3rd Sunday of Easter
April 10, 2016
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
In today’s Gospel we read the story of how, after the Resurrection,
Jesus appeared to several of the Apostles, including Simon Peter,
when they were fishing.
The story is filled with many gems of instruction,
but two things particularly stand out today.
First of all, we see how Jesus is the one who provides food for the Apostles:
the apostles hadn’t caught a thing until they did as Jesus commanded,
and then they caught so many fish
“they ….were not able to pull it in because of the number ….”
Second, we see how Jesus commands Peter, the first Pope,
three times feed and tend “my Sheep”
—note, the sheep belong to Jesus, not to Peter.
So today we remember that it is Jesus who supplies the food for His Church,
and it is only up to Peter take the food that Christ gives him
and feed it to Jesus’ sheep.
On Friday Pope Francis,
the 265th successor to St. Peter as chief shepherd of Christ’s flock,
fed Christ’s sheep by issuing his Apostolic Exhortation on the family,
called Amoris Laetitia…
This long awaited document follows almost 3 years of efforts by some Catholics
to convince the pope to change some fundamental Church teachings
on issues like who can receive Holy Communion,
and the indissolubility of marriage, mortal sin,
and even so called “same-sex marriages.”
From most of the headlines in the media
you would think that those efforts had been at least partially successful:
especially suggesting that the pope was allowing
divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.
Of course, none of this is true.
If you read the stories somewhere in there you’ll see that
Pope Francis actually upheld all the ancient doctrines
that folks on the left wanted him to change.
It’s true, he sometimes used some confusing language,
but he kept coming back and insisting very clearly,
on upholding the doctrine.
Because Pope Francis understands, first of all,
that the Church is not his to do with as he, or anyone else, wants
—it belongs to Jesus and we are His sheep.
And because it is Christ who supplies the food His sheep eat
—both His Eucharistic body and His teaching—
it is not food the pope cooks up himself or buys from others.
And finally, Pope Francis understands
he is only one of 266 popes to sit on the chair of St. Peter,
and not only can he not override the teaching of Christ,
he cannot override the authoritative explanation of that teaching
by another earlier pope
—and so in this document, Amoris Laetitia,
he repeatedly quoted and cited the teachings of other Popes,
especially the great St. John Paul II,
the great scholar and teacher on Marriage and Family.
So that in all this Pope Francis followed the teaching of the first pope, St. Peter,
recorded in Holy Scripture, which we read in today’s 1st reading:
“We must obey God rather than men.”
So what did Pope Francis actually say?
First of all, he gave a beautiful description of married life,
the good and the bad, the troubles and the joys,
giving excellent insights and advice,
both practical and theological.
And building on that,
citing the beautiful and clear explanations
of his two immediate predecessors, Popes John Paul and Benedict,
he went on to uphold the constant teaching of the Church
on the indissolubility of marriage, that marriage is for life,
“the Church realizes that any breach of the marriage bond
‘is against the will of God.’”
Then he vigorously insisted that,
“In order to avoid all misunderstanding,
I would point out that in no way must the Church desist
from proposing the full ideal of marriage,
God’s plan in all its grandeur.”
And he condemned anything less, saying:
“A lukewarm attitude, any kind of relativism, or an undue reticence
in proposing that ideal,
would be a lack of fidelity to the Gospel.”
And He went on to add that anyone who rejects that teaching,
“can in no way presume to teach or preach to others;
this is …something which separates [them] from the community.
As for so-called “same-sex marriage,” he categorically stated:
“there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions
to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous
to God’s plan for marriage and family”.
And he condemned efforts by governments to pressure the Church in this regard.
He also defended the church’s teachings against
contraception, in vitro fertilization, and abortion.
Interestingly, he also went out of his way to specifically condemn,
“the various forms of an ideology of gender
that “denies the difference…in nature of a man and a woman”:
“….we are called to protect our humanity,
….accepting it and respecting it as it was created.
And despite all the hype and expectation he made no mention
of “changing” the Church’s constant practice of not allowing
divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion.
By the way, for the sake of clarity, by “divorced and remarried Catholics”
Francis means only those who do not have a Church annulment,
so that although divorced in the eyes of civil law
they are still married to their first spouse in the eyes of God.
And so, since “We must obey God rather than men,”
when they try to remarry they commit the sin of adultery
as Jesus insists in Matthew 19.
If you read the articles in the media carefully they eventually admit
these unambiguous teachings are in the document.
Even so, they still insist on clinging to other aspects of the document
as if they override all this.
For example, they point to his clear emphasis on mercy,
but they ignore that he clarifies,
“mercy does not exclude justice and truth”
And they point out that he promotes greater efforts
to include the divorced and remarried in the life of the Church,
but they ignore that he insists that that inclusion, as he says:
“avoiding any occasion of scandal.”
Maybe they don’t know that by “scandal”
Pope Francis means any action that might confuse the faithful
to think that what is truly sinful is okay or not so bad,
for example, dads don’t curse in front of their kids
because the kids will think it’s okay—and it’s not!
This risk of scandal is one of the primary reasons
divorced and remarried Catholics can’t receive Communion.
As John Paul II taught in his famous letter, Familiaris Consortio,
that Francis repeatedly cites and quotes:
“If [they] were admitted to the Eucharist
the faithful would be led into error and confusion
regarding the church’s teaching
about the indissolubility of marriage.”
The media also point to Pope Francis’s emphasis
on individual “conscience” and “discernment” in these cases,
as if people can discern their way around mortal sins.
But they ignore that he also clarifies:
“discernment can never prescind from
the Gospel demands of truth and charity,
as proposed by the Church”
saying that it must “necessarily” be governed by,
“love for the Church and her teaching,
…and a desire to make a more perfect response to it.”
The problem is, that sometimes Pope Francis says confusing things.
We know this, and he admits it.
Sometimes he seems to contradict what he said just a few sentences before,
or even contradict the words of Jesus himself.
One glaring example of this in this document is when he says,
“No one can be condemned forever,
because that is not the logic of the Gospel!”
Now, that seems to be clearly contrary to the very words of the Gospel,
where Jesus repeatedly calls Hell: “the eternal fire.”
But if you go back just one paragraph in the document,
we see that Francis is saying that in this life the Church
doesn’t condemn anyone to hell,
but wants, and tries, to grant them forgiveness.
So we have to read him in context—which so many people aren’t doing.
One of the most confusing statements in the document
is in a footnote that some say implies that in some circumstances
divorced and remarried Catholics might receive the sacraments.
But it’s only in a footnote, which is very ambiguous,
and seems contrary to everything else in the document,
including the multiple citations from John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio,
which definitely rejected that suggestion.
Even more pointedly they ignore that just a few paragraphs earlier
another footnote cites another key document
issued under John Paul II that repeated this teaching.
The bottom line is, Amoris Laetitia is very clear on the important issues,
but people will be confused by some of the less clear statements,
unless they put them into the context of the whole document,
and in the context of the constant teaching of the Church.
Pope Francis clearly insists he is upholding, not changing doctrine.
And besides, he cannot change what Jesus gave him
and what his predecessors as Pope have insisted on.
When I was 27, 4 years before I entered seminary,
I went to see Pope John Paul when he came to visit my home town of San Antonio.
It was a huge turning point for me:
it led me to study the writings of John Paul II,
which helped me to grasp the beauty of Catholic doctrine;
or as John Paul would later call it: “The Splendor of the Truth.”
And as I was doing this, I discovered the writings of
John Paul’s great collaborator, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,
who later became Pope Benedict XVI,
which helped me to understand things even more clearly,
through his systematic and reasoned approach.
These two men were undoubtedly among the most brilliant and best teachers
to ever sit on the chair of St. Peter
—and we had them together and then back to back for 37 years.
And now Pope Francis comes along.
He is not really a teacher; and not particularly brilliant.
But he is very smart, and a holy man who loves Jesus and His flock.
And he doesn’t so much emphasize the beauty or the clarity of the truth
–but he repeatedly points to John Paul II and Benedict XVI for that.
And then he emphasizes mercy for the sheep.
This is not a contradiction. It’s a complementarity.
But in the process he can be a little confusing.
Listen, I loved John Paul and Benedict deeply, they were my teachers,
but John Paul could be sometimes too philosophical and poetic,
and Benedict XVI, was sometimes too humble and lacked boldness.
And sometimes Francis lacks clarity.
Except when he doesn’t—like in this document, Amoris Laetitia,
where he clearly upholds the constant and ancient teaching
of Jesus and His Church on marriage and family,
and on sin and the sacraments.
Now, having received the food that is the word of God,
and as we receive the food that is the true Body
of our crucified and Risen Lord,
let us draw close in faith and sacrament to him.
And in let us pray to Him for all Christians,
that they may not be misled by false explanations
of Church teaching.
Let us pray for all the married couples who strive every day
to experience the beauty of marriage
by living according to the teaching of Christ and His Church.
And let us pray especially for all those couples who are truly seeking Christ
but find themselves in relationships that are not true marriages;
let us pray that by the mercy of Christ, and with our fraternal support,
they may have the courage and faith to conform their lives to God’s will.
And finally, let us pray for our Holy Father, Pope Francis,
and for all the cardinals, bishops and priests of the Church,
that they may always remember the sheep belong to Christ,
and that He alone supplies their food
—in the Eucharist and His Word.
And that, as the first pope definitely taught:
“we must obey God rather than men.”