When I subtitled my summary of Amoris Laetitia on the day it came out “About Every Family, Not Just Divorced and Civilly Remarried,” I knew the Communion issue was going to be the news of the day, but I didn’t expect it to still be an issue in 2017.
I waited for a resource that would help people grasp the other beautiful aspects of the document. I finally found my answer.
Three professors from the John Paul II Institute in Rome have produced a handbook explaining how to apply Amoris Laetitia, which was just published in English.
Accompanying, Discerning, Integrating: A Handbook for the Pastoral Care of the Family According to Amoris Laetitia is by Father Jose Granados, Dr. Stephan Kampowski, and Father Juan Jose Perez-Soba.
They mention the Communion issue, as I noted previously when the Spanish edition was released, but they dedicate less than 10 percent of the book to that issue. Their outline is instead based on the three words of the title: Accompanying, Discerning, Integrating. I will summarize how they examine each of these.
Accompaniment is never strictly defined by them, but throughout this section they give several key characteristics.
Accompaniment begins with understanding the law as “the truth of a path” that is built inside the person rather than around abstract rules outside the person. This follows the Catholic Natural Law tradition of seeing law as an internal gift, not something imposed from outside. This understanding leads us to walking along that path with people, helping them to understand the right path.
Nonetheless, they note strongly that there is an error “in adapting the imperative demand of the law to subjective capacities of individual persons, which is something which must never be done. It is tantamount to saying that God’s law is too rigid for you and that, therefore, another law must be promulgated that is valid in your situation.” (19) Christian accompaniment is not just about walking the path with another, but also in showing them the right path to walk.
For them, accompaniment is a constant presence in people’s lives, not just an occasional occurrence to pique their consciences. “The pope is well aware of the fact that, on this point, we have adopted an inadequate idea of accompaniment.” (64)
They specifically mention having older couples accompany younger couples. The presence of one accompanying should not forget morality, but use it to guide them in the right direction more than to judge people.
Right after this, they suggest moments for accompaniment: “Amoris Laetitia therefore proposes that accompaniment should occur in what are natural family events by their nature.” (64)
In this accompaniment, we need to have the goal on the horizon of fully integrating these people into the Church’s life but the exact path and the next step are not predetermined.
Their idea of accompaniment is simply an application of an old teaching adage to marriage and family life. “If you want to teach Johnny math, you have to know Johnny, not just math.”
Likewise, Pope Francis is proposing pastoral practices around marriage focusing on knowing the person rather than focusing on knowing Church dogma.
Even though the logical next step is discernment, they take up integration second in the book because it’s easier to figure out the right path if you know the goal.
If you have ever been hiking in the mountains, you realize there are many paths, and none of them are always the wrong path; but if your goal is to climb this mountain, then many of them are the wrong path.
They remind us that integration is a sacramental and not just a social reality: “It is necessary to be cautious not to confuse the integration that Amoris Laetitia speaks about, which consists in taking part in the mystery of communion, with a mere social inclusion.” (64)
At this point, the three professors remind us that to receive absolution, one has to have a firm intention not to commit any more mortal sins. Nonetheless, they emphasize how the sacrament of confession can be helpful for people who can’t be absolved, due to both the catharsis of admitting your sins to another and the advice a caring priest might give.
On the sacraments, they uphold the Church’s perennial teaching but emphasize what can help those in tough situations more than the past as I summarized previously.
The openness of conscience a person must display for sacramental reconciliation gives the Church a beautiful opportunity to enlighten people’s consciences that should never be ignored or skipped. A priest cannot let someone with ignorance leave confession as ignorant as they entered.
In pointing out the need to withhold Communion in certain cases, they note the positives often missed in this debate. It is medicinal for the individual as it reminds them of the problem with their visible relationships and calls them to conversion.
It teaches their kids about true faith in Eucharist rather than haphazard reception. And reminds those in the community of the value of saving their marriages rather than abandoning their spouses.
Finally, the authors move to discernment and immediately refer back to Familiaris Consortio 84, on divorced and remarried persons. They quote “Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations,” as a basis for discernment.
Discerning if Communion should be withheld is not a determination of mortal sin, but a termination of publicly living in discord with church teaching.
Thus, when the pope talks about discerning community he is not talking about discerning the state of someone’s soul. Anyone with an unconfessed mortal sin should refrain from communion, but communion is only withheld where someone publicly lives against Church teaching.
When marriage ministry is reduced to the question of communion for the divorced and remarried, we turned a deep theological and moral issue into a superficial legal one.
In fact, we undersell Christians’ moral strength when we offer Communion without conversion. “Adapting the moral law to what we consider to be our abilities is not pastoral action. It’s a legal action aimed at making pastoral action superfluous.” (131)
The object of discernment is about how fast to go along the path and what route to take. We can’t discern what is evil. Francis reiterates this in #300 of Amoris Laetitia: “Discernment can never prescind from the Gospel demands as proposed by the Church.”
Overall, discernment should help find ways to live spousal fidelity and not ways to be excused from the Church’s moral law.
Thus this excellent little book brings the teachings of Francis in Amoris Laetitia, especially chapter 8, to practical application. I recommend it.