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.