"The Church that Engages in Sociology"

Reflection on Cardinal Kasper’s Recent Speech on Marriage and the Family by Close Friend of Blessed John Paul II

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The secularization proper to post-modernity has also burst into the Church. It disturbs the minds and hearts of the faithful with insidious questions, among which this one prevails today: Is it true that God said what the faith of the Church attributes to Him on marriage and the family? The question: “Is it true that God said: You must not eat ….?” (Genesis 3:1-3), addressed at that time by the Tempter to man and woman causing the primordial fall.

At bottom, the doubt in which questions of this nature are born expresses the denial of truth and, consequently, of man’s dignity. It eliminates from man’s visual field the principles of his being person. The truth of man, in fact, is revealed to him in another man, namely, in communion with him. Precisely because of this, the denial of the truth of the person must strike first of all friendships, marriage and the family in which this person lives. Forged words fetter the reality to the things that are foreign to it. It is what is happening today to the reality of marriage and the family. Post-modernity seeks to convince man and woman that it is licit to eat the fruit of the tree that grows in the garden of their relationship, shaped by the sexual difference whose invisible light indicates to them the way to take to truth.

In fact this light is the obstacle to a will that wishes to dominate all the kingdoms of the world. Being unable to strike the light itself, this will does everything possible to exile man and woman from this light and, consequently, to make them fall into the forgetfulness of the truth. So it’s no wonder that the Church is an enemy to this will, a primordial enemy one can say. Giving into to it would constitute a defeat of the human person.

Aware of the primordial fall of man and of his exile, with the voice of Paul VI, of John Paul II and of Benedict XVI, the Church reawakened and continues to reawaken in men the memory of that one tree whose light makes one see the truth of the whole garden. I think that Pope Francis convoked the Synod of Bishops also for this reason. There is, in fact, an urgent need to help Christians to see better the beautiful and sacred truth of the Sacrament that unites man and woman “in one flesh.” How can one come to their aid? The answer was given by Christ.

One day Christ asked his disciples two questions. The first was this: “Who do people say the Son of man is?” They answered: “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” All right, this is what others think of me. The fact that Christ did not stop at the opinions is an important indication for us. It seems to me that, having forgotten this, so much time has been wasted on a useless pre-Synodal survey. The sociologists have already answered and continue to answer the questions posed in a scientific way. The bishops should first know how things are in their dioceses.

The second question was this: “But who do you say that I am?” This question is the only important one for Him and the only fundamental one for the Church herself. On behalf of all, Peter answered: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” It was on this question that Christ concentrated his preaching of the Kingdom and with His presence He teaches the disciples to change the way they think of themselves, no longer through opinions but through conversion to the truth.

This episode puts us on guard from the danger to confuse the vox populi, expressed in the answers given in the pre-Synodal survey, with the faith of the Church. Let us not forget that only after the answer given by Peter to the second question, not to the first, does Christ say to him: «Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in Heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church . (…) I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven …” (Matthew 16:13-19). The mystery of salvation is not a reality to be calculated sociologically. I wonder: will this happen in the Synod? It will happen if the pastoral problems lived sociologically (the first question) influence the answer to the second question, thus rendering both useless for the modern world. The questions on marriage and the family should be understood in the second: “Who do you say that I am?” The word on marriage and the family must be the Word of the Father and not, instead, a result of statistics.

Unfortunately Communist propaganda has influenced the Western mentality, so that for almost fifty years, the Marxist principle of thinking has even infiltrated the Church herself for whom the force of practice prevails over the contemplation of the Logos. I am thinking of the predominance of the pastoral practice over doctrine, which in the Church is the person of the Son of the living God. I am unable to be at peace since the day in which an authoritative person said to me: “The doctrine of Wojtyla and Ratzinger is enough, now we must do something!” The consequences of such a “definition” of the work of the Church are extremely grave. Speaking philosophically, “doing” prevails over “being” and “acting” (to love and know) is translated into pure production. If the kingdom of love and liberty, which is the Church, lets itself be molded above all by the pastoral practice, sooner or later it will be part of the technical world and of its civilization, which I call production (productura) in opposition to culture (cultura). In pastoral production, the faith will not take root.

I read with great interest the text of Cardinal Kasper to the recent consistory, but I am sorry to have to say that I am disappointed and worried. I am disappointed and worried not as a theologian or even as patrologist but as a simple Christian, who journeys in the faith on the path of marriage and the family. The theologians and patrologists must analyze this text carefully to assess it from their point of view. Their silence would be peccatum omissionis. As a simple believer, I would have hoped to be introduced by the Cardinal into the contemplation of the beauty of the truth of marriage and the family. Instead, his report has called the attention of the cardinals to problems connected with the first question, the sociological-pastoral, which could have grave consequences for the works of the Synod, as the pastoral difficulties could obscure our vision of the “gift of God.”

The contemplation of the truth should give form and tone to the Synod, but some questions posed by the cardinal, which already suggest the answers, make one think of another scenario. The central part of his address could induce the cardinals to believe that today the first question of Christ is more important than the second. There is the danger that the sociological-pastoral problems could prevail over the contemplation of the sacramental presence of Christ in marriage. No one doubts that the Church must think about the problems indicated by the first question. She must do so, however, in a constant rebirth of herself, that is, in a continuous returning to the beginning in which God, in and with His Word, creates man as man and woman. Fundamentally it is and will be the continuous giving of an ever more profound answer to the second question. Being reborn in the Word that is Christ, that is, converting herself to Him, the Church must confess every day: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

I read in the report: “An abyss has been created between the doctrine of the Church on marriage and the family and the convictions lived by many Christians.” This is a fact. However, the Church would commit a primordial sin if she lets herself be restrained by the first question and sought to falsify the Son of the Living God according to the post-modern fashion, so that the people choose Him as a Miss is chosen among the candidates rigged in a way adapted to the end. The Church which is born and is present in
marriage and in the family must be, until the end of the world, a “sign of contradiction” and of scandal for the world. The world will always vote against Her.

We must be grateful to the cardinal when he says that the “Gospel of the family” is a light thanks to which life in marriage and the family regains strength and does not become a weight. However, his questions suggest – I would hope to be mistaken! – that this light is too heavy. I am not in agreement with him when he says that man was not created for work but for the celebration of the Sabbath with others and that we must learn again, from the Jews, to celebrate it. To those who reproved him for not observing the Sabbath, Jesus answered: “My Father is working still, and I am working” (cf. John 5:17). The Father’s work is exactly Love. Work and love constitute a whole. To detach one from the other means to destroy the one and the other. Love has a creative character; it is generating. We know it from illumined personal experience of the biblical account of the act of creation of man (cf. Genesis 1:28). The path of love is difficult, but precisely this difficult love is such that work does not become a weight. To reduce love to some easy event in life means to close it to eternity.

The number of divorces and civil marriages is increasing, or actually of living together based solely on affection and interests. Children are born. I understand the difficulties of those who have fallen into these traps, I see their wounds. It is not clear to me, however, what the cardinal has in mind when he writes: “It is not enough to consider the problem only from the point of view and the perspective of the Church as sacramental institution: we need a change of the paradigm and we must – as the Good Samaritan did (Luke 10:29-37) – consider the situation also from the perspective of the one suffering who is asking for help.”

In that case does the pastoral practice have to put aside the event of the sacrament? Is this what Cardinal Kasper intends to have done? In the Gospel, the Good Samaritan takes care of the poor assaulted wayfarer, to give back health to him! He treats his wounds lovingly, in the perspective that it opens his love for the person of that poor man. The Church cannot tolerate divorce and the remarriage of the divorced precisely because She must love them. The love of the truth of the man-person is paradigm of the help owed to men assailed by evil. I repeat once again: love is difficult. It is that much more difficult the greater the evil that needs curing in the loved one. It is the truth of the person that defines the way to approach the wounded man pastorally, and not vice versa. The loss of the sense of sin manifests the loss of the sense of the sacred and lets the sacramental life sink into oblivion.

In coming close to the divorced person, the pastor should participate in Jesus’ dialogue with the Samaritan woman (cf. John 4:4 and f.). This dialogue says what spiritual communion is. Jesus reveals to the woman that the desire for which she burns is the desire of the “living water,” namely of the “gift of God.” The Samaritan woman asks for it so as not to be thirsty anymore. At this point, Jesus puts a condition to her: “Go call your husband and then return here!” Struck by Jesus‘ prophetic knowledge, the woman opens up to him, confessing her sin in a very subtle way: “I don’t have a husband.” Jesus then explains to her how God wants to be adored (“in spirit and truth”). At the end, He reveals to her who He is: “It is I, the Messiah, who speaks to you.” I would say to the cardinal: this is mercy! Forgiven, the woman runs to her fellow citizens and, proclaiming the Messiah to them, she also confesses her sins.

Spiritual communion is fulfilled in the desire to be united with Christ in His body and in His blood. It is a journey of the conscience that slowly becomes aware of the sin and confesses it. Today’s pastoral practice, buried in the first question, has been such as to sell the confessionals to psychologists and psychiatrists. The insidious proposal to identify spiritual communion with Eucharistic communion strikes the Sacrament itself. I now exhort pastors to be very attentive: the Eucharist is to be adored (“in spirit and truth”) and not to be manipulated!

The scene makes me tremble, in which Jesus, after having said that whoever does not eat His body and drink His blood will not have eternal life, was abandoned by almost all among the Twelve. And it was to these future Pastors that in this dramatic situation He asks in no half terms: “Will you also go away?” (John 6:67).Go if you want! You are free! Others will come!

These words of Jesus will never cease to be timely. But we are also certain that there will never be the time in which Peter will not say: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know , that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).

In Cardinal Kasper’s speech there is also a suggestion that might generate some misunderstanding, and it is that it might be better to leave the decision on the validity of the marriage to the conscience of the divorced person; it would suffice, perhaps, to entrust the task of assessing the judgment of the person in question to a priest with spiritual and pastoral experience … The pastoral and mercy are not opposed to justice but are, so to speak, the supreme justice, because behind every cause there is a person ”that always has a unique dignity.” The documents of ecclesiastical tribunals must not prevail over this dignity, says the Cardinal. Right. The Code of Canon Law is not to be identified with the Criminal Code. It is a theology that helps man to live in love and in work, making him see that the greater and the more beautiful it is, the more love is difficult, and that it calls men to an appropriate work. If the Church assessed the validity of marriage solely on the basis of the documents, the decisions could be quick and taken even by a parish priest. The Church, however, behaves in another way precisely because of the unique dignity of the person. Every man is a work of art and, as such, he is first of all to be contemplated (“in spirit and truth”) and not be manipulated according to the present situations.

Between parentheses, I ask a question: would it be, perhaps, more appropriate to today’s situation to leave the judgment on the validity of priestly ordination to the conscience of the priest concerned? Certainly a witty remark, but what is at stake calls for a very serious reflection.

John Paul II under the cross at Nowa Huta, where the people defended this sign of salvation with their blood, said that the New Evangelization begins under the cross. It begins in the women and the mystical disciple gathered around the Mother of the Crucified. The other disciples of Christ had fled from there out of fear. The New Evangelization begins in the maternity of Mary, united to the paternity of God revealed in their crucified Son. The New Evangelization consists in the constant rebirth of the Church. People are reborn by returning to the beginnings of life, to maternity and paternity whose union shines in the Crucifix.  When, then, we speak of woman or of man, we do not speak of the tasks in the ecclesiastical structures (cf. Interview of Cardinal Kasper published in “Avvenire” 01.03.2014). All of us, also the Pope and the Bishops, rediscover the dignity of our person in the Paschal Eucharist that we receive under the cross. It would seem grotesque that, forgetting this, one would find refuge in the tasks!

Stanislaw Grygiel, ordinary of Philosophical Anthropology of the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family of Rome at the Lateran University, was a pupil of Karol Wojtyla at the University of Lublin. Subsequently he was an adviser and confidant of the Polish Pontiff, with whom he shared a long and profound
friendship. Recalled among his books is
“Dialoging with John Paul II” [“Dialogando con Giovanni Paolo II”] (Cantagalli, 2013) and ”Gentle and Dear Guide” [“Dolce guida e cara”]

This article has been translated from the Italian by ZENIT and published by kind permission of Il Foglio.

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Stanisław Grygiel

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