Wow, has the blog-o-sphere, especially Catholic sources, and the news media exploded with the story of the Argentine divorcee’s conversation over reception of the Eucharist. There is so much nit picking of law and so little understanding of heart. Our Lord touted the latter. Jesus is quoted in one ‘unofficial’ blended Gospel as stating, “The heart of the law is mercy.”1 This is Pope Francis’s emphasis as well. His authority should be recognized. Let’s start with the Vatican’s news release.
First, what is the situation of the moment? The Pope is interested in being in direct contact with the people of the Church, and in response to the woman’s letter decided to call her on her home phone. Unusual, yes it is. Personal it also is. And by Jaqualina’s personal recollection, in a pastoral conversation with the Pope she recalls him saying she should “go to confession and start taking communion at a different parish.”2 Repent and receive the Good News. Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.
The heart of the law is mercy, indeed. After demonstrating repentance, accepting the sacrament of Eucharist must be a wonderful gift for Jaqualina to receive from the Pope. The Sacraments are meant to draw us closer to a full union with God. This is why we were given them.
The blog-masters have to pull this apart, from the priests who may have the next phone call usurp their local authority to those who have to teach the Catechism and especially those who have to help write these laws for us to follow. Central to this issue is the Sacrament of Marriage, again, and how our society and the Church have responded to the confused state and degradation we have experienced in the West of the ideal. The matters of divorce, annulment, second marriages (third, fourth, fifth, et al), will continue and not be resolved in this conversation. One fact is true; she has been faithfully married and raised a family with the man she is with for twenty-years, and they continue to love and care for each other. The appearance is of the definition of marriage we strive for but few have been graced to carry out.
Papal authority is also brought into play in Jaqualina’s encounter with the Pontiff. There are two considerations here. Referring back to the article, the Vatican comments define them both. “…the pontiff’s “personal pastoral” relationships “do not in any way form part of the Pope’s public activities.” The Pope has the same latitude as the rest of us do. He has a professional responsibility and he has his personal responsibilities. A conversation with one of his flock is first, none of the business of the rest of us, an issue Jaqualina will certainly be taking up with her husband for his Facebook post. The Pope’s conversation with her does not set new law for the Church.
This may become a lesson for a Pope who has so far been openly acting as though he were still a parish priest or the Bishop and Archbishop he was in Argentina. He has bypassed the authority he needs to foster in those between him and his flock if he expects the guide the Church while it is his See. His phone call pretty much crushes any authority the local bishop or priest might have had with their responsibilities. The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, and while he is responsible for guiding the rest of the Church, he must allow and act in a manner that keeps the authority of his brother Bishops intact.
We will all continue to watch this evolution of Francis’s papacy and the lessons he has to teach us, through mercy and through discipline. Events like this phone call to Jaqualina give us much to think of. Let us remember as we continue on our journey together, “the heart of the law is mercy.”
1. Burgess, A. and Suso Cecchi d’Amico; “Jesus of Nazareth”; directed by Franco Zepherelli; 1977. Film. Certainly not accepted as scripture, but a decent amalgamation of the three synoptic Gospels as well as the Gospel of John.