one Novus Ordo is that of any Novus Ordo. The notes of distinct reverence were as follows: Only altar boys, many altar boys well orchestrated with distinct tasks, incensing twice, a choir chanting the various parts of the Mass, a traditional high altar within a distinct sanctuary, etc. There was one feature, in my opinion helpful, that is not a part of the Extraordinary Form as yet, the readings read simply in the vernacular. The marvelous statues and stained glass didn’t hurt either.

The following day, I noticed the fine article by Cardinal Sarah, Prefect for the Congregation for Worship, posted (in translation) by Rorate.

At the end, there is this marvelous paragraph:

In this sense, it is necessary that those celebrating according to the “usus antiquior” do so without any spirit of opposition, and hence in the spirit of “Sacrosanctum concilium”. In the same way, it would be wrong to consider the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite as deriving from another theology that is not the reformed liturgy. It would also be desirable that the Penitential Rite and the Offertory of the “usus antiquior” be inserted as an enclosure in the next edition of the Missal with the aim of stressing that the two liturgical reforms illuminate one another, in continuity and with no opposition.

A promise of development of the Novus Ordo towards the Extraordinary form, at least in two moments of the liturgy. Very hopeful indeed. And in harmony with Pope Benedict’s hope that the two forms of the liturgy fructify each other.

On the Final Document of the Synod of Bishops 2014 – Part 6

Part III of the Relatio takes a dive at art. 40:

40. While continuing to proclaim and foster Christian marriage, the Synod also encourages pastoral discernment of the situations of a great many who no longer live this reality. Entering into pastoral dialogue with these persons is needed to distinguish elements in their lives that can lead to a greater openness to the Gospel of Marriage in its fullness. Pastors ought to identify elements that can foster evangelization and human and spiritual growth. A new element in today’s pastoral activity is a sensitivity to the positive aspects of civilly celebrated marriages and, with obvious differences, cohabitation. While clearly presenting the Christian message, the Church also needs to indicate the constructive elements in these situations that do not yet or no longer correspond to it.

In my posts “Is There Good in Evil” (see here for Part 1) I supply the antitodote for this abstractionist mentality of the synod, which, because it is supposed to be pastoral, ought to avoid abstractionism. In brief, I stated that while some patterns of human activity are – considered in themselves – not evil are in context evil. Giving chocolates to the hot babe with whom you commit adultery is evil, although abstractly considered giving chocolates to a woman is not evil. Indeed, having sex (I mean, hetero-sexual sex) for that matter is not evil, but if the woman is not your wife, it is evil. Period.

What makes these acts evil? It is their being ordered to the end of the relationship, which relationship is simply evil. A sexual relationship with a woman not your wife is evil. Period. And everything you do in order to that relationship is therefore taken up in your wicked enterprise.

Now, because people tend to give their all in a sexual relationship, most of what we do in the context of an evil sexual relationship is ordered to the relationship as sexual (i.e., to an evil). It is in practice very difficult to identify concrete acts of one partner towards another that are not ordered to the relationship as sexual. Hence, it is very difficult to identify – nay, for there to be – acts in such a relationship that are not ordered to it as sexual.

But of course if we “think with wild abstraction” as in a Platonic never-never land, we can identify acts that – considered in themselves and apart from their concrete embodiment – could exist in a good relationship. Is this what the Bishops are talking about treating as “elements that can lead to a great openness to the Gospel?”

Let’s revisit Dogmas on Grace for a moment. We should recall that no one can justify himself. Grace is unmerited. Now, it is true that some are less well disposed, humanly speaking, than others for the grace of justification. Those who work on ordering their lives in such a way as to conform better, rather than worse, to the demands of Natural Law are making themselves less indisposed for grace. In point of fact, most of this preparation is thoroughly soaked in God’s actual graces, which are inspiring these preparatory acts.

What could count as such preparation? Well, St. Augustine read good science in his day and by that reading, judged justly that the Manichean religion was less rational than Egyptian science (which could predict an eclipse and its intensity and its duration, etc. etc., decades in advance). That helped him abandon the Manichean superstition. That was preparation. He also became fed up with honors. That was preparation. He sought after wisdom. That was preparation.

But all the while he had been living with his girlfriend out of chaste wedlock. Had he remained in that relationship, all of his “warm and fuzzy tenderness” for that woman would have followed him down in the dungeons of hell, where its real but implicit malice against the Law of God would have revealed itself against all the godliness of God’s righteous judgment. Every one of the “good elements” of his sexual relationship ordered to that end would have suffered that terrible end. Rather, Augustine in all those elements would have gone down to the terrible abyss.

So, just what do the Bishops mean by these “positive aspects” of evil relationships? The Relatio seems to be guilty of being blind to human evil because of some quasi-Platonic notion that “If it has physical reality, it cannot be evil,” forgetting that while there is no existing “Evil Substance” there are nonetheless human free acts that fail to be ordered to God. And that this “failure” is not just the “Lack of Fullness” of human morality but a really evil act.

After all, we should recall that even in hell there will be physical reality. But you won’t want your stomach in hell, for its hunger; you wont want your eyes in hell, for the dim harshness; you wont want your nose in hell, for the rank stench; nor your hands, for the pain; your back, for the bed of sores.

Hell: No hands, no limbs for pleasure, on earth that had such leisure. Not that there is nothing in hell, though some theologians foolishly and heretically hope for that. There are hands and limbs. Just not for pleasure.

Do these things need to be said? From the rooftops! There is deafening silence concerning these issues. Deafening silence. The people are lulled to sleep. I guess God does not care. I guess my life is meaningless. I might as well as live it up and then kill myself.

(By the way, late teens have no problem in seeing that a God who does not judge us but just doles out goodness like a sugar daddy is inviting suicide.)

So, yes, these things need to be said.

Is it true that Pastors need to find things to work with? Yes, that is also true. Haven’t pastors always been doing this anyway? Maybe someone, a pastor or more likely a layman, can play poker with a fornicating person. He can now and then try to attract that person to the mercy of Jesus, so that the person actually can order his life in ways that correspond with God.

But we must remember that justification itself involves believing in God, trusting in him, loving him tenderly above all things, receiving his healing word, rejecting all sin, and moving forward not in the former ways. That is what it involves. Everything short of that is so far failure. If I have all the preparation, all the “Platonically abstract good elements” in the world but not the hatred of sin and the love of God in charity, I gain nothing but lose all.

The Relatio needs to be augmented towards this sobriety.

But someone objects: No one will listen to someone yelling.

Who said one has to yell to a weak sinner? No one said that. You are failing to portray the whole truth of the faith, and no one can concretely draw a balanced pastoral plan of action from a statement that only has “elements of truth” but not the substance.

It goes without saying that in the concrete one must be respectful. And with true love of the sinner and a real relationship – not just Platonic paper relationship – with the sinner goes a long way to make very frank and stark statements received with the simplicity that that is salutary.

FINALLY: Should the salvageable relationship be rectified by God’s grace, endowing the couple with true repentance, then the very relationship itself can be healed. Even to the roots. All that was in itself salvageable – the tenderness, the love, the fruitfulness – is now taken up as ordered to God. It is now anchored. It has a foundation. What was floundering now stands. It abides, and in Christ. It is good and very good. And because God’s forgiveness is radical and deep, his renewing hand profound, he reaches into the depths of the heart and heals it. Then, the memories are taken up into this new relationship, healed and elevated by God in true matrimony, and enter a phase of salvation.

This is indeed salutary. Had the Relatio made the sufficient qualifications, it could have stressed this as a hope held out. May it do so. May the 2015 Synod – God, please help it – paint with these full lines of the faith, so that the faithful and those that might become faithful can guide their lives aright to this true redemption.

On the Final Document of the Synod of Bishops 2014 – Part 5

Part III of the Relatio continues, with arts. 33 and 34:

… (from art. 33)The Word of God is not only good news in a person’s private life but also a criterion of judgment and a light in discerning the various challenges that married couples and families encounter.

34. At the same time, many synod fathers insisted on a more positive approach to the richness of various religious experiences, without overlooking the inherent difficulties. In these different religious realities and in the great cultural diversity that characterizes countries, positive possibilities should be appreciated first, and then, on this basis, limitations and deficiencies should be evaluated.

This is a very odd line of thought. First, there is the softest of mentions that the Gospel is “also a criterion of judgment”, yet there is no content given to the criteria.

Further, this soft statement is immediately followed by a stress on “various religious experiences”. What does that mean? Are we talking different religions, so that these are each to be considered valuable in themselves (when, essentially, only the Catholic religion is of value; other religions can be of value only per accidens – that is, insofar as a person responding to God’s quickening grace utilizes well some element of his religion, which religion could not possibly have been instituted by God since only the Catholic religion of all religions now extant on the face of the earth is instituted by God)? Or different ways of praying (Franciscan, Dominican, Jesuit, Benedictine)? Or something mushy and erroneous, such as “my religious experience that my marriage is a ‘failure’ that must be un-done”? Hard to know.

Next, the stress is put on the  “positive possibilities” and only subsequently “limitations”. But where in all this is the laying out of the dogmas and norms of the Church? Are these to be considered “limits” on otherwise positive possibilities? Just what on earth is going on here?

Then there is this line from art. 36:

36. The synod fathers repeatedly called for a thorough renewal of the Church’s pastoral practice in light of the Gospel of the Family and for replacing its current emphasis on individuals.

Just what is being “replaced”? What is meant by “emphasis on individuals”? In point of fact, freedom is an act of the individual. There is no collective freedom. That is a chimera. All responsibility arises from freedom, and only individuals (hypostases) are free. Collectives are not “free” except insofar as the individuals that constitute them.

Now, there is an important place for “group pastoral activity” just as for “group therapy”. However, such “group” activities depend upon the individual efforts of each member. There may need to be a change of “group dynamic” in order to move forward. So, one can clearly see that it would be good for pastoral work to include “couples” and “families”. Outings, etc., should not be off the radar for that. On the other hand, nothing can possibly replace the fundamental importance of private confession and repentance, of the individual owning up to his sins and amending his life.

Then there is an imbalanced line in art. 37:

37. They equally highlighted the fact that evangelization needs to denounce with clarity cultural, social, political and economic factors, such as the excessive importance given to market logic, that prevent authentic family life and lead to discrimination, poverty, exclusion, and violence.

Here, there is a one-sided denouncement of “the excessive importance of market logic”. What on earth is “market logic” such that its stress could be “excessive”? Given the tenor of the document, one thinks immediately of a capitalism gone awry. Fine. One can see that, for instance, when only a profit constitutes the company’s end, the worker is exploited. This is true and worthy of denunciation. On the other hand, a balanced condemnation of capitalism-without-limits can exist only with a more forceful condemnation of (a) Marxism and Socialism and (b) the Liberalism that founds both excessive capitalism and socialism. We see no denouncement of liberalism here. The compass is not set correctly. The goal is not going to help. For once again, what of that Italian couple that can have only 3 or 4 children, maximum and with great sacrifices, with a good salary, the salary of an engineer? This is a tragedy. And its proximate root is the socialist tax structure of Europe.

There are a number of quite good suggestions in art. 39. I point the reader there for possible future developments in a positive direction.

On the Final Document of the Synod of Bishops 2014 – Part 4

I now begin to treat Part III of the Relatio. Art. 28 has a good statement:

The Church has to carry this out with the tenderness of a mother and the clarity of a teacher (cf. Eph 4:15), in faithfulness to the mercy displayed in Christ’s kenosis

Clarity and charity. I am reminded of the Psalm: Kindness and Truth Shall Kiss. This is the motto on my wife’s and my wedding rings. Now for the delivery. Art. 28  states:

Evangelizing is the shared responsibility of all God’s people, each according to his ministry and charism.

This is an unfortunate locution, given today’s climate, wherein lay people are arrogating to themselves the title of “minister” and to their roles that of “ministry”. The Magisterium however has officially urged grave caution in the use of this word “ministry”. See the Congregation for the Clergy’s Instruction on the collaboration of the lay faithful with the priestly ministry. That instruction uses the word “ministry” almost exclusively for the sacred ministry of priests. And this is the Tradition’s use of the term.

However, according to a loose sense of the term, “ministry” sometimes is applied to the work of lay faithful. Even then, one must exercise vigilant caution in using the term. The Congregation decrees:

§ 2. “In some cases, the extension of the term “ministry” to the munera belonging to the lay faithful has been permitted by the fact that the latter, to their own degree, are a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. The officia temporarily entrusted to them, however, are exclusively the result of a deputation by the Church. Only with constant reference to the one source, the ‘ministry of Christ’ (…) may the term ministry be applied to a certain extent and without ambiguity to the lay faithful: that is, without it being perceived and lived as an undue aspiration to the ordained ministry or as a progressive erosion of its specific nature.

In this original sense the term ministry (servitium) expresses only the work by which the Church’s members continue the mission and ministry of Christ within her and the whole world. However, when the term is distinguished from and compared with the various munera and officia, then it should be clearly noted that only in virtue of sacred ordination does the work obtain that full, univocal meaning that tradition has attributed to it.” (55)

One must always differentiate, in quality and not only in degree, the lay faithful’s cooperation in the sacred ministry from the sacred ministry itself. The lay faithful cannot, for instance, preach homilies, forgive sins, confect the Eucharist, rule the Parish Council, nor can it have any voice active or passive in the council of priests (see the Instruction, art. 5).

Despite all this clarity from the Congregation for the Clergy, the Relatio speaks of each person in the church having his “ministry”. This is not the “clarity of a teacher”.

The Relatio goes on to speak of conversion. This is good. It further calls for a preaching that truly addresses the hearer. This is only prudent. Let us listen:

32. Conversion also needs to be seen in the language we use, so that it might prove to be effectively meaningful. Proclamation needs to create an experience where the Gospel of the Family responds to the deepest expectations of the human person: a response to each one’s dignity and complete fulfillment in reciprocity, communion and fruitfulness. This does not consist, not in merely presenting a set of rules, but in espousing values that respond to the needs of those who find themselves today even in the most secularized of countries.

I would note that this paragraph could be treated in two ways. In one way, it could be read in light of Tradition, whereby the Christian knows the true universal needs of the person to whom he preaches. The Christian is not going to “find out” what these universal needs are. Particular needs, sure; not universal needs. By this distinction I mean: I need to listen to find out that you are hungry, that you have sinned in unchastity, that you have murdered someone, that you are lonely, etc. But universal: That you are a sinner and need Christ’s redemptive live actually applied to you so that you can be justified. It is the latter that forms the most crucial context for everything the Church does. In the overall context of the Relatio and the way it is being handled, one is very concerned that the temptation will be to read these needs without the Light of Tradition. Thus, the Church will be like a counselor who can “coach” someone towards the health of their choosing (for instance, being comfortable with my choice to change gender) rather than nurse the orphan to the health that God intends.

Perhaps what follows, however, will be clear. Perhaps the Relatio will model the combined charity and clarity that it explicitly espouses. We shall see. In investigating whether this is the case or not, I would add one item of prudence: When offering an “Instruction Manual” to someone who is supposed concretely to apply it, one must above all be clear as to what it is that is to be applied. Without such clarity, one does not know what to apply. One might be encouraged to be tactful, but without anything of substance about which to be tactful.

On the Final Document of the Synod of Bishops 2014 – Part 3

 Art. 25 of the Relatio reads:

The Church looks with concern at the distrust of many young people in relation to a commitment in marriage and suffers at the haste with which many of the faithful decide to put an end to the obligation they assumed and to take on another. These lay faithful, who are members of the Church, need pastoral attention that is merciful and encouraging and that adequately distinguishes situations. Young people who are baptized should be encouraged to understand that the Sacrament of Marriage can enrich their prospects of love and that they can be sustained by the grace of Christ in the Sacrament and by the possibility of participating fully in the life of the Church.

I wish to study the clause “The Church… suffers at the haste with which” some of the faithful attempt divorce and remarriage. In all truth, it is not simply “the haste” which is at issue. It is the actual acts of seeking divorce and seeking remarriage. For once again, the valid consummated marital bond of baptized persons is utterly indissoluble. There is no “divorce” possible in all the earth, till the end of time. Thus, the Church, the Holy Bride of Christ, suffers whenever anyone in a valid consummated marriage seeks divorce. It is not simply “the hastiness,” as though if one thought long enough about adultery it would no longer be a sin.

Art. 26 considers the various situations of a man and a woman living together but not sacramentally married. It states:

When a union reaches a particular stability, legally recognized, characterized by deep affection and responsibility for children and showing an ability to overcome trials, these unions can offer occasions for guidance with an eye towards the eventual celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage.

This statement expresses the Church’s desire to see persons in irregular, but redeemable, situations enjoy the redemption of their situation, i.e., get married. This is indeed her hope. Still, I would reiterate what I said in the previous post that while this statement is true, it lacks the urgency that ought to be a pastor’s on account of the as yet unredeemed status of the couple. Tenderness—always! That goes without saying. But that is not love which compromises the Truth. In this regard, the Relatio offers a crucially important statement in the subsequent paragraph:

Conscious that the most merciful thing is to tell the truth in love, we go beyond compassion (art. 26).

And yet, once again, this statement is not given the force it needs to have, for what follows is this:

Merciful love, as it attracts and unites, transforms and elevates. It is an invitation to conversion. We understand the Lord’s attitude in the same way; he does not condemn the adulterous woman, but asks her to sin no more (Jn 8:1-11).

On the contrary! In point of fact, Jesus issues a command. He is the gentlest of Lords, yet his commandments are not “requests”. Indeed, he makes sure that whoever is in doubt about it knows that a life of obedience is indeed requisite to attain at last the Kingdom of Heaven: “Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you” (Jn 5:14).

I shall pick up Part III of the Relatio next post.

On the Final Document of the Synod of Bishops 2014 – Part 2

Arts. 6-7 note obstacles to authentic family life, such as cohabitation, secularism, children born out of wedlock, divorce, absentee Fathers, sexual exploitation of minors, exploitation of women, etc. Arts. 9-10 note the contemporary struggle to achieve emotional harmony, a desirable goal, yet warn that this goal can also be yoked to selfishness which prohibits relationality. These contemporary obstacles are significant and it is good that they are mentioned. The lack of explicit mention of some challenges is puzzling. Perhaps we can return to that lack later.

Art. 11 commences the “Looking at Christ” section – the Church’s faith. Art. 12 points to the “order of creation” as precursor to the Christian covenant. The world was made, after all, through the very Word that became flesh. Hence, there are “seeds” of God’s wisdom throughout the order of creation. This is all very promising. What does the document indicate as the content of the faith? That sacramental marriage has its roots in natural marriage. That Moses permitted divorce because of the wound of sin. That Jesus restored marriage to its original condition and even elevated it to a sacrament. That marriage is indissoluble, a communion of love and life, etc. All this is good. The articles that follow stress the love and communion of persons. Again, all good. Missing thus far is the perennial teaching of the Church on the primary end of marriage and of sexual intercourse, the procreation and education of offspring (which education has its ultimate end in the beatific vision).

Art. 23 cites from Pope Francis’s encyclical Gaudium Evangelii, art. 44:

Consequently, without detracting from the evangelical ideal, they need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively occur.

The choice of words “ideal” leaves something to be desired. The indissoluble bond of marriage, whether natural or sacramental, is not merely an “ideal” but a commandment of Christ. All valid marriages involve a bond intrinsically indissoluble. That means that no couple could ever break it, if it is valid. As the Relatio nicely states earlier: This indissolubility is a gift, not an extrinsic yoke. It is a gift, for it means that I have found a way totally to give myself to another person; and she to me. I trust in her; she trusts in me. This is our gift to each other. In this total gift, we find rest, peace. Hence, the foundations of society are made stable. If we turned indissolubility into a mere “ideal,” we would falsify revelation and render the foundations of society unstable. And indeed, society does uphold indissoluble marriage as an “ideal”. We admire it. We celebrate the old couple of 75 years. However, we do not, as a society, think it a necessity. Hence, the choice of the word “ideal” is not fortunate. The Tradition is clear: We may not interpret Jesus’ Law as a mere ideal to shoot for, like ‘Aim high, shoot low.” His law concerning, for instance, the total abolition of divorce is non-negotiable; it pertains to all marriages, sacramental or non-sacramental.

Art. 24 of the Relatio does not comfort one’s unease in this regard:

24. In considering a pastoral approach towards people who have contracted a civil marriage, who are divorced and remarried or simply living together, the Church has the responsibility of helping them understand the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives and offering them assistance so they can reach the fullness of the God’s plan for them. Looking to Christ, whose light illumines every person (cf. Jn 1:9; Gaudium et Spes, 22), the Church turns with love to those who participate in her life in an incomplete manner, recognizing that the grace of God works also in their lives by giving them the courage to do good, to care for one another in love and to be of service to the community in which they live and work.

I want to consider the line “Those who participate in her life in an incomplete manner, recognizing that the grace of God works also in their lives….” This kind of expression is common these days. It is a peculiar expression in that, while it is not false in itself, it is misleading in such a way as practically to invite a misreading that would lead to devastation. How? Let us return to our Faith, the actual Dogmas through which we rightly think on God. What does it say? That faith alone does not save us. Period. (We have to say it this point blank. I made the egregious mistake of trying to soft pedal this issue in This Rock magazine. Sadly, I misled some people. Frank and crystalline propositions are what we need, in this darkened and miserable age.) If I have faith, so as to move mountains, and even the great Hope taught to us by the Little Flower, but do not have charity, I am in mortal sin. And if I die in such a state, I go to hell. Never to get out. In a million years.

Those are the dogmatic facts. Now, does someone who has faith and hope, but not charity, “participate” to some extent in the life of the Church? Yes, to some extent. What good does it do him, if he doesn’t precisely participate in charity? None whatsoever. In fact, he shall undergo a more severe judgment. So, his partial participation in the life of the Church is only good for him in that it promises the very kind of participation he absolutely needs in order to be saved – sanctifying grace and charity! But the line in the Relatio invites one to think that those who participate to some extent the Church’s life are “to some extent saved”. That is not at all the case. They are still living in sin. Is there hope for them? Yes, their faith, and if they have it their hope, is a principle within their bosom’s to help them come to fear the Dies Irae, to see their faults as they shave their face or pluck out eyelashes and nose hairs – to help them see their faults, call on God for mercy, display the fruits of their repentance, reach towards God in faith imbued with love, cast all sins behind them, receive divine forgiveness, and so be saved.

But alas – the Dies Irae… can it be found in the liturgy anymore? Is it any longer part of the liturgical year? Anywhere? Lord, how can we believe if we do not know? How can we know if they do not preach?

Art. 24 could be of help, instead of inviting a mistake, if it explicitly stated the full truth. It would then state that such persons as participate in the Church’s life only partially are in a very grave and tenuous state. Their salvation hangs in the balance. They walk outside of the Spirit. They are members of the Church, branches on the vine of Christ, but dead branches, branches that could be cut off and cast into the unquenchable fire. Yet, the Good Shepherd makes it possible for them to quit their sins. They ought not despair. The Church has the medicine of mercy. And this medicine is not kind but limp words from helpless unfatherly males. Rather, this medicine is strong; it bites into the wounds of sin and so brings peace of heart. If the wound is cancer, the medicine is a knife. If the wound is poison the medicine is bitter. Bitter, biting in the world’s eyes. Gentlest of love from the higher perspective, the spiritual perspective. Is there yet hope? There is. It makes conversion possible.

On the Final Document of the Synod of Bishops 2014 – Part 1

I here begin a series on the final Relatio, the final document, of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family of 2014. Now, the Church has a very rich teaching on the Family already in place. Hence, whatever in this document reiterates that tradition I need not at length note, for the Church has already expressed herself clearly in such cases. Whatever I discover in the document that more precisely or with greater refinement expresses that tradition I will note. (My apology for any neglect on my part in this regard.) Whatever I discover that chafes against the tradition, I will note. (My apology for any ignorance on my part in this regard.) I will in addition make other relevant observations.

I begin with an observation about structure. In art. 3, the structure is laid out:

With these words in mind, we have gathered together the results of our reflections and our discussions in the following three parts: listening, so as to look at the reality of the family today in all its complexities, both lights and shadows; looking, our gaze is fixed on Christ to ponder, with renewed freshness and enthusiasm, what revelation, transmitted in the Church’s faith, tells us about the beauty, the role and the dignity of the family; and confronting the situation, with an eye on the Lord Jesus, to discern the ways in which the Church and society can renew their commitment to the family founded upon the marriage between a man and a woman. (art. 3)

There is nothing intrinsically problematic with this ordering. Nonetheless, noteworthy is that rather than begin with the Church’s divinely bestowed faith, the document begins with a survey of contemporary challenges. This can be good in that the document represents an act of communication, and you have to know your audience.

On the other hand, we should note a problem in contemporary theology generally. The problem is anthropocentrism: First, man and his capacities are laid out before the hearer. And, typically, this layout is unduly restrictive. Then, the faith is made to fit within the falsely laid out parameters of man’s capacities. The result is Modernism, plain and simple. We shall have to keep an eye on whether Modernism tilts the document. I am curious, already, that the First Section is Titled “Listening”. The word “obey” in the Latin is obedire, which in its roots means “to give ear” or “to listen”. Is the document “obeying” the contemporary culture? Or is it merely looking at it so as better to communicate to it? But why then choose the word “listen”? Further, why choose the word “Look” as Title for the Second Section? Indeed, we do not merely “look” at our faith, we obey God’s Word. Of course, the word “gaze” is excellent and reminds us that our faith involves Persons; centrally, the person of Jesus Christ.

In the First Section: Listening, the document identifies strengths and weaknesses regarding the family in the current situation. Among the strengths noted: “The rights of women and children” (art. 4). Among the weaknesses is “loneliness”. That is a puzzling thing to alight on as chief among weaknesses. At any rate, this loneliness is first described not simply horizontally but vertically, with reference to God. That is good, for an anthropocentric loneliness could never, in any age, be the gravest problem facing man. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee,” chanted Augustine so long ago, and so rightly. Troubling, however, is the way this vertical loneliness is described: “Arising from the absence of God in a person’s life”. Why is God absent to anyone? For one reason, and one reason alone: Sin. The “absence of God,” the “silence of God” attests – to all who have an upright conscience – to the fact of human sinfulness; indeed, it attests to actual sin. See Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman, Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, chap. 10.

Next on the list of weaknesses is material hardship. The document reads:

There is also a general feeling of powerlessness in the face of socio-cultural realities that oftentimes end in crushing families. Such is the case in increasing instances of poverty and unemployment in the workplace, which at times is a real nightmare or in overwhelming financial difficulties, which discourage the young from marrying. (art. 5)

Financial hardship is indeed a massive problem for many throughout the world. And indeed it cuts at the integrity of the family. Why? Because by nature we are oriented towards fecund relationship, one man with one woman. As fecund, the relationship has its natural crowning in the procreation and education of offspring. But grave financial hardship kills this opportunity, strangles it. One can think of two major sources of such hardship. One would be profiteering by some of those who have capital, who use their wealthy in a tyrannical way in sundry ways. We cannot deny that these wolves exist. But there is another, equal and opposite tyrant. Indeed, worse but opposite: Communism. The socialism of excessive taxation unduly burdens couples because it creates an atmosphere in which free enterprise is not encouraged and even discouraged. As a result, there are no sufficient jobs by which to support a natural family.

But what does the document suggest is a needed solution? It states:

The State has the responsibility to pass laws and create work to ensure the future of young people and help them realize their plan of forming a family. (art. 5).

Even if we reject the profiteering and libertarian reading of the economy, as all Catholics must do if they wish to adhere to the Church’s social teaching – and they must do that if they wish to be Catholic, we nonetheless can find this statement naive at best and (hopefully unwittingly) submissive to a socialist agenda at worst. The “State” doesn’t have the responsibility of creating work. The state does have the responsibility to secure that kind of economic health which best conduces to human flourishing. The statement as is would seem to call for that kind of higher taxation that has proven the stranglehold of Italy and other nations. If so, this is not medicine but the opposite. At the same time as I register this criticism, I also want to reiterate that the Social Teaching of the Church is not a blank check for profiteering and libertarian economics. It is neither. However, Pius XI made absolutely clear that the gravest problem is Socialism, while the foundational problem is liberalism (i.e. libertarian-ism). The latter lays the foundation; the former, spiting the edifices built upon that faulty foundation, brings even more serious devastation. One thing is certain, though: Just as it is not the “Church’s” responsibility to “create work” neither is it simply “The State’s”. Rather, consider government as setting the appropriate matrix within which proper human flourishing, from the ground up, from the grass-roots, can take place.