Monday, June 20, 2016

Pope Francis speaks on marriage

I'm somewhat confused.  People who hate Pope Francis, like people who all but worship the man even if they deny it, will be of no value.  Much of what he says is rooted in his own experiences in Latin America.  As such, they don't apply here in my cultural context.  Some of what he seems to be saying is that people are living  in what used to be called sin, not because they are living in sin, but because they are ignorant of the Sacrament of Marriage.  As such, he continues, people live in all ways outside of the Church's understanding of a Sacramental Marriage even if they think they aren't.  I'll leave others to hammer out the implication of most marriages being invalid.

Here's the part that caught my eye, and it could be a matter of translation, but he seems to be saying something about cohabitation and civil marriages that I can't grasp.  According to the article, he first says:
"They prefer to cohabitate, and this is a challenge, a task.  Not to ask 'why don't you marry?'  No, to accompany, to wait, and to help them to mature, help fidelity to mature."
If they weren't confused about the Sacrament of Marriage before that sentence, they could be forgiven for being confused now.  I know I am.  Is he saying that it doesn't matter if they are married as long as we foster fidelity?  I'll assume he means that we need to help them to mature, and their fidelity to mature, meaning that it finally turns into marriage of a Sacramental nature.

He then goes on:
He said that in Argentina's northeast countryside, couples have a child and live together. They have a civil wedding when the child goes to school, and when they become grandparents they "get married religiously."  
OK, this is paraphrasing what Pope Francis says.  Note the only quotes are at the end.  But again, it is a strong reference steeped heavily in his own cultural context.  It doesn't really apply to the US, or from what I know, most European Catholic countries, though I could be wrong about the latter.  But this section is important, because it sets up the most confusing part of the article:

"It's a superstition, because marriage frightens the husband.  It's a superstition we have to overcome," the Pope said.  "I've seen a lot of fidelity in these cohabitation, and I am sure that this is a real marriage, they have the grace of a real marriage because of their fidelity, but there are local superstitions, etc." 

OK.  First, note this is now a quote.  Translated to be sure, but quote nonetheless.  I have no clue what to do with the part about the it being a superstition because of the husband's fear, so we'll move on to the second part.  There are different ways to read this, if you get right down to it.  And in some ways, that is the biggest problem with Pope Francis.  While sometimes he leaves no room for debate, at other times we're left trying to scramble for an authoritative interpretation of what he is talking about.

In this, he almost seems to be saying that people who are cohabiting outside of marriage, but who have a strong bond of 'fidelity', are for all intents and purposes married sacramentally due to their strong fidelity.  Since that just seems wrong, we'll have to think of another way to read it.

Another way is that he is talking about these older grandparents who, by now, have become married 'religiously.'  Theirs is a real marriage because of their fidelity.  The problem here is that he says 'I'm sure that this is a real marriage.'  The only thing I can think of is that he is contrasting this 'real marriage' to the bulk of marriages today that he has declared invalid.  For these folks, who started out living together, jumped through a secularized civil ceremony, and only later in life got married, a true religious marriage is the result.  As opposed to the bulk of the rest of us who, I guess, waited, got married in Church, and for some reason are part of a large group of invalid marriages.

The second is better, because it doesn't sound like Pope Francis is tossing out Catholic teaching and saying marriage doesn't matter, just the feelings and emotional bonding.  The second suggests Pope Francis is saying that folks who go through life outside of the classic preference for waiting until marriage to consummate the relationship might end up in a better, more sacramental marriage than the folks who followed the numbers.  I guess.

Those are the only two ways I can read this.  Perhaps there's another.  But somehow it seems as though he is saying that the traditional understanding of wait until marriage, get married, have sex, have kids, stay married doesn't have to be the only way.  Either that or he's saying you don't even have to be married.  I'll defer to the first option.  And yet, I'm not sure that is much better.  It seems, once again, a concession to the modern, post-Christian progressive culture.  Technically the Sacrament of Marriage is the goal, but it turns out the traditional way to get there is now up for grabs, one way or another.  If there are other interpretations, I'm all ears.


  1. I understand when those who are not of a strong religious affiliation succumb to the world. I get that. Left to ourselves, we tend to do things that please us short-term and harm us long-term.

    What I have difficulty wrapping my brain around is when people who have, or claim to have, a religious "affiliation," are seemingly more influenced by the world around them, their personal desires, passions, wishes, hopes, expectations, capabilities, needs, than they are by pursuit of a life in Christ. Does being a Christian today mean virtually nothing other than merely confirming ourselves?

    Certainly one explanation is that more and more people, even religious people, have become increasingly influenced by the secular culture rather than by their own faith tradition. Many Christians have become, to pervert the word, better "evangelized" by the secular culture than they have been by their own faith tradition.

    How to recover? We need to immerse ourselves in Sacred Scripture, through the Church, by reading it and studying it, both as individuals and within groups. Too much of modern theology, and biblical scholarship for that matter, has abandoned the text, falsely examining what it means to be a Christian absent the guidance and wisdom present in the text. This has had, and is continuing to have, disastrous consequences.

    There, I feel better now ;)

  2. Well said. I think you're right. I think the Faith has been fighting a 'defensive' battle for years, and today, it's the Secular that does the converting. I'm just not sure all of our reactions to this are the best. Certainly what Pope Francis said, at least to me, seems confusing at best. And I don't think this, or he, is unique. I think the Faith across the board is stumbling about, trying to figure what to do, with all manner of radical responses, and so few that seem to hit the nail on the head. Your last paragraph, of course, is an excellent place to start.

  3. Ok, here is my take. A couple who after years cohabitation, where there has been faithfulness, that through accompaniment by the church has been lead to matrimony, is more likely to end up validly married than a young couple that gets married right away that has a deficient understanding of marriage. Of course your guess is as good as mine.

  4. That might be, though again I'm still wondering how that fits in the overall history of how the Church understood such things. Perhaps it's right in line. But I think the 'your guess is as good as mine' is the bigger problem. Ours is the last period in history where leaving things open to interpretation is a good thing.

  5. The whole thing is very confusing. I feel like if you took one of the quotes, didn't say who said it, and read it to any practicing Catholic, young or old, they'd say, "That's not right." I think a lot of practicing Catholics are disappointed because we're supposed to be striving to "be perfect like My Father in Heaven is perfect," but this pope isn't on that page at all. He's like, "Eh... whatever... do your best." But if people are truly honest with themselves, they know that their "personal bests" are pretty lazy and self-centered. As I tell my kids everyday before anything they do, "Do better than your best." At least it gives them something to strive for.

  6. Hi Missy, I can sympathize with the Pope to an extent. He does speak from a pastor's heart. As a former pastor myself (a much smaller flock), I know it's easier to insist we stand on high and cast divine lightening down on all who fail to live up to perfection than it is wrestle with someone in the trenches of their lived experiences. The trick was, however, to make sure at no point did you give the individuals you were counseling an 'out'. And that's where I think Pope Francis' biggest problem lies. This is an age where truth and facts are out the window. And it's not just rascally bloggers or talk radio. Look at the Church and its leadership. Look at our media, our political leaders. A self-proclaimed Muslim goes into a bar and tells us he's going to kill everyone because of his devotion to Islam and ISIS, and we conclude there is no way to know his motive? A world willing to accept that is one you must be careful with when talking about those who fail to live up to perfection (which is all of us). Mercy is fine, but it can quickly slide into license and rationalization.


Let me know your thoughts