By Josh Low
Archbishop Timothy Costelloe has this week reiterated Pope Francis’ call to be humble and realistic, in the acknowledgement that the way we present our Christian beliefs and treat others has helped contribute to the problematic situations today.
Speaking about Pope Francis Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia at the Dawson Society of Philosophy and Culture’s Speakers Forum on Tuesday 28 March, the Archbishop highlighted the importance of uniting together as a whole community in the call to perfection, while also walking with those struggling to live their faith to the full.
“As an Apostolic Exhortation it is addressed to bishops, priests and deacons, consecrated persons, Christian married couples, and all the lay faithful.
“In other words it is addressed to the whole Catholic community precisely as a community of disciples who are called to live in fidelity to their Lord.
“No doubt the Pope hopes that others may also read and profit by this document but he is addressing his brothers and sisters in the faith,” he said.
“The Pope addresses issues that are part of the vocation of every Christian, called into a community where people know and accept that they are mutually responsible for each other.
With the call to mercy being a fundamental part of the heart of the mission of Pope Francis, Archbishop Costelloe said that he is certain that the Holy Spirit was the source of inspiration for the Pope in its identification.
He emphasises that as a Church, we are called to find a better way of assisting members who are struggling, for a whole host of reasons, to live the fullness of the Christian ideal.
“I am convinced that Pope Francis is calling the Church back to an approach of mercy which he discerns, and many others would also discern, has been obscured in the life of the Church for too long.
“It is important here to note that Pope Francis is not suggesting, that the Church abandon its ideals or change its doctrinal teaching,” he said.
“Pope Francis expresses it this way: the Church, by which he means everyone and not just the clergy, must hold up the call to perfection and ask for a fuller response toward God, while at the same time accompanying with attention and care the weakest of her children,” Archbishop Costelloe said.
The Archbishop also touched on the objective nature of actions or situations, and the level of subjective responsibility of a person, especially of one without full knowledge.
“The Pope is not suggesting that it is objectively impossible for people to live up to the call or the demands of the Gospel. God always offers us the grace to be faithful.
“What I think he is saying is that it may be subjectively impossible for a person, at the present time, to do so.
“This has long been the traditional teaching of the Church in moral theology, that draws a distinction between the objective nature of a situation or an action and the level of subjective responsibility,” he said.
“Such responsibility may be diminished or even nullified if they truly believe that it is the right and good thing to do in the circumstances,” he said.
While we are called to approach others with love and mercy, the practical position of the Church, Archbishop Costelloe says, is clear.
“Those who are in an irregular situation – living together without being married, living in a second marriage while the first marriage has not been annulled, living in a de-facto relationship or a same-sex relationship and so on – should not receive Communion.
“Their objective living situation is not in harmony with the Church’s teaching and one of the essential elements of Eucharistic communion is that it is a sign of the person’s communion with the faith of the Church.”
However, Archbishop Costelloe said that it would be a significant mistake to view Amoris Laetitia in a way which ‘does not situate it in the context of Pope Francis’s urgent call to the Church to reflect more fully the face of God whose name, is mercy.’
“It is right and proper to consider some of the specific questions which the document raises in our minds.
“But if this means that we avoid the urgent call to a greater compassion, a deeper humility, and a more gentle and loving accompaniment of our brothers and sisters who are struggling to live their faith fully, as indeed we all are in different ways, then we may be deserving of the very condemnation which Jesus levelled at some of the religious leaders of his own time (Matthew 23:4): ‘you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with heavy burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift a finger to help them’,” he concluded.