Thursday, 23 March 2017

Míla and the most beautiful king

Mila vlk

1188 words, 6 min read

His Eminence Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, archbishop emeritus of Prague and former President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, died five days ago on 18th March. He was a giant of 20th century Christianity by the very simplicity with which he lived out the Gospel under the intrusive eye of an oppressive Communist regime. While having the permit to exercise his priestly ministry withheld and being forced to earn a living as a cleaner of shop windows, he shone as a genuine follower of Jesus and a faithful successor to the apostles.

It was during this period, as a child in the late 1970s and early 1980s, that I first met Míla, as we all called him at the time. Míla would appear out of the blue at clandestine gatherings of the underground Church that my parents took me to and would mostly remain in the background. Already then, at the age of around 5-6, it was clear to me that he was different. I’d spot him on the periphery of a meeting held in a forest (where we could pretend that we were just on a hike if the secret police turned up), deep in conversation with one person or another, and I’d be struck by a sense of witnessing an inexplicable closeness. A closeness that I would also experience first-hand on the few occasions when he spoke to me and that to this day remain etched in my mind.

Instead of telling you more about his life, I would here like to offer translations of a couple of passages from Míla’s talks and sermons as archbishop of Prague, from which his love for all radiates with great clarity.

First, in 2000 Míla spoke about the universality of our call to love and the importance of inclusion:
“Let us seek the lowest common denominator of the global age, which is one person’s love for another, put in secular terms: mutual solidarity. This value can truly be called global, because every human heart is directed towards it, created for it. [...] First of all it is possible to testify to love by not excluding anyone from it. In all religions love is understood as universal, as love towards all, without distinction or discrimination. Furthermore, it is also in the nature of God’s love to take the initiative, because God always loves us first and takes his love to the extreme. We too, if we want to be witnesses, must not wait, but take the initiative in love. We were created as a gift for one another and we become fulfilled only by placing our capacity to love at the disposal of our neighbors.”
During the Advent of 2008, Míla addressed the Czech Parliament with a reflection on the need to be open towards others, which echoed St. Irenaeus’ famous “The glory of God is man fully alive”:
“The good news of Advent consists in God knowing us, our fates, our steps, in him being open to us. Jesus reminded us that we as creatures is similar to God and has in his genes an essential openness towards others. To live this openness in practice in his life - that is the message and challenge of Advent. If it is so, then the person can reach their identity, to reach their peak, full of success, to develop their powers only in dialogue, in communication with another person. [...] During Advent, the basic statement of the Gospel about God is that God is love and and that he himself brought love into our lives, so that we may build our lives on its basis.”
In 2009, Míla started one of his talks with a warning that sadly has a heightened degree of relevance in today’s delusion of “alternative facts”:
“It is necessary to realize one extremely fundamental thing, which is the experience of the last century: Most disaster was brought into the world by ideologies, which had lies and hatred as their basis. Whether it was communism throughout that long line of the decades or Nazism, their basis were lies, untruth and hatred. The only thing built on this basis is misfortune.”
Later that same year, Míla spoke about our fraternity being rooted in God’s paternity and lined the idea to the call to an “ecstatic” life:
“We live, are destined to live “ecstatically”, not closed into ourselves, in ourselves, but to live for others and in the other. “Ex-stare” means to step out of oneself, not to live closed in only oneself. There our destiny, our lives’ calling is fulfilled - a call to existential exchange, to dialogue. For their own life the person needs to love and also to be loved! Being destined for love is being destined for community. That is the identity of every person. A person feels fulfilment, satisfaction, realization, if they find and live their identity with another.”
In 2010, during a visit to Reykjavik, Míla spoke about who God is and how he desires our closeness:
“Our God is an infinite God who loves us immensely. He is omnipresent, but he came even closer to us, so that we could be close to him, so that we could touch him. He took on a human body, entered our world as a human, became man, was born of the Virgin Mary. At the end of his life, after his death, he rose from the dead with his transformed body (which is not subject to time and space), so that he could then be in every place in the world, so that we may experience that he is close to us. After his death he said with these words: “I (the resurrected) am with you always, until the end of the world.” [cf. Matthew 28:20] In the Old Testament there is one very important sentence: My delight is to dwell with the sons of men. (cf. Proverbs [8:31]). Our God yearns to be with us.”
Míla returned to these thoughts on God’s closeness with heightened intensity when he spoke with his friend, Fr. Hubertus Blaumeiser, some weeks before his death:
“God is Father, he is close. In the past God was often seen as being far away. He was worshiped, adored, but as one who is distant. Even the liturgy was celebrated with this sense of the infinite distance between us and God. Instead, Scripture tells us that God is near. “It is my delight to be with the children of men,” we read in the Book of Proverbs. And Matthew’s Gospel ends with this assurance: “I am with you always, until the end of the world” (28, 20). We must help others to discover the God who is near!”
This closeness to God apparent also from some of Míla’s last words, spoken with great effort, which were reported as follows:
“During the last days, he did not have much strength to speak anymore. However, only hours before his death, according to his caregivers, he uttered the words “The most beautiful king”. When the doctor asked him whom he meant, Cardinal Vlk replied: “Jesus on the cross”.”
Thank you, dear Míla, for your closeness.


Friday, 20 January 2017

Ethics in the Time of Human Fragility

Jurek 2

1310 words, 7 min read

The other day I came across an article entitled: “Ethicist says ghostwriter’s role in ‘Amoris’ is troubling”, in which an ethicist is troubled by Pope Francis having had the help of others when drafting his encyclicals and where one of these others, Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández, has used passages from his previous writings. Not only is this “material plagiarism” but it also undermines whether the encyclical is “magisterial” in the opinion of the aforementioned ethicist. While this line of inquiry does not hold much appeal (or water, in my opinion), it has lead to a response by Archbishop Fernández, who takes issue with how his views are presented in the article and who points to one of his papers for clarification.

Having read - and enjoyed - that paper, entitled “Trinitarian life, ethical norms and human fragility,” I would like to offer a partial translation and summary of its content next.

The paper starts with an enumeration of various flavors of relativism, from the theological, via the humanist, the mystical, the cultural, to the fragmentary, all of which are dismissed with reference to St. John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor, which defends objectivity and which affirms the existence of “intrinsically evil” acts.

Fernández then goes on to recognizing that even these erroneous approaches to morality may contain “fragments of truth” and “legitimate aspirations”, but he points to a need for persisting with an integral Gospel world-view where, as the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church affirms that ethical questions: “must be considered as a whole, since they are characterized by an ever greater interconnectedness, influencing one another mutually” (CSDC, 9).

At the same time, the Church has, for some time now, recognized that there exist circumstances that may reduce, “or under exceptional circumstances even annul” the moral responsibility of subjects and Fernández quotes from St. John Paul II’s 1995 Evangelium Vitae to back up his claim:
“Decisions that go against life sometimes arise from difficult or even tragic situations of profound suffering, loneliness, a total lack of economic prospects, depression and anxiety about the future. Such circumstances can mitigate even to a notable degree subjective responsibility and the consequent culpability of those who make these choices which in themselves are evil.” (§18b)
Fernández then points to three examples of the Church’s response to moral questions, where responsibility and culpability have recently been addressed: euthanasia, divorce and remarriage and same-sex sexual relations.

First, the 1980 declaration on euthanasia by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, entitled Iura et Bona, recognizes that under some circumstances people may no longer be truly responsible for what they do:
“by reason of prolonged and barely tolerable pain, for deeply personal or other reasons, people may be led to believe that they can legitimately ask for death or obtain it for others. Although in these cases the guilt of the individual may be reduced or completely absent, nevertheless the error of judgment into which the conscience falls, perhaps in good faith, does not change the nature of this act of killing, which will always be in itself something to be rejected.” (Part II.)
Second, a declaration by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts from 24th June 2000 stated that, even though the situation of the divorced and remarried is a matter of “grave sin, understood objectively, [a] minister of Communion would not be able to judge [its] subjective imputability” (2a.).

Third, as regards same-sex sexual relations, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith stated in 2001 that “there is a precise and well-founded evaluation of the objective morality of sexual relations between persons of the same sex. The degree of subjective moral culpability in individual cases is not the issue here.” (§2b) Again, drawing a clear distinction between the objectivity of an act’s moral goodness and the responsibility that a person bears for it.

Against this background, Fernández then proceeds to introduce grace into the picture, by arguing that:
“If an action of a subject who is strongly conditioned can be objectively evil but not imputable - and therefore not culpable - then, consequently, it does not deprive this person of the life of sanctifying grace. When this action does not stem from responsible freedom, but is enormously conditioned instead, it cannot be imputed to the subject as a sin that deprives them of supernatural life with its trinitarian dynamics.”
Next, Fernández is careful to point out that the result here is not a change to the objective evil of such actions - they do not become virtuous or of merit to the subjects who perform them. Instead, it is in the good intentions of the subject in which “the love of God and trinitarian life can shine forth” and not in what remain objectively evil actions. “No matter how much a person acts in good faith, and no matter how good their intentions may be, this does not alter the moral qualification of an objectively evil act and neither does it convert it into an expression of love.” What Fernández therefore means by “in” when he says that “trinitarian dynamics can also come about in an objective situation of sin” is an “in the context of” or an “in the midst of” and not a “through.”

In fact, Fernández later proceeds to underlining the effects of the presence of grace in good intentions that may lead to objectively evil actions, which is that:
“Grace itself provokes an interior desire to please God more with one’s own life or to follow more perfectly one’s own internal impulses. In grace itself - even when its dynamics may be conditioned by inculpable deficiencies - there is a tendency to wake up the desire for overcoming such conditioning. Because of this, the person who has been conditioned continues to experience a certain “this cannot be” in their own way of living.”
Following a reflection on St. Thomas Aquinas’ distinguishing between external and internal acts when it comes to morality, Fernández argues that while love cannot coexist with mortal sin, it can “coexist with inculpable evil acts, where some of the conditions required for grave sin are not met.” Turning to the Gospel, Fernández then points to its call to the correction of persons based on the evil of their actions (cf. Matthew 18:15) but without judging their responsibility and culpability (cf. Matthew 7:1; Luke 6:37). In summary, Fernández underlines that fraternal correction, including sanctions that the Church may legitimately impose, do not imply the emission of judgment about the interior situation and the life of grace of the corrected brother: “de internis non iudicat pretor,” as the Roman juridical maxim goes (“the judge does not judge what is on the inside”).

The above context leads Fernández to spelling out his understanding of the key to Gospel morality:
“At the same time as focusing on a subject’s full compliance with moral laws, they always have to be encouraged also to grow in love with their own acts, which will never stop being the most important of the virtues and “the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10). Without it there is no merit whatsoever and neither is there any authentically evangelical growth.”
Fernández concludes the article with putting his cards on the table and spelling out the motivation for his enquiry into the workings of grace. After rejecting the suggestion that it is a result of responding to secular prejudices or to theological progress, Fernández traces his thought to his time as a parish priest in a poor neighborhood in Argentina, because of which he desires to show two things at the same time:
“the immense mercy of God in the face of the limited and conditioned response of human beings, and the inescapable call to a generous surrender that may ever more perfectly respond to the objective proposal of the Gospel that the Church offers to the world.”

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Scandal: stumbling blocks to steppingstones

823 words, 4 min read

The term scandal has its origins in the Hebrew Bible, where in Leviticus 19:14 it says: “You shall not insult the deaf, or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you shall fear your God.” This verse, where the Greek for stumbling block is skándalon (σκάνδαλον), is in the middle of an extended version of the ten commandments (including prohibitions of stealing, of bearing false witness, and even of excessively harvesting grapes or grains) and, at first sight it looks rather odd. Did the Chosen People widely practice the tripping up of the blind and did they do so by means of a dedicated gadget - the stumbling block?

Reading Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki’s commentary from the 11th century, it can be seen that blindness here is to be read figuratively, and in any case, the Bible is already full of proscriptions about harming others, whether they are blind or not:

“Before a person who is “blind” regarding a matter, you shall not give advice that is improper for him. [For instance,] do not say to someone,“ Sell your field and buy a donkey [with the proceeds], ”while [in truth,] you plan to cheat him since you yourself will take it from him [by lending him money and taking the donkey as collateral. He will not be able to take the field because a previous creditor has a lien on it.]”

The skándalon that Leviticus warns against is therefore the scandal of taking advantage of the weak, rather than a new discipline in the Upperclass Twit of the Year competition. And it is this that Jesus himself has very strong words about: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe [in me] to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea." (Mark 9:42), where the Greek for "causing one to sin" is skandalisé. St. John also speaks about scandal, but in a positive way in that it's absence is a sign of love: “Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall.” (1 John 2:10), where "to cause a fall" is again skandalon.

Scandal, as far as Scripture is concerned is an act whose effect is to take advantage of another, to exploit them, or (and this is particularly prominent in Jesus' words) to lead them to sin. Jesus goes out of his way to discourage us from conduct that leads another to sin, i. e., that inhibits another person's ability to love. If I do something that triggers in another person a a giving in to temptation, a turning in on themselves, a putting themselves before others, then it is I too who will be held accountable.

Pope Francis has also spoken often and harshly about scandal and has particularly chided the scandal of hypocrisy, of divisions between Christians and of exploiting the poor.

Fundamentally, being warned about the risk of scandalizing others is a call to love, which is a being directed towards the good of others in a self-noughting, self-othering movement. While the immediate scope of love concerns my actions being directed towards what the other lacks, needs, enjoys, desires, the warning against scandal extends the scope of these considerations beyond the direct recipient of love to all others, on whom my actions may have a negative effect. If I behave in a hypocritical way, or if I act in a way that harms others, the result may be a skándalon, a stumbling block that leads to an impaired capacity for love in others, who may be mere bystanders and observers of my life. Yet Jesus calls me to loving them too, and he makes it clear that failing to do so is no trifle.

So far, so good. I need to pay close attention to the impact of my actions on all who witness them. However, there is another side to scandal that, I believe, needs to be borne in mind, which is its inherent asymmetry. I believe that it is as important to avoid causing scandal as it is to avoid being scandalized. Just like my causing scandal inhibits another's capacity to love, so my being scandalized inhibits my ability to love others. If I let myself be scandalised, a wall rises up between me and the person whose actions scandalize me and I become unable to love them. I see them as a danger to my holiness, instead of the brother or sister who they are. Just like Jesus shunned no one, even those who caused others great scandal, like tax collectors and prostitutes (cf. Mark 2:15), so I too need to develop His eyesight so that I may recognize the skandaloi that are in my way and transform them into steppingstones towards their owners instead.

Monday, 12 December 2016


Michelangelo drawing

1221 words, 6 min read

Are there some places or objects that are more sacred than others? Is there anything special about the spot where Jesus was entombed after Joseph of Arimathea obtained his dead body from Pontius Pilate? How about the relics of saints, do they deserve special reverence? Or the cell where St. Theresa of Ávila spent her life, the patch of soil where St. Francis is buried or the spots where Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged or St. Thomas More beheaded? Are they any different from your local supermarket?

Before a hasty “yes” to the above, let’s approach the question from the other end too. Isn’t all of creation, the entire Universe made holy because it has been created and is being sustained by God, because it has being only insofar as God makes it participate in His own? Isn’t God present everywhere and always? Isn’t it the case that wherever I may go, God is already there, awaiting me and waiting for me to discover him and relate to him there? Isn’t each person equally loved by God and therefore given equal dignity and worth? Shouldn’t we see His presence everywhere, always, in everything and everyone? Doesn’t that result in universal equality and equivalence?

As with very many questions of this kind, I believe the answer is a resounding “both” and the template in this case could be Patriarch Athenagoras’ saying: “God loves everyone equally, but secretly each one of us is his favorite.” It is both a confirmation of universal equality and of individual exceptionality and I believe that both are needed in equal measure. Focusing only on the former, universal aspect brings with it a danger of declaring a love of humanity while not particularly liking any one person, a danger of emphasizing the general principle while loosing sight of the instances in ought to be applied to. The risk here is an idealism that lacks flesh. A focus on the latter, instead risks an idolization of some while looking down upon others, a schizophrenia of reverence for people and objects that ostensibly possess special qualities while walking past the poor, the “ordinary”, the “everyday” whose dignity is equipollent. The risk here is a materialism - even when it may appear as sacred - that lacks soul.

What does a “both” attitude look like though, in the face of these seemingly polar opposites. Here, I believe the answer is the incarnation - and if you are not a Christian, please, bear with me, because I believe that the pattern of thought that it represents (and embodies!) is more broadly relevant.

Let’s see first how Pope Benedict XVI explains what “incarnation” means:
“Incarnation derives from the Latin incarnatio. St Ignatius of Antioch — at the end of the first century — and, especially, St Irenaeus used this term in reflecting on the Prologue to the Gospel according to St John, in particular in the sentence “the Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14). Here the word “flesh”, according to the Hebrew usage, indicates man in his whole self, the whole man, but in particular in the dimension of his transience and his temporality, his poverty and his contingency. This was in order to tell us that the salvation brought by God, who became man in Jesus of Nazareth, affects man in his material reality and in whatever situation he may be. God assumed the human condition to heal it from all that separates it from him, to enable us to call him, in his Only-Begotten Son, by the name of “Abba, Father”, and truly to be children of God. [...]

The Logos, who is with God, is the Logos who is God, the Creator of the world (cf. Jn 1:1) through whom all things were created (cf. 1:3) and who has accompanied men and women through history with his light (cf. 1:4-5; 1:9), became one among many and made his dwelling among us, becoming one of us (cf. 2:14).

The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council said: “The Son of God... worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin” (Constitution Gaudium et Spes, n. 22). Thus it is important to recover our wonder at the mystery, to let ourselves be enveloped by the grandeur of this event: God, the true God, Creator of all, walked our roads as a man, entering human time to communicate his own life to us (cf. 1 Jn 1:1- 4). And he did not do so with the splendour of a sovereign who dominates the world with his power, but with the humility of a child.”
At the heart of Christianity there is a co-existence, a simultaneity between the eternal and the transient, the splendid and the humble, the self-sufficient and the contingent, which invests the latter with the former. It elevates material reality to a status that is inseparable from the uncreated, the eternal, since the uncreated made Himself created, while retaining His uncreatedness.

Elevating the material through the incarnation also elevates the specific to the status of the general. Material being brings with it Leibniz’s principle of identity, whereby no two entities can be the same since they will always differ at least in temporal and or spatial location. Since no two material entities can be the same, their distinction and specificity is intrinsic to material being, whose elevation through God’s incarnation also raises the specific, delimited to the level of the general and infinite.

Because God became flesh, flesh becomes not only a signifier of His presence, a token, but His actual presence. The value that materialist atheism attributes to matter is therefore in no way undermined or diminished by the Christian’s belief in its being in relationship with God, its being a manifestation of His presence. Both can, and the Christian ought, lest they deny the reality of the incarnation, value the physical, without caveats.

Pope Francis, in fact, makes Christian love conditional on being connected to Jesus’ flesh, which the flesh of the poor, the suffering and the needy makes present today, and he has harsh words for those who de-flesh the Church:
“A love which does not acknowledge that Jesus came in the flesh is not the love with which God commands us: it is a worldly love, it is a philosophical love, it is an abstract love, it is a somewhat failed love, it is soft love. No! The criterion for Christian love is the Incarnation of the Word. [...]

[W]hoever wishes to love not as Christ loves his spouse, the Church, with his own flesh and giving life, loves ideologically: they do not love with the all their body and with all their soul. And this way of theorizing, of being ideological, as well as the proposals of religiosity which removes the flesh of Christ, which removes the flesh of the Church, going beyond and ruining the community, ruining the Church.”
Instead of distancing Christians from atheist materialists, the incarnation makes every Christian be as much of a materialist as their atheist brothers and sisters. It makes them be both materialists and theists, fully materialist so as to be fully theist.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Discernment in the flow of life, not black or white

Francis refugees

1873 words, 9 min read

On Friday morning, Pope Francis gave an interview to the Italian daily, L’Avvenire, in which he spoke at length about the Year of Mercy that concluded yesterday, about Christian unity and where he also addressed criticisms leveled at his last apostolic exhortation, Amoris Lætitia. Even though he does not name his critics, a letter published this week by four cardinals, who express “doubts” and ask for “clarification”, must have also been on Francis’ mind. What follows is my translation of parts of the interview, where I attempted to stay as close to the way Francis expresses himself in Italian, even at the expense of some of the phrases not sounding natively English (since they are not :).

Francis starts by speaking about what the Year of Mercy has meant for him:
“Those who discover that they are loved very much begin to exit a bad loneliness, a separation that brings one to hating others and oneself. I hope that many people have discovered that they are loved very much by Jesus and that they have let themselves be embraced by him. Mercy is the name of God and is also his weakness, his weak point. His mercy always leads him to forgiveness, to forgetting our sins. I like to think that the Almighty has bad memory. Once he forgives you, he forgets. Because he is happy to forgive. For me that is enough. Like with the adulterous woman of the Gospel, “whom He loved very much.” “Because He has loved very much.” The whole of Christianity is here.”
When Francis is then asked about whether his aims for the Year of Mercy had been achieved, his response shows a beautiful focus on discerning the will of God moment by moment:
“But I have not made a plan. I simply did what the Holy Spirit inspired me to do. Things just came along. I let myself be carried by the Spirit. It was only about being docile to the Holy Spirit, about letting Him act. The Church is the Gospel, it is the work of Jesus Christ. It is not journey of ideas, a tool for affirming them. And in the Church things come about when the time is ripe, when one offers oneself.”
In a response about the roots in the Year of Mercy being in the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis then speaks about the nature of the Church:
“Experiencing in one’s own life the forgiveness that embraces the entire human family is the grace that the apostolic ministry announces. The Church exists only as a tool for communicating to people the merciful plan of God. At the Council the Church felt the responsibility of being in the world as a living sign of the love of the Father. With Lumen Gentium she ascended to the sources of her nature, to the Gospel. This moves the axis of the concept of Christianity from a certain legalism, which can be ideological, to the Person of God that has made itself mercy in the incarnation of the Son. Some - think of certain responses to Amoris Laetitia - continue to not understand, either white or black, even though it is in the flow of life that one ought to discern. The Council has told us this, historians, however, tell us that that a Council needs a century to become well absorbed by the body of the Church ... We are halfway.”
Ecumenism was also addressed in the interview, where Francis first spoke about the continuity between his efforts and those of his predecessors and of the Council, before turing to his relationship with the heads of other Christian churches:
“I live it with a lot of brotherhood. Brotherhood can be felt. There is Jesus in the midst. To me they are all brothers. We bless one another, one brother blesses another. When with Patriarch Bartholomew and Hieronymus we went to Lesbos in Greece to meet the refugees we felt as one. We were one. One. When I went to see Patriarch Bartholomew at the Phanar in Istanbul for the feast of St Andrew, for me it was a great joy. In Georgia I met Patriarch Ilia who had not gone to Crete for the Orthodox Council. The spiritual harmony that I had with him was profound. I felt that I was in front of a saint, a man of God took my hand, told me beautiful things, more with gestures than with words. The patriarchs are monks. You see behind a conversation that they are men of prayer. Kirill is a man of prayer. Also the Coptic Patriarch Tawadros, whom I have met, took off his shoes as he entered the chapel and went to pray. The Patriarch Daniel of Romania a year ago gave me a book in Spanish by St. Sylvester of Mount Athos, I have already read about the life of this great holy monk in Buenos Aires: “To pray for humanity is to shed one’s own blood.” The Saints unite us inside the Church, making her mystery current. With our Orthodox brothers we on a journey, we are brothers, we love each other, we care together, they come to study here and with us. Bartholomew also studied here.”
When asked whether the Bishop of Rome shouldn’t focus on the Catholic Church full-time instead of spending time with the heads of other Churches, Francis proceeded to spell out first principles:
“Jesus himself prayed to the Father to ask that those who are his may be one, so that the world may believe. It is his prayer to the Father. Since always, the Bishop of Rome has been called to be a custodian of, to seek and to serve this unity. We also know that the wounds of our divisions are destroying the body of Christ, we cannot heal them by ourselves. So, it is not possible to impose plans or systems to become one again. To ask for unity among Christians we can only look to Jesus and ask that the Holy Spirit works among us. That it may be him to make unity. In the meeting in Lund with the Lutherans I have repeated the words of Jesus when he says to his disciples: “Without me you can do nothing.””
Another criticism leveled by some at Pope Francis’ ecumenical efforts is that he wants to “protestantize” the Catholic Church, to which his response is very simple:
“I don’t loose sleep over it. I continue on the road of those who have preceded me, I follow the Council. As for opinions, we must always distinguish the spirit in which they are said. When there isn’t a bad spirit, they also help on the journey. In other cases it can be seen straightaway that criticism are made here and there to justify a previously adopted position, they are not honest, they are made with a bad spirit to stir up division. It can be seen immediately that certain rigorisms stem from a lack, from a wanting to hide one’s sad dissatisfaction inside an armor. If you watch the movie Babette’s Feast, this rigid behavior can be seen there.”
Next, Francis is asked whether his focus on working together with other Churches for those who are in need isn’t a putting to one side of theological question and he again goes straight to the core:
“This is not a setting aside of something. Serving the poor means to serve Christ, because the poor are the flesh of Christ. And if we serve the poor together, it means that we Christians find ourselves united in touching the wounds of Christ. Here I think of the work that Caritas and Lutheran charitable organizations can do together after the meeting in Lund. It is not an institution, it is a journey. Certain ways of opposing the “things of doctrine” with the “things of pastoral charity” instead are not according to the Gospel and create confusion.”
In response to a question about what he meant when he spoke about unity being made while walking together, Francis said:
“Unit is not made because we agree among ourselves, but because we walk following Jesus. And while walking, by the working of the One we follow, we can discover ourselves united. It is the walking behind Jesus that unites. To convert ourselves means to let the Lord live and work in us. Like that we find ourselves united in our common mission of proclaiming the Gospel. Walking and working together, we realize that we are already united in the name of the Lord, and that, therefore, unity is not created by us. We realize that it is the Spirit who impels us and carries us ahead. If you are docile to the Spirit, it will be He who will tell you the step you can take, the rest is done by Him. It is not possible to walk behind Christ if you are not carried, if you do not pushed by Spirit with his strength. Because of this it is the Spirit who is the author of Christian unity. So, this is why I say that unity is made along a journey, because unity is a grace that you have to ask for, and also because I repeat that every proselytizing among Christians is sinful. The Church never grows by proselytizing but “by attraction,” as Benedict XVI wrote. Proselytism among Christians is therefore in itself a grave sin because it contradicts the very dynamics of how to become and remain Christian. The Church is not a football team that seeks fans.”
Speaking about the importance of baptism in response to a question about something that Francis said to Patriarch Kirill, he focuses on the importance of the incarnation as protection against ideologies:
“To rediscover our unity we don’t need to “go beyond” baptism. Having the same baptism means to confess together that the Word has made itself flesh: this saves us. All ideologies and theories are born of those who do not stop at this, who do not remain in the faith that recognizes Christ who has come in the flesh, and who want to “go beyond.” From there come all the positions that take the flesh away from the Church of Christ, which “de-flesh” the Church. If we look together at our shared baptism we are also freed from the temptation of Pelagianism, which wants to convince us that we are saved by our own strength, by our own activism. And staying at baptism also saves us from gnosis. This one distorts Christianity, reducing it to a path of knowledge, which can do without a real encounter with Christ.”
What strikes me most as I re-read Pope Francis’ words is his total focus on Jesus as the person whose presence among His followers is what unites them, what guides them and what is the basis of a discernment whose horizon is the present moment. This is a Christianity that is exciting, challenging and lived in direct relationship with God, who has made himself one of us to the point of also taking on our physical nature. Everything then follows from such a life - the Year of Mercy, ecumenism, dialogue, forgiveness and a pervasive sense of joy and openness.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Like a grain of dust that tips the scales


555 words, 3 min read

Sunday’s first reading, from the book of Wisdom (11:22-12:2), has been constantly on my mind since I first heard it. In fact, I could barely focus on the rest of the mass and I kept reading and re-reading it round and round. It stopped me dead in my tracks and made my wandering mind focus and delight.

It opens with a beautiful, verbal equivalent of chiaroscuro:
11:22 In your sight, Lord, the whole world is like a grain of dust that tips the scales, like a drop of morning dew falling on the ground.
The world is but a grain of dust, yet it is not insignificant; it tips the scales. It is a nothing that makes a difference. It is like a single drop of water, by itself inconsequential, yet as part of the morning dew it sustains life. In this one line there is, at the same time, a powerful sense of imbalance between God and us, His creatures, and of the colossally disproportionate tenderness He has for us.
11:23 Yet you are merciful to all, because you can do all things and overlook men’s sins so that they can repent.
It is because of God’s omnipotence that He overlooks our failings. His mercy is a consequence of His all-powerfulness. His strength flourishes in overlooking, veiling our flaws. Wisdom peaks in willful ignorance, out of love.
11:24 Yes, you love all that exists, you hold nothing of what you have made in abhorrence, for had you hated anything, you would not have formed it.
Who are God’s chosen people? Who are His favorites? In whom does He delight? In all! In every single being. It could be no different, since it is He who has made all that is. “Through him all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through him.” (John 1:3) And why would He make something He hates? Being by itself is proof of God’s love. I am because God loves me. You are because God loves you. Every single being is because God loves it.
11:25 And how, had you not willed it, could a thing persist, how be conserved if not called forth by you?
The very thought of something existing against God’s will is absurd. What blasphemy! What utter logical contradiction!
11:26 You spare all things because all things are yours, Lord, lover of life,
12:1 you whose imperishable spirit is in all.
To destroy His creatures, God would have to destroy His own imperishable self that inhabits and sustains them. He would have to pit His own irresistible force against the immovable object of His own self. What a silly, childish exercise that would be! God is no circus strongman, He is the lover of life!
12:2 Little by little, therefore, you correct those who offend, you admonish and remind them of how they have sinned, so that they may abstain from evil and trust in you, Lord.
What does love for His creatures look like? Does His love for all equal an anything-goes attitude? No. God wants all to choose Him, to love Him freely. So, instead of destroying them when they turn away from Him, He gently, little-by-little nudges, hints, coaxes us towards himself. He invites us to trust Him, as the antidote to evil.

Thursday, 29 September 2016


Optical Illusion Best Optical Illusion Online Black Dots 12 Black Dots Optical Illusion Optical Illusion Queensland Australia Op 651157

4426 words, 22 min read

I have recently come across the grandiosely-titled website: "Declaration of Fidelity to the Church's Unchangeable Teaching on Marriage and to Her Uninterrupted Discipline", signed by no less than three cardinals and by over 2600 others, whose ranks the website invites us to join. However much the company of cardinals may be enticing, what holds me back are the words of a certain carpenter, who once told his friends the following: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth” (John 16:12-13).

Instead of going over arguments previously laid out in this blog,1 let me just pull together a tasting menu of what the Church has said about marriage during the councils it held over the course of the last 2000 years (plus the so-called "Apostolic Canons" that predate them), so you can make up your own mind about whether it has been (un)changing.

  1. 4th century AD - Apostolic Canons:
    6. Let not a bishop, a priest, or a deacon cast off his own wife under pretence of piety; but if he does cast her off, let him be suspended. If he go on in it, let him be deprived.

    17. He who has been twice married after his baptism, or has had a concubine, cannot be made a bishop, or presbyter, or deacon, or indeed any one of the sacerdotal catalogue.

    18. He who has taken a widow, or a divorced woman, or an harlot, or a servant, or one belonging to the theatre, cannot be either a bishop, priest, or deacon, or indeed any one of the sacerdotal catalogue.

    19. He who has married two sisters, or his brother’s or sister’s daughter, cannot be a clergyman.

  2. 309 AD - Council of Elvira:
    16. Heretics, if they are unwilling to change over to the Catholic Church, are not to have Catholic girls given to them in marriage, nor shall they be given to Jews or heretics, since there can be no community for the faithful with the unfaithful. If parents act against this prohibition, they shall be kept out for five years.

    17. If any should somehow join their daughters in marriage to priests of idols, they shall not be given communion–even at the end.

  3. 325 AD (May 20-June 19) - First Council of Nicea:
    8. Concerning those who have given themselves the name of Cathars, and who from time to time come over publicly to the catholic and apostolic church, this holy and great synod decrees that they may remain among the clergy after receiving an imposition of hands. But before all this it is fitting that they give a written undertaking that they will accept and follow the decrees of the catholic church, namely that they will be in communion with those who have entered into a second marriage and with those who have lapsed in time of persecution and for whom a period [of penance] has been fixed and an occasion [for reconciliation] allotted, so as in all things to follow the decrees of the catholic and apostolic church.

  4. 451 AD (October 8-November 1) - Council of Chalcedon:
    14. Since in certain provinces readers and cantors have been allowed to marry, the sacred synod decrees that none of them is permitted to marry a wife of heterodox views. If those thus married have already had children, and if they have already had the children baptised among heretics, they are to bring them into the communion of the catholic church. If they have not been baptised, they may no longer have them baptised among heretics; nor indeed marry them to a heretic or a Jew or a Greek, unless of course the person who is to be married to the orthodox party promises to convert to the orthodox faith. If anyone transgresses this decree of the sacred synod, let him be subject to canonical penalty.

    15. No woman under forty years of age is to be ordained a deacon, and then only after close scrutiny. If after receiving ordination and spending some time in the ministry she despises God's grace and gets married, such a person is to be anathematised along with her spouse.

    16. It is not permitted for a virgin who has dedicated herself to the Lord God, or similarly for a monk, to contract marriage. If it is discovered that they have done so, let them be made excommunicate. However, we have decreed that the local bishop should have discretion to deal humanely with them.

  5. 1123 AD - First Lateran Council:
    21. We absolutely forbid priests, deacons, subdeacons and monks to have concubines or to contract marriages. We adjudge, as the sacred canons have laid down, that marriage contracts between such persons should be made void and the persons ought to undergo penance.

  6. 1139 AD - Second Lateran Council:
    6. We also decree that those in the orders of subdeacon and above who have taken wives or concubines are to be deprived of their position and ecclesiastical benefice. For since they ought to be in fact and in name temples of God, vessels of the Lord and sanctuaries of the holy Spirit, it is unbecoming that they give themselves up to marriage and impurity.

    7. [N]obody is to hear the masses of those whom he knows to have wives or concubines. Indeed, that the law of continence and the purity pleasing to God might be propagated among ecclesiastical persons and those in holy orders, we decree that where bishops, priests, deacons, subdeacons, canons regular, monks and professed lay brothers have presumed to take wives and so transgress this holy precept, they are to be separated from their partners. For we do not deem there to be a marriage which, it is agreed, has been contracted against ecclesiastical law. Furthermore, when they have separated from each other, let them do a penance commensurate with such outrageous behaviour.

    8. We decree that the selfsame thing is to apply also to women religious if, God forbid, they attempt to marry.

  7. 1215 AD - Fourth Lateran Council:
    1. For not only virgins and the continent but also married persons find favour with God by right faith and good actions and deserve to attain to eternal blessedness.

    50. Prohibition of marriage is now perpetually restricted to the fourth degree. It should not be judged reprehensible if human decrees are sometimes changed according to changing circumstances, especially when urgent necessity or evident advantage demands it, since God himself changed in the new Testament some of the things which he had commanded in the old Testament. Since the prohibitions against contracting marriage in the second and third degree of affinity, and against uniting the offspring of a second marriage with the kindred of the first husband, often lead to difficulty and sometimes endanger souls, we therefore, in order that when the prohibition ceases the effect may also cease, revoke with the approval of this sacred council the constitutions published on this subject and we decree, by this present constitution, that henceforth contracting parties connected in these ways may freely be joined together. Moreover the prohibition against marriage shall not in future go beyond the fourth degree of consanguinity and of affinity, since the prohibition cannot now generally be observed to further degrees without grave harm. The number four agrees well with the prohibition concerning bodily union about which the Apostle says, that the husband does not rule over his body, but the wife does; and the wife does not rule over her body, but the husband does; for there are four humours in the body, which is composed of the four elements. Although the prohibition of marriage is now restricted to the fourth degree, we wish the prohibition to be perpetual, notwithstanding earlier decrees on this subject issued either by others or by us. If any persons dare to marry contrary to this prohibition, they shall not be protected by length of years, since the passage of time does not diminish sin but increases it, and the longer that faults hold the unfortunate soul in bondage the graver they are.

    51. Clandestine marriages forbidden. Since the prohibition against marriage in the three remotest degrees has been revoked, we wish it to be strictly observed in the other degrees. Following in the footsteps of our predecessors, we altogether forbid clandestine marriages and we forbid any priest to presume to be present at such a marriage. Extending the special custom of certain regions to other regions generally, we decree that when marriages are to be contracted they shall be publicly announced in the churches by priests, with a suitable time being fixed beforehand within which whoever wishes and is able to may adduce a lawful impediment. The priests themselves shall also investigate whether there is any impediment. When there appears a credible reason why the marriage should not be contracted, the contract shall be expressly forbidden until there has been established from clear documents what ought to be done in the matter. If any persons presume to enter into clandestine marriages of this kind, or forbidden marriages within a prohibited degree, even if done in ignorance, the offspring of the union shall be deemed illegitimate and shall have no help from their parents' ignorance, since the parents in contracting the marriage could be considered as not devoid of knowledge, or even as affecters of ignorance. Likewise the offspring shall be deemed illegitimate if both parents know of a legitimate impediment and yet dare to contract a marriage in the presence of the church, contrary to every prohibition.

    52. On rejecting evidence from hearsay at a matrimonial suit. It was at one time decided out of a certain necessity, but contrary to the normal practice, that hearsay evidence should be valid in reckoning the degrees of consanguinity and affinity, because on account of the shortness of human life witnesses would not be able to testify from first-hand knowledge in a reckoning as far as the seventh degree. However, because we have learned from many examples and definite proofs that many dangers to lawful marriages have arisen from this, we have decided that in future witnesses from hearsay shall not be accepted in this matter, since the prohibition does not now exceed the fourth degree, unless there are persons of weight who are trustworthy and who learnt from their elders, before the case was begun, the things that they testify: not indeed from one such person since one would not suffice even if he or she were alive, but from two at least, and not from persons who are of bad repute and suspect but from those who are trustworthy and above every objection, since it would appear rather absurd to admit in evidence those whose actions would be rejected. [... I]t is preferable to leave alone some people who have been united contrary to human decrees than to separate, contrary to the Lord's decrees, persons who have been joined together legitimately.

  8. 1311-1312 AD - Council of Vienne:
    8. We strictly command local ordinaries to admonish by name three times clerics who publicly and personally engage in the butcher's trade or conduct taverns, that they cease to do so within a reasonable time to be fixed by the ordinary and never resume such trades. If after admonition they do not leave off or if they resume them at any time, then as long as they persist in the above ways of life those who are married shall automatically lose all clerical privileges, and those who are unmarried shall automatically lose their clerical privileges relating to things, and if the latter go about in every way as laymen they shall also lose automatically their personal privileges as clerics. As for other clerics who apply themselves publicly to secular commerce and trade or any occupation inconsistent with the clerical state, or who carry arms, the ordinaries are to be diligent in observing the canons, so that these clerics may be restrained from such misconduct and they themselves may not be guilty of reprehensible negligence.

  9. 1431-45 AD - Council of Basel:
    The seventh is the sacrament of matrimony, which is a sign of the union of Christ and the church according to the words of the apostle: This sacrament is a great one, but I speak in Christ and in the church. The efficient cause of matrimony is usually mutual consent expressed in words about the present. A threefold good is attributed to matrimony. The first is the procreation and bringing up of children for the worship of God. The second is the mutual faithfulness of the spouses towards each other. The third is the indissolubility of marriage, since it signifies the indivisible union of Christ and the church. Although separation of bed is lawful on account of fornication, it is not lawful to contract another marriage, since the bond of a legitimately contracted marriage is perpetual.

    It is asserted that some people reject fourth marriages as condemned. Lest sin is attributed where it does not exist, since the apostle says that a wife on her husband's death is free from his law and free in the Lord to marry whom she wishes, and since no distinction is made between the deaths of the first, second and third husbands, we declare that not only second and third marriages but also fourth and further ones may lawfully be contracted, provided there is no canonical impediment. We say, however, that they would be more commendable if thereafter they abstain from marriage and persevere in chastity because we consider that, just as virginity is to be preferred in praise and merit to widowhood, so chaste widowhood is preferable to marriage.

  10. 1545-1563 AD - Council of Trent:
    On the Sacrament of Matrimony.

    Canon I.-If any one saith, that matrimony is not truly and properly one of the seven sacraments of the evangelic law, (a sacrament) instituted by Christ the Lord; but that it has been invented by men in the Church; and that it does not confer grace; let him be anathema.

    Canon II.-If any one saith, that it is lawful for Christians to have several wives at the same time, and that this is not prohibited by any divine law; let him be anathema.

    Canon III.-If any one saith, that those degrees only of consanguinity and affinity, which are set down in Leviticus, can hinder matrimony from being contracted, and dissolve it when contracted; and that the Church cannot dispense in some of those degrees, or establish that others may hinder and dissolve it ; let him be anathema.

    Canon IV.-If any one saith, that the Church could not establish impediments dissolving marriage; or that she has erred in establishing them; let him be anathema.

    Canon V.-If any one saith, that on account of heresy, or irksome cohabitation, or the affected absence of one of the parties, the bond of matrimony may be dissolved; let him be anathema.

    Canon VI.-If any one saith, that matrimony contracted, but not consummated, is not dissolved by the solemn profession of religion by one of the married parties; let him be anathema.

    Canon VII.-If any one saith, that the Church has erred, in that she hath taught, and doth teach, in accordance with the evangelical and apostolical doctrine, that the bond of matrimony cannot be dissolved on account of the adultery of one of the married parties; and that both, or even the innocent one who gave not occasion to the adultery, cannot contract another marriage, during the life-time of the other; and, that he is guilty of adultery, who, having put away the adulteress, shall take another wife, as also she, who, having put away the adulterer, shall take another husband; let him be anathema.

    Canon VIII.-If any one saith, that the Church errs, in that she declares that, for many causes, a separation may take place between husband and wife, in regard of bed, or in regard of cohabitation, for a determinate or for an indeterminate period; let him be anathema.

    Canon IX.-If any one saith, that clerics constituted in sacred orders, or Regulars, who have solemnly professed chastity, are able to contract marriage, and that being contracted it is valid, notwithstanding the ecclesiastical law, or vow; and that the contrary is no thing else than to condemn marriage; and, that all who do not feel that they have the gift of chastity, even though they have made a vow thereof, may contract marriage; let him be anathema: seeing that God refuses not that gift to those who ask for it rightly, neither does He suffer us to be tempted above that which we are able.

    Canon X.-If any one saith, that the marriage state is to be placed above the state of virginity, or of celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity, or in celibacy, than to be united in matrimony; let him be anathema.

    Canon XI.-If any one saith, that the prohibition of the solemnization of marriages at certain times of the year, is a tyrannical superstition, derived from the superstition of the heathen; or, condemn the benedictions and other ceremonies which the Church makes use of therein; let him be anathema.

    Canon XII.-If any one saith, that matrimonial causes do not belong to ecclesiastical judges; let him be anathema.

    Decree on the Reformation of Marriage.

    Chapter VII. Vagrants are to be married with caution. There are many persons who are vagrants, having no settled homes; and, being of a profligate character, they, after abandoning their first wife, marry another, and very often several in different places, during the life-time of the first. The holy Synod, being desirous to obviate this disorder, gives this fatherly admonition to all whom it may concern, not easily to admit this class of vagrants to marriage; and It also exhorts the civil magistrates to punish such persons severely. But It commands parish priests not to be present at the marriages of such persons, unless they have first made a careful inquiry, and, having reported the circumstance to the Ordinary, they shall have obtained permission from him for so doing.

    Chapter IX. Temporal lords, or magistrates, shall not attempt anything contrary to the liberty of marriage. Earthly affections and desires do for the most part so blind the eyes of the understanding of temporal lords and magistrates, as that, by threats and ill-usage, they compel both men and women, who live under their jurisdiction,-especially such as are rich, or who have expectations of a great inheritance,-to contract marriage against their inclination with those whom the said lords or magistrates may prescribe unto them. Wherefore, seeing that it is a thing especially execrable to violate the liberty of matrimony, and that wrong comes from those from whom right is looked for, the holy Synod enjoins on all, of whatsoever grade, dignity, and condition they may be, under pain of anathema to be ipso facto incurred, that they put no constraint, in any way whatever, either directly or indirectly, on those subject to them, or any others whomsoever, so as to hinder them from freely contracting marriage.

  11. 1962–1965 AD - Second Vatican Council:
    Lumen Gentium

    11. Christian spouses, in virtue of the sacrament of Matrimony, whereby they signify and partake of the mystery of that unity and fruitful love which exists between Christ and His Church,(108) help each other to attain to holiness in their married life and in the rearing and education of their children. By reason of their state and rank in life they have their own special gift among the people of God. From the wedlock of Christians there comes the family, in which new citizens of human society are born, who by the grace of the Holy Spirit received in baptism are made children of God, thus perpetuating the people of God through the centuries. The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them, fostering with special care vocation to a sacred state.

    29. With the consent of the Roman Pontiff, this diaconate can, in the future, be conferred upon men of more mature age, even upon those living in the married state.

    35. In connection with the prophetic function is that state of life which is sanctified by a special sacrament obviously of great importance, namely, married and family life. For where Christianity pervades the entire mode of family life, and gradually transforms it, one will find there both the practice and an excellent school of the lay apostolate. In such a home husbands and wives find their proper vocation in being witnesses of the faith and love of Christ to one another and to their children. The Christian family loudly proclaims both the present virtues of the Kingdom of God and the hope of a blessed life to come. Thus by its example and its witness it accuses the world of sin and enlightens those who seek the truth.

    41. [M]arried couples and Christian parents should follow their own proper path (to holiness) by faithful love. They should sustain one another in grace throughout the entire length of their lives. They should embue their offspring, lovingly welcomed as God's gift, with Christian doctrine and the evangelical virtues. In this manner, they offer all men the example of unwearying and generous love; in this way they build up the brotherhood of charity; in so doing, they stand as the witnesses and cooperators in the fruitfulness of Holy Mother Church; by such lives, they are a sign and a participation in that very love, with which Christ loved His Bride and for which He delivered Himself up for her.

    Gaudium et Spes

    48. The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws, and is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other a relationship arises which by divine will and in the eyes of society too is a lasting one. For the good of the spouses and their off-springs as well as of society, the existence of the sacred bond no longer depends on human decisions alone. For, God Himself is the author of matrimony, endowed as it is with various benefits and purposes. All of these have a very decisive bearing on the continuation of the human race, on the personal development and eternal destiny of the individual members of a family, and on the dignity, stability, peace and prosperity of the family itself and of human society as a whole. By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown. Thus a man and a woman, who by their compact of conjugal love "are no longer two, but one flesh" (Matt. 19:ff), render mutual help and service to each other through an intimate union of their persons and of their actions. Through this union they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day. As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them. [...] Widowhood, accepted bravely as a continuation of the marriage vocation, should be esteemed by all.

    49. This love is uniquely expressed and perfected through the appropriate enterprise of matrimony. The actions within marriage by which the couple are united intimately and chastely are noble and worthy ones. Expressed in a manner which is truly human, these actions promote that mutual self-giving by which spouses enrich each other with a joyful and a ready will. Sealed by mutual faithfulness and hallowed above all by Christ's sacrament, this love remains steadfastly true in body and in mind, in bright days or dark. It will never be profaned by adultery or divorce. Firmly established by the Lord, the unity of marriage will radiate from the equal personal dignity of wife and husband, a dignity acknowledged by mutual and total love. The constant fulfillment of the duties of this Christian vocation demands notable virtue. For this reason, strengthened by grace for holiness of life, the couple will painstakingly cultivate and pray for steadiness of love, large heartedness and the spirit of sacrifice.

    50. Marriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation; rather, its very nature as an unbreakable compact between persons, and the welfare of the children, both demand that the mutual love of the spouses be embodied in a rightly ordered manner, that it grow and ripen. Therefore, marriage persists as a whole manner and communion of life, and maintains its value and indissolubility, even when despite the often intense desire of the couple, offspring are lacking.

    Presbyterorum Ordinis

    16. Perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, commended by Christ the Lord and through the course of time as well as in our own days freely accepted and observed in a praiseworthy manner by many of the faithful, is held by the Church to be of great value in a special manner for the priestly life. It is at the same time a sign and a stimulus for pastoral charity and a special source of spiritual fecundity in the world. Indeed, it is not demanded by the very nature of the priesthood, as is apparent from the practice of the early Church and from the traditions of the Eastern Churches. where, besides those who with all the bishops, by a gift of grace, choose to observe celibacy, there are also married priests of highest merit. This holy synod, while it commends ecclesiastical celibacy, in no way intends to alter that different discipline which legitimately flourishes in the Eastern Churches. It permanently exhorts all those who have received the priesthood and marriage to persevere in their holy vocation so that they may fully and generously continue to expend themselves for the sake of the flock commended to them.

Yes, indeed, the Church has been (un)changing!

1 E.g., here (via Gödel), here (in the words of Schönborn), here (by Pope Francis), and in many other posts on this blog.