The Personalist Project

This is not a post about the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. You can learn about what’s actually going on there elsewhere. (Here’s Katie on Pope Francis’ opening remarks and here's the document that's causing today's uproar).

No, this post is about the caricature of the Synod, which you can all too easily bump into--by reading only headlines, or reading entire articles uncritically, or reading them critically but failing to consider the source.


The caricature is this:

The centerpiece of the Synod is the fate of divorced and remarried Catholics, and the sole question at issue is: Justice or mercy? Will the Catholic Church finally relinquish its fixation on rules and regulations and come out for compassion? Will Pope Francis triumph over the forces of cruelty and pickiness?

Of course, as Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto points out, the is a synod on the family, not only this one hot-button aspect of it, despite all the salivating for a sound-bite. 


And of course it doesn’t do justice to the divorce-and-remarriage question to package is as a “justice vs. mercy” dilemma.  As Jen Fitz puts it,

There’s nothing Satan likes more than a good false dichotomy, because if you can cut the human heart in two, the rest is pancakes.  So we’re being fed the Justice vs. Mercy wars, which is the euphemism for We Can Be Mean or We Can Lie About Stuff, Pick One.

Are those the only choices?  Must we choose between giving the great unwashed the cold shoulder of disdain and ostracism, or alternately patting everyone on the back and saying, “There, there, ‘mortal sin’ is such a harsh word, isn’t it?  Here, have a cookie.”


No.  These are not the only choices.

Jen goes on to make a point that Katie made last month: it’s not genuine “mercy” to try to shield someone from the truth

I am seeing more and more how the human idea of mercy is protection from truth. True mercy [divine mercy] is an encounter with Truth—which is extremely painful.

Jen agrees:

Mercy never comes in the form of a lie.  Mercy brings the truth, the whole tragic, hopeful, glorious truth.  It’s not mercy to tell you that your sins aren’t sins.  It’s mercy to tell you that yes, your sins are killing you and taking others down in the process, but look: There is hope.  Divine hope.  Eternal hope.  You don’t have to be a slave to this. You don’t have to be condemned.

The whole post is worthwhile, and very personalist-friendly. She says, for example,

The grace of God is not a factory assembly line, because your soul is not a widget.  


The tools of your conversion — converting you from ‘miserable wretch’ to ‘eternally fulfilled’ — aren’t meant to be applied by a technician following standard operating procedures.  They are used by the divine Craftsman, a tap here, a touch there, another dab of that there, perfecting you bit by bit until you are finished.


Let’s not dismiss mercy for people who love the Church but are up against some impediment that bars them from Communion. Much can be done in the way of better marriage preparation, better post-wedding mentoring, better annulment procedures, better explanations of what is and isn’t an impediment. (For example, we could refute the widespread misconception that everyone who’s civilly divorced is barred from Communion.)

But what about mercy for those who suffer from the way the culture trivializes divorce? What about mercy for those divorced against their will? Or for the children of divorce?

And what about justice for those whose spouse vowed to stay and then changed his or her mind? Or for those who are prevented from taking seriously the precarious state of their eternal welfare by a culture that’s over-anxious to talk about something—anything!—else?

People of good will (and sound intellect) disagree about both the Vatican's "messaging" and the (working) documents' content. That's fine. But let's not content ourselves with second-hand indignation or second-hand glee. 


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