Some few days ago a letter of “filial correction” was sent to Pope Francis, signed by 1 (schismatic) bishop and 61 others, claiming him to be fostering heresy through his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia.  Specifically, they are outraged by the fact that this document suggests that, under certain circumstances, the sacraments may not be “out of bounds” to divorced and civilly re-married Catholics without the benefit of formal annulment.

          It is enlightening to me that the one bishop is Bernard Fellay, leader of the schismatic “Society of St Pius X,” which wants to walk back various dimensions of Vatican II, including the vernacular liturgy, dialogue with the modern world, ecumenism, relations with the Jews, and religious liberty.  [And you thought they were only about the Tridentine Latin Mass, didn’t you?]  The rest of the ones who have signed this letter are quite fairly called “alt-right Catholics”—in this case, quite literally “more ‘Catholic’ than the pope.”

          This brings me to Cornelius Janzen and his writing (published posthumously) about the nature and efficaciousness of grace.  His followers (still alive and well, informally, to this day) found themselves in theological battle with the Jesuits on several points, including:  Jesuits were wrong in encouraging frequent Holy Communion because Catholics were not worthy; Jesuits were wrong in their too-optimistic view of human nature, thinking it could be redeemed; Jesuits were wrong in their too-easy application of mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  All this came to a head in the 1700s, and was in theory resolved then, but as you can tell from this list, the attitude is far from defeated.  Too many people reckon themselves as “saved” and others as “the accursed masses.”

          If the Sacraments are “medicine of mercy” as Pope Francis (and in his own way, Pope St John XXIII) stated, and not a “reward for the righteous,” it occurs to me that today’s version of the Jansenists would have been very upset with Jesus for His seemingly lackadaisical attitude in dealing with the woman caught in the act of adultery, or the multi-married Samaritan woman at the well (or even His eating with “tax collectors and sinners”).   If the Lord is “generous in forgiving” (Isaiah 55) and “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2), as I mentioned in last weekend’s homily, this must stick in the craws of the self-righteous.  “No one comes to the Father except through me,” Jesus said.  They forget that the “me” in this quote is Jesus, not them…

          Jesus nowhere states that sinners (of any stripe) are to be refused His love, and that includes His love coming to us in the sacraments.  Can this great gift of love (as Pope Francis intended) be a vehicle in the process of full reconciliation of “bad marriages”?  I so distinctly remember a post-Mass breakfast group in Montgomery when I observed that I knew a man who’d been divorced and was for the last 35 years in a “bad marriage,” to which this man (a convert himself) replied, “After 35 years I’d call it a good marriage.” 

          Divorce today is not the same social phenomenon it was in the past, and this is true for a number of historical and social reasons.  There are other social/moral contexts that have also had to develop and deepen as a result of greater knowledge and understanding.  The Church has dealt with them; can it deal with the divorced and re-married, as well?  The whole concept of annulment indicates its openness in theory; what remains is application.  I will have more to say on this topic in the next essays.