|Hagenbeck circus poster|
showing act En Douceur
(nothing to do with Amoris
Unlike American "operas," who thrilled the house with ferocious trained animals, seemingly barely under the control of the trainer, across the pond, animal acts were presented En Douceur. The animals would placidly create tableaux. What fun is that? The Bear introduced the act En Ferocité in connection with the inevitable Hagenbecks in Germany. (The Bear trusts they need no introduction in connection with performing circus animals!)
With Pope Francis, if the act starts off well -- and, for the most part Amoris Laetitia does -- you can be sure that it will soon be ruined by him sending in the clowns.
Rather than try to organize these analyses by the publication's own chapters, the Bear will simply cover as much as he can each sitting without gnawing his paw off.
In Chapter Two, Pope Francis sends in the clowns.
The Danger of Extreme Individualism
Paragraph 33 correctly warns of "the growing danger represented by an extreme individualism which weakens family bonds and ends up considering each member of the family as an isolated unit."
Perhaps the most obvious danger is the West's nearly irresistible transformation of persons into atomized economic units. It is considered normal for both parents to work, and for children to go off to college, and from there to jobs on the opposite coast. Modern technology keeps everyone's nose buried in an addictive and often illusory world behind glass.
Paragraph 34 is also good, although contains a troubling phrase we shall see again and again.
Ultimately, it is easy nowadays to confuse genuine freedom with the idea that each individual can act arbitrarily, as if there were no truths, values and principles to provide guidance, and everything were possible and permissible. The ideal of marriage, marked by a commitment to exclusivity and stability, is swept aside whenever it proves inconvenient or tiresome. The fear of loneliness and the desire for stability and fidelity exist side by side with a growing fear of entrapment in a relationship that could hamper the achievement of one’s personal goals.
Once again, the problem of excessive individualism is correctly shown to be incompatible with the ideal of marriage.
"The Ideal of Marriage"
But is there not something about this phrase, "the ideal of marriage," that suggests an unattainable goal toward which we strive with more or less success? Marriage is not an "ideal," it is a sacrament. It is also an arrangement in nature to foster love, companionship, mutual support and a stable environment for rearing children. It is what makes a family possible.
It would be like speaking of the "ideal of the potato." Marriage is not some impossible thing. It is a practical thing that has always existed in the lives of people. "Ideals" are not necessarily expected to be realized, which is why the Bear is uncomfortable with the expression. It would not bother the Bear, except as we shall see, Amoris Laetitia is all about accommodating people who fall far short of the sacramental and practical reality of marriage.
"Simply Decrying" & "Sheer Authority"
Pope Francis always leads with a true statement, but only to set up his real point, which is expressed as a negation or opposition to the truth. It turns out that the Church is a big part of the problem with marriage.
After sticking on the fig leaf that the Christians cannot stop advocating marriage, he then puts in the "but." "Simply decrying" present evils is useless.
The Bear must stop and ask, since when is "decrying" a bad thing? All it means is to publicly denounce. Is it useless when Pope Francis "decries" the arms trade, or ignoring the elderly, or creating global warming? Apparently not. So why does Pope Francis only find it "useless" to decry offenses against the Catholic faith?
Next he says, "Nor is it helpful to impose rules by sheer authority." Note how, just as "decry" was subtly diminished by the addition of "simply," here the word "authority" is almost delegitimized by adding "sheer." The Bear does not recall him having a problem exercising his "sheer authority" in proclaiming the Year of Mercy.
It may seem like the Bear is being picky, but, perhaps as a lawyer and a writer, the Bear is sensitive to the subtle ways people use words to safely say what they really mean. Decoded, the Pope is signaling, "speaking out against and exercising authority are not what I'm going to be talking about here. Stand by."
The Bear would further observe that there's nothing wrong with marriage. If we made better people, problems with marriage would solve themselves. And that's the job of the Catholic Church. And that is where the real failure lies.
We Haven't Done a Good Job, and By "We," I Mean "You"
Paragraph 36 begins the ritual self-flagellation that is all the vogue in the Church.
We also need to be humble and realistic,acknowledging that at times the way we present our Christian beliefs and treat other people has helped contribute to today’s problematic situation. We need a healthy dose of self-criticism.
This leads into the next paragraphs, where he talks about how the Church got marriage all wrong by its "almost exclusive insistence on the duty of procreation," and it's "far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage."
However, the Bear has had enough, and he suspects you have as well, so we will sink deeper into Amoris Laetitia next time.