How marriage is a “one flesh” union

In my last post, I said that husband and wife are “one flesh, one organism, biologically related.”  This claim is at the heart of the Church’s opposition to governmental recognition of same-sex unions, but it is hard to understand.  How are the two “one flesh” when one of them goes to the office and the other to the grocery store at the same time?  How are the two biologically related when they are not even cousins?  How are they “one organism” when one can die without the other?

To break into the problem, we have to look at how humanity and biology are related in general.  Human beings are rational, that is, they have a spiritual dimension that allows them to see the true and choose good or evil.  And yet human beings are at the same time bodily and biological, sharing common ground with animals and even with plants and micro-organisms.  We tend to think of these two dimensions as glued together somewhat awkwardly, with the rational part being the “real me” who tries, sometimes with more success and sometime with less, to control and direct the biological part.

But in fact our rationality shoots all through our biology and vice versa.  We share eyeballs and the neurology of vision in common with higher animals, and yet we see in a rational way:  we enjoy the structure and beauty of art in a way that animals simply do not.  We hear music in a way that animals do not.  We have desires for food and sex like animals do, and yet the goal of growth in virtue is to have these desires shot through with rationality so that we desire in a rational way.  Going the other way, our reason is helpless without imagination based on the senses, and our immaterial will needs the prodding of animal desire to prompt it into action.  We are not rational over here and biological over there:  we are rational-biological.  That’s what we mean when we say we are rational animals.

Marriage is a wonderful instance of this general fact.  Biologically, a man and a woman are each incapable of reproduction without the other, each deficient in instincts for life without the other, and each in need of the kind of emotional stimulus and support the other provides.  When a man and a woman have sexual intercourse, they share a single biological function, namely reproduction, becoming in a way one organism.  This establishes an ongoing relationship in which their many other levels of complementarity come into play:  even after the child is conceived and born, the man and the woman continue to play complementary roles in a single action, both the action of completing what they have begun by getting the baby to adulthood and the simple action of living their everyday lives.

But the biological reality is shot through with rationality.  Masculinity is not just a way of begetting children but a way of being human; femininity is not just a way of performing a biological function but a way of being rational.  The joining of the two in a single biological function is at the same time a spiritual giving of each to the other expressed through the body.  The emotional needs each supplies actually tie in to the life of virtue and growth toward God.

Consequently, a union can fail to be “marriage” from either direction, by failing in rationality or failing in biology.  On the one hand, even sexual intercourse does not bring about a marriage if the man and the woman do not will that it should:  rape lacks the consent of one party entirely, and shacking up lacks the seriousness of consent demanded by the occasion.  To be entirely clear:  rape and fornication and adultery are all unnatural because the rational part is missing.  Human beings are both rational and biological by nature, and a union that lacks the rational side falls short of the natural even if the correct body parts do all the right things.

On the other hand, the most intense will to union does not bring about a human marriage without that sharing of a single biological function in the reproductive act.  Same-sex activities in bed, heterosexual activities that don’t involve actual union, and all that kind of thing are also unnatural because they lack one side of the human rational-biological unity.

All of this should, I hope, clarify the Church’s response to the standard objection about heterosexual couples who cannot conceive children.  Since their sexual activities are infertile, how are they different from a same-sex couple in bed?  Simply put, the infertile heterosexual couple does not separate the rational and the bodily.  They consent to their union as rational beings, and they share a single organic function as bodily beings; they are united in soul and body.  The fact that their shared organic function is defective does not hinder their sharing it and so becoming one body:  it just means that their one flesh is defective in some way that prevents offspring.

Here’s a far-out analogy.  Suppose men and women were made each with one leg, and suppose that in marriage they became “one flesh” in such a way that each supplied a leg for the other so they could walk.  Now suppose that one of them has a bad ankle, and he limps.  This doesn’t mean that they don’t walk together as one, but just that they limp when they do.

Share Button

Is there any such thing as “natural” marriage?

Catholic response to the recent SCOTUS decision has been varied.  Many who have been in the trenches for years were disheartened; some priests have come out in favor of it; one friend of mine suggested a “Jon Duns Scotus rehabilitation project,” because the man deserves to have his name used better.  One response has been to minimize the loss:  Hey, this Supreme Court thing just has to do with civil marriages, not the sacrament of marriage, so it doesn’t touch our Catholic thing.

That last response is understandable, but wrong.  It would be a lot easier if we could write off the direction of our country as “their problem,” but the Catholic Church has always taught that there is such a thing as “natural” marriage, and that sacramental marriage is based on it.  (Aside from the obvious go-to, the Catechism, I would recommend reading the first half of Pius XI’s Casti Conubii, a marvelously clear document that has been reaffirmed by subsequent popes.)

The basic challenge is to see that there is such a thing as “natural” marriage.  Consider this analogy:  Nobody seems to doubt that parents and children are naturally related to each other.  What I mean is that no one thinks the parent-child relationship is something we just made up to suit our preferences.  The government has to be involved in the relationship, of course, providing inheritance laws and protecting a parent’s special right over the child’s education and the child’s right to support from the parent and so forth and so on, but no one takes the government’s involvement to mean that the government just fabricates this relationship for convenience.  We all see that a natural, biological fact relates parent to child and child to parent.

The reason it is particularly clear in the case of parent and child is that the child would not even exist were it not for his special relationship to a parent.  If you have these two people, you have this relationship; and if you have this relationship, you have these two people.  They aren’t separable, and so everyone can see that the relationship is no more an artificial arrangement than are the people themselves.

The Church’s teaching is that marriage is also a natural relationship, every bit as natural as the parent-child relationship.  Once a man and a woman enter into marriage, they are, so to speak, blood relations; they are one flesh, one organism, biologically related.  The government has to be involved in the relationship, of course, in order to protect the couple’s ability to live as one, to own property as one, and to inherit should one of them die, and so on, and the government has to arbitrate in cases where a marriage fails so badly that disputes arise over children and property and so on.  But the government’s involvement does not mean that the marriage relationship is just fabricated by the government for the sake of preference or convenience.

The reason it is harder to see this relation as natural is that both man and woman exist before the relationship ever begins.  Consequently, marriage can seem to be an accidental add-on, like membership at the country club or joining the Girl Scouts of America.

But in the Church’s view, something does exist as soon as the man and the woman exist, something without which the man and the woman would not exist themselves.  Men are made in a way that obviously puts them in relation to women and women are made in a way that makes them obviously related to men.  Being a man means having a certain relationship to woman, generically, and being a woman means having a certain relationship to man, generically.  A man is made incomplete without woman, and a woman is made incomplete without man, each needing the other in a way to be a complete human unit.

What happens at marriage is not that something entirely new is created, but that this man’s generic relationship to woman is narrowed down to this woman, while this woman’s generic relationship to man is specified to this man.  General complementarity becomes specific complementarity.  This man could not be completed without woman, and now he is completed by this woman; this woman could not be completed without man, and now she is completed by this man.  The structure of the relationship is already there, in masculinity and femininity, and the couple enter into that pre-existing structure by making it concrete in themselves.

That pre-existing structure is what the SCOTUS decision has denied, and yet that pre-existing structure is what Jesus took as the basis of the sacrament of marriage.  It is precisely because marriage is a certain kind of natural thing that it was able to become a certain kind of supernatural thing.

There is a lot more one could say.  The fact that marriage is natural ties in to the fact that society itself is natural, so to deny that natural marriage exists is actually to make a statement about the nature of the United States of America itself.  Ultimately, if we push far enough this direction, we may even find ourselves saying that the parent-child relationship is a matter of preference.  But for now I just want to make clear the Church’s position:  even though a man and a woman enter marriage by willing to do so, their will does not create the nature of the thing they enter.

Share Button

The objective objection

My previous Kasper post was devoted to his argument based on spiritual communion.  Because the Church has said that the divorced and remarried can make a spiritual communion at Mass, Kasper said:

For the one who receives spiritual communion is one with Jesus Christ.  How can he or she then be in contradiction to Christ’s commandment?  Why, then, can’t he or she also receive sacramental communion?

Last time I focused on the nature of a “spiritual communion”.  This time I want to look at the second half, where Kasper asks how, if these people are in union with Jesus, can they be in contradiction to Christ’s commandment?  Part of the answer is in my last post, where I pointed out that being allowed to make a spiritual communion does not imply that one is in a state of grace.  For the rest of the answer, let’s take a look at the language the Church has used on this issue.  I’ll put the key phrases in bold print.

In 1981, the bishops of the world had a synod at which they talked about the family and the question was raised:  can the divorced and remarried receive communion?  The bishops said no, they can’t, and John Paul reported on their conclusion in his post-synodal exhortation Familiaris Consortio:

However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist.

In 1994, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under Cardinal Ratzinger, was compelled to answer proposals for allowing the divorced and remarried to receive communion.  Just before quoting the Familiaris Consortio passage given above, the CDF’s letter says:  “If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Holy Communion as long as this situation persists.”

In 2007, a synod of bishops was held on the Eucharist, and again they discussed whether the divorced and remarried can receive communion, and they again said no.  Pope Benedict XVI reported their conclusion in his post-synodal exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis:

The Synod of Bishops confirmed the Church’s practice, based on Sacred Scripture (cf. Mk 10:2- 12), of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments, since their state and their condition of life objectively contradict the loving union of Christ and the Church signified and made present in the Eucharist.

There are two things to note about the Church’s choice of words.  First, the exclusion from communion is based on an objective condition, not on a subjective state of sin or grace.  The Church knows well that people who do what are objectively mortal sins are not always subjectively guilty of mortal sin.  People might not understand what they do, or they might act under some kind of partial coercion–lots of factors can affect a subjective state.  So when the Church excludes DivRem’s from communion, she is not making a blanket statement that everyone who has been divorced and remarried is in a subjective state of mortal sin.  The exclusion is based on the easily accessible and objective fact of being divorced and remarried.

Second, we have to notice that this is an objective condition, not a one-time event.  Someone could steal or murder or lie or commit some other objectively very bad deed, and yet they get up the next day and they are not stealing or murdering or lying or whatever.  It was a deed, not a condition.  But if someone went down to the parish and told them to erase his name from the registry because he had rejected the Church, that would be an ongoing condition:  he not only did something one day, but as a result he is now in a condition of exclusion from the Church and from communion.  He may not even be subjectively guilty for his actions–maybe he was badly catechized and badly treated by a priest and so on–but he still cannot receive communion because of his objective, ongoing condition.

To wrap up, we find two major holes in Kasper’s argument.  He says that spiritual communion implies being one with Jesus, which means one cannot be in opposition to his commandment.  But we find that spiritual communion does not imply being one with Jesus, and we find that being spiritually one with Jesus is compatible (in some cases) with being in a condition objectively opposed to his commandment.  Kasper has not actually addressed what the Church has said on this issue.

But he’s not done.  Stay tuned.

Share Button

Spiritual communion for the divorced and remarried

At long last, we get down to the “Kasper proposal,” which has increasingly stood out in my mind as the real gravitational center of this entire book.  Kasper opens by pointing to something the Church has already said:

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith provided a guideline already in 1994 when it declared—and Benedict XVI reiterated it at the World Meeting of Families in Milan in 2012—that the divorced and remarried admittedly cannot receive sacramental communion, but can indeed receive spiritual communion.

The CDF document mentioned here was a letter addressing an earlier incarnation of the Kasper proposal and rejecting it.  We’ll return to that letter in the next post.  Kasper continues by arguing that this suggestion is not only insufficient but self-contradictory:

Many will be grateful for this statement.  But it also raises questions.  For the one who receives spiritual communion is one with Jesus Christ.  How can he or she then be in contradiction to Christ’s commandment?  Why, then, can’t he or she also receive sacramental communion?

Within the same paragraph Kasper quickly runs on to new arguments, but let’s stop and consider this first salvo sentence by sentence.  His first claim is that “the one who receives spiritual communion is one with Jesus Christ.”  Stated this way, without qualification, his claim is false.

The reason has to do with what “spiritual communion” means.  A “spiritual communion” is a serious and formal desire to receive the sacrament of communion when sacramental reception is unavailable or illicit.  If the one person making this act of desire is rightly disposed, God can grant the effects of the sacrament.  It is like a “baptism by desire,” only with the Eucharist.

If someone in mortal sin were to make a formal act of desire for the Eucharist, he would not receive the effects of the sacrament any more than someone in mortal sin receiving the sacrament itself would receive the effects of the sacrament.  It is simply not true that anyone who makes this act of “spiritual communion” is in union with Jesus Christ, any more than it is true that anyone who saunters through the communion line is in a spiritual union with Jesus Christ.

However, sacramental communion and spiritual communion are different in an important way:  in the sacrament of the Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus is an objective reality in the recipient, regardless of whether the one receiving the sacrament is well or badly disposed to receive it.  In spiritual communion Jesus is not present in the recipient unless the person is well disposed, and even then he is only present interiorly and invisibly.

Consequently, to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist in mortal sin is a bad thing, both because it treats Christ’s body and blood disrespectfully and because it falsely signifies to others that the believer is in spiritual union with Christ.  But making a spiritual communion while in mortal sin is a good thing:  not only is there no false outward sign of unity, but making an act of desire for the Eucharist is a good first step toward getting out of mortal sin and back into to union with Christ.  So reception of the sacrament in mortal sin makes for more sin, but spiritual communion while in mortal sin disposes one to less sin.

There we have one hole in Kasper’s argument.  Next time, we’ll look at the next sentence.

Share Button

Methinks the Cardinal doth protest too much

After a long hiatus, the blog is back. If you thought I was dead, I hope you have been praying for my soul.

Cardinal Kasper turns his attention to a second situation, namely those who really had valid, sacramental marriages and yet by some tragic circumstance their life partnership is broken and one or both have contracted a second, civil marriage. He begins by warning:

It would be mistaken to seek the resolution of the problem in a generous expansion of the annulment process. The disastrous impression would thereby be created that the Church is proceeding in a dishonest way by granting what, in reality, are divorces.

This is surely right, although I would be hard pressed to find another description of Kasper’s approach to this point as something other than a “generous expansion of the annulment process.” He has suggested that we strip away the judicial process and entrust the whole thing to an individual who knows the people well and will be sympathetic; he offers no account of how this will result in anything but more annulments.

It reminds me of Hans Urs von Balthasar, who had a habit of penning the most outrageous theological statements and then appending, “but not in a heretical sense, of course”—leaving his unhappy reader to figure it out. And I know a fellow whose trademark conversational tick is to preface all his potentially upsetting remarks by denying he means to do what he is doing: “I don’t mean this at all to criticize anyone,” but you’re all doing a lousy job; “I don’t mean this at all to disparage what was done before me,” but it nearly wrecked the place.

Already I find it hard to believe Kasper’s protestations of caution. But as we get further into his text, it will get even harder to believe in his sincerity.

Share Button

Blog delay–a reflection

Those of you who are family or friends will know why my blog has been on pause lately:  my wife gave birth to our seventh child at the end of April, and we are in the Newborn Stage.  Anyone who thinks the nuclear family works well as an independent unit should have a newborn and snap out of it.

Anyhow, I tend to blog with two hands, but at least one hand is full most of the time these days.  When I was a young parent and still in graduate school I struggled with frustration when the kids got in the way of my work:  how am I supposed to learn all this stuff and think about it if you keep talking to me?  How am I supposed to learn all this stuff and think about it if you won’t stop crying?  How am I supposed to learn all this stuff and think about it if I’m running on half a night’s sleep?

And the reality is that I didn’t learn as much stuff as some other people at my school.  But as time went by, I realized that my studies and my reflection are like a tremendous light while my family life is like a richly colored environment illuminated by the light.  I have been blessed with a lot of book learning and lot of time to think, and that blessing has lit up my family life.  The study and reflection serves my family.

It goes the other way, too.  Without my family life, my studies and my reflection would be like a tremendous light shining through empty space.  What does space look like, where there is nothing to catch and reflect the sun?  Black as night.  My family life is the heart and soul of my theological learning:  I would know almost nothing without my wife and kids.

So I’ll pick up the blog again soon, and we’ll get back to exploring the dusty corners of Cardinal Kasper’s little book.  But until then, I’ll be saving all my light for Matthew Thomas Holmes.

Share Button

Kasper on the annulment process

As Cardinal Kasper pursues the situation of re-married Catholics whose first marriages might be invalid, he asks whether we could change the way we decide questions of validity.  Noting that the decision can’t just rest on the subjective judgment of the parties concerned, he urges:

However, one can ask whether the judicial path, which is in fact not iure divino [by divine law], but has developed in the course of history, can be the only path to the resolution of the problem, or whether other, more pastoral and spiritual procedures are conceivable.

Kasper does not elaborate on what these procedures might be, but a bit further on he recalls Pope Francis’ remarks that behind every judicial proceeding there stand persons who expect justice.  He asks, rhetorically:

Therefore, can it really be that decisions are made about the weal and woe of people at a second and a third hearing only on the basis of records, that is, on the basis of paper, but without knowledge of the persons and their situation?

Kasper is surely within the bounds of propriety to ask whether we could improve our canonical proceedings.  They are not infallible or impeccable.  However, I am unclear as to what Kasper wants known about the “persons and their situation”.  A one-sentence suggestion may shed some light on what Kasper is thinking here:

Alternatively, one might imagine that the bishop could entrust this task to a priest with spiritual and pastoral experience as a penitentiary or episcopal vicar.

The direction Kasper would like to take seems to be toward a more intimate knowledge of the people and the little details of their life so that a decision could be made in light of a fuller understanding of the couple.  I see two of problems with this, one theoretical and one practical.

At the theoretical level, Kasper’s proposed direction seems to change the nature of the decision sought.  The canonical proceeding is about discerning whether a marriage is valid or not valid, that is, it’s about discovering a truth.  To discover what’s true, you want to have both sides argued carefully, which usually means in writing, and you want to limit your consideration somewhat to avoid being chasing irrelevancies.

Kasper’s proposed direction recasts the decision sought as a practical deliberation about what should be done:  the couple’s present situation does not change the truth of whether they are married, but it does change what they should do in light of that truth.  If the Church’s effort is not to discover the truth about a sacrament but to decide what to do with people then Kasper’s proposal makes sense:  if a judge is not only trying to decide guilt or innocence but also trying to decide on a sentence for the condemned, then knowing their present situation and the details of their life may be relevant.  However, this recasting of the nature of the process seems off to me:  the Church is not in fact trying to decide what to do with people, or “sentence” them to this or that.  She’s just trying to find out what is the truth about a sacrament.

At the practical level, I think Kasper’s proposed direction shows a one-sided train of thought.  If we only think about a spouse who fell into a pseudo-marriage that turned abusive, but who later found happiness in a second relationship and just needs release from the fictitious first marriage—in these situations, a series of intimate conversations leading to mercy sounds great.  But when we consider perhaps a spouse who found meaning in life through her marriage, through her beloved, and now is unwilling to say to the world that what they had together was only a pretense—in this case, reducing the case to her husband’s present misery seems unjust.  It needs a proceeding, a real investigation.  Kasper presents his suggestions all from the side of those who want an annulment and never from the side of those who don’t want their marriage annulled.

And his one specific suggestion sounds like a disaster to me.  When stakes and emotions are high, what you want to do is to have transparency and objective policies, not to put some individual judge on the spot for making people miserable or happy.  The pressures on the judge become unbearable, and it becomes too likely that the party with the most winning personality will prevail.  I’ve been in those situations.  To riff on Kasper’s complaint, can it really be that decisions will be made about the weal and woe of people only on the basis of one priest’s unmonitored judgment?

Stepping back from the details, I am troubled to see how Kasper wants to tip the annulment process toward a deliberation about what to do instead of a deliberation about what is true.  It plants a seed of doubt in my mind about whether Kasper truly believes that marriage is indissoluble.

Share Button

Kasper on the presumptio iuris

Cardinal Kasper takes up the question of divorced and remarried Catholics under two headings:  (1) those whose first marriages are actually invalid and (2) those whose first marriages are actually valid.  For both headings he notes that “solutions are already mentioned in the official documents” of the Church, but he wants to inquire about new directions.  Over the next few posts, I’ll crawl through his text more or less paragraph by paragraph.

First he considers those who are subjectively convinced that their first marriage was invalid.  Noting that people have to understand certain things in order to give a valid consent to marriage, he asks:

But can we, in the present situation, presuppose without further ado that the engaged couple shares the belief in the mystery that is signified by the sacrament and that they really understand and affirm the canonical conditions for the validity of their marriage?  Is not the praesumptio iuris [presumption of validity], from which canon law proceeds, often a fictio iuris [legal fiction]?

He may be right about the situation we face.  Our culture militates strongly against understanding marriage as a lifelong commitment for the sake of children, and it would not surprise me a bit to find that most Catholics entering marriage are basically on track with the surrounding culture.

But what argument does he make from that premise?  It’s hard to tell what he means to assert, because the whole thing is structured as a vague rhetorical question.  It looks as though he is arguing that we should change the presumption on which canon law proceeds.  In an annulment case, the marriage is presumed valid until proven otherwise; Kasper seems to be saying marriage is in such a bad state these days that it’s just unrealistic to start by presuming that a marriage is valid, as though that were the typical situation we will see.

Maybe that’s not what he’s saying.  But if that is what he’s saying, then I think he’s misunderstanding or misrepresenting what a “presumption” means in law.  A “presumption” in law is not based on the statistical likelihood of something being true but on a decision we make about what kind of mistakes our legal system should favor.  That is to say, every legal system run by human beings is going to make mistakes, so we have to decide which direction we want the mistakes to go.

For example, in the American legal system the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.  We don’t make this presumption because we think or know that a majority of defendants are innocent.  We know that our legal system will tilt either toward letting guilty people go free or toward punishing innocent people, both of which are bad, and on the whole we would rather let guilty people go free than punish innocent people.  We would rather fail to impose justice on some people than impose injustice on others.  So we put the burden of proof on the accuser rather than on the defendant.

Similarly, when a canon law process begins by presuming that a marriage is valid until proven otherwise, this is not based on the statistical likelihood that a given marriage is valid.  We make a decision:  granted that our canon law courts will make mistakes, would we rather the mistakes go toward insisting a marriage is valid when it isn’t or toward declaring that marriage doesn’t exist when it actually does?  Would we rather (a) risk making someone in a miserable situation bear the miserable situation unnecessarily, or would we rather (b) risk telling someone it’s OK to have sexual relations with a person who is not really that person’s spouse?  Neither option is good, but we can’t pretend that we won’t make mistakes, so we have to think this through.  The presumption in favor of validity is one way of tilting toward (a).

My point in this post is not to settle which option we should favor, but just to point out what’s really going on beneath Kasper’s argument.  It doesn’t make sense to change the presumption of validity as an concession to reality, as though the presumption were a statement about probability.  The real issue is this:  should we sometimes mistakenly make people suffer, or should we sometimes mistakenly encourage people toward objectively wrong actions?

Stepping back from details, I am puzzled by the fact that Kasper never offers an extended reflection on how to prepare people for marriage.  If the big crisis is that most Catholics entering marriage don’t have sufficient comprehension of what they are doing to contract a valid marriage, shouldn’t we brainstorm how to change that?  Or does saying with Pope Francis that the Church is “a field hospital after battle” mean we have to wait for people to get hurt before we go to work?  Surely not, but I don’t think I’m tracking how Kasper decided what to write about.

Share Button

Kasper chapter 5: Setting the stage

As Cardinal Kasper begins his chapter on the problem of the divorced and remarried, he expresses an intention of playing by the rules:

What can the Church do in such situations?  It cannot propose a solution apart from or contrary to Jesus’ words.  The indissolubility of a sacramental marriage and the impossibility of contracting a second sacramental marriage during the lifetime of the other partner is a binding part of the Church’s faith, which one cannot repeal or water down by appealing to a superficially understood and cheapened sense of mercy.

Pointing to the Church’s development of doctrine regarding religious freedom as an example of how she can move forward without contradicting what came before, he asks:

Is not a further development possible with regard to our issue too—a development that does not repeal the binding faith tradition, but carries forward and deepens more recent traditions?

For these statements, I am grateful.  Many people in our day enter the arena with an explicit hermeneutic of rupture that makes conversation nearly impossible.  Kasper may in fact embrace what amounts to a rupture with the past, but at least one can point to these words of his and make a case.

Since his book was meant to prepare the way for the bishops’ synod on marriage, one other “rule” seems to me implicit in his task:  he should be speaking to bishops.  That is to say, this should not be a book directed at the masses, at the laity and at various constituencies, but at his fellow bishops and cardinals.  His fellow bishops are intelligent and well-read men, theologically trained, but Kasper has written lots of academic pieces in the past and certainly has the chops to do something at a high level.

From that point of view, I would have to criticize the book as it has gone to this point.  Its complexity is at about the level of the Catechism, often following the Catechism in its points and how it develops them.  I would have expected a somewhat higher level of discourse.  Not a disaster, but it causes me to wonder what audience is foremost in his mind.

Lastly, just before we get into the nitty-gritty, I would have to add that chapter 5 sticks out a bit from the rest of the book.  He began the book by saying he did not want to deal with the various well-known problems that make the news but rather to present the “gospel of the family,” the “good news,” and he pursued this intention by commenting on Scripture.  Along the way he mentioned a few aspects of the current crisis, especially the disintegration of the family and the general loss of faith among Catholics, but he did not give extended attention to any one issue.

Until now.  In a book that doesn’t set out to treat deeply of any one problem, here we have a chapter that’s all about one problem and how Kasper proposes to fix it.  It just stands out from the design of the whole book in an awkward way, and it raises questions for me:

Why not talk about all those Catholics who are practicing contraception and receiving the Eucharist in sin?  According to current discipline, they shouldn’t receive communion any more than the divorced and remarried.  Is it because preachers aren’t preaching about it and the faithful aren’t worked up about it, so it somehow isn’t a problem?

Why not focus on that amazing loss of faith he describes and talk and length about how to remedy that?  Isn’t that the root issue?

I don’t mean to imply that these are whopper-stopper, unanswerable questions.  I just mean to highlight that the design of the book comes across in some ways as a long and quickly-written introduction to chapter 5 on the divorced and remarried.  This chapter is where he’s really talking to his fellow bishops.

Share Button

Not all can receive it: Kasper mystery solved

In my last post, I noted that Kasper departs from the usual Catholic interpretation of Matthew 19:11 in taking Jesus’ words as referring to marriage, as though Jesus were saying that the truth about marriage is something that not all can “receive” but only those to whom it is given.  And I complained that Kasper didn’t even signal his departure.

In context, of course, Kasper says nothing bad.  He takes it in a great direction.  I only noticed it because I’ve heard where this document is leading, namely to a recommendation of relaxing discipline regarding divorce and remarriage.

But today, I figured out both why Kasper took that verse that way and why he felt no need to signal that he was doing something unusual:  he’s following the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1615.  The Catechism not only cites the same verse the same way, but develops its meaning exactly as Kasper does:

This unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond may have left some perplexed and could seem to be a demand impossible to realize. However, Jesus has not placed on spouses a burden impossible to bear, or too heavy – heavier than the Law of Moses. (Mark 8:34 / Matt 11:29-30) By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, he himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to “receive” the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ. (Matt 19:11) This grace of Christian marriage is a fruit of Christ’s cross, the source of all Christian life.

So I would say:  no cause for concern here.  Kasper isn’t trying to set up something with a sneaky interpretive maneuver.

Share Button