Last year Pope Francis published Amoris Laetitia which is his post-synodal reflection of human love and family life. It is a great document giving good pastoral advice for both families and pastors on how we need to really nurture and care for the families within our communities. In a footnote the Pope suggests that it might be pastorally acceptable for a divorced and remarried person to go to communion if they work through the issues with their pastor. By some people’s reactions you would have thought the whole Church was going to be destroyed by this straying from the teaching of the Church. The teaching didn’t change but one aspect of the discipline was altered.
I do not know why this is such a big deal given that the bishops can change at their will even the major feasts of the Church. We are celebrating Ascension Sunday today even though the feast properly was celebrated on Thursday. Now there are some bishops who have decided to keep the tradition as Thursday, while others for pastoral reasons have shifted it to the following Sunday. This results in having two sets of readings for that Sunday and regularly confuses most of us as to which readings we should be doing. I suspect that there will be some who come to confession this Saturday confessing that they missed the Holy Day, only to be told that: “no; in fact, they didn’t”. This past Lent St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Friday and our archbishop released us from the duty of abstaining from meat for that day. I do not think that we suffer terribly, as a whole church community, for the personal applications of the Church’s discipline.
There are some within the Church who believe that every variation within the Church is a sign of subjectivity which reduces the power of the singular truth of the Church. This is an attitude that began developing after the Protestant Reformation. As a Church we were threatened by those who took stands different than our own and we soundly condemned those who challenged our authority. However, up until the reformation there was a very active intellectual conversation taking place among many of the teachers of the Church as they pondered what this faith is all about.
I think Pope Francis is moving us back toward the richness of the earlier traditions of the Church. A tradition that encouraged open discussion even between parties that have opposite points of view. The great mysteries of the Church have not been figured out, but instead provide ample opportunities for us to grow more richly and deeply in our faith.