“We Were Made for Love”
At the Festival of Social Doctrine, whose theme was, “Building Trust: the beauty of encounter,” Pope Francis addressed the audience with this message:
“We were made for love … Encounter must become our greatest desire, our goal to be pursued tenaciously, because a human being is made in such a way that it is not fulfilled, does not develop and cannot find its fullness except through a sincere gift of self." This is the gift of love.
Advent is the season when Christians await this moment of incredible and extraordinary love: we believe that God’s gift of self, out of pure love for us, is his only Son, Jesus the Christ. For Christians, it is in the mystery of the Incarnation that we find meaning and value that are integral to our human dignity. We know we are all created in the image of God—our Imago Dei. This creative act of love endows us all with inviolable dignity. It is during these four weeks that we reflect—each week with hope, faith and joy—on the belief that out of an act of unfathomable love, God loved us into being and then gave to our broken world and fractured selves Jesus the Christ, to be our Savior to dispel the darkness of our calamitous times. Jesus the Christ took human form to live in the human condition to restore us to love—what an astonishing thought. “We were made for love.” This is our ongoing salvation.
The recent working document from the General Secretariat of the Synod, “Enlarge the space of your tent” seems to offer a message that resonates with the Pope’s call for love and encounter, and with the meaning of Advent—that we were made for love. From a synodal journey of encounter, here are two messages from parishes that reflect the sensus fidei: “The dream is of a Church that more fully lives a Christological paradox: boldly proclaiming its authentic teaching while at the same time offering a witness of radical inclusion and acceptance through its pastoral and discerning accompaniment” (EC England and Wales). “Instead of behaving like gatekeepers trying to exclude others from the table, we need to do more to make sure that people know that everyone can find a place and a home here” (remark by a parish group from the USA). The first quotation calls for the tricky balance that must be made between “authentic teaching” and “radical inclusion,” yet both messages call for welcome and acceptance. Both statements call for the love for which we were all made.
In the arc of God’s promise to create a space for community, this synod report tells us that the people of God are asking for greater consideration for divorced and remarried Catholics, for women’s ordination and in general for women’s roles within the Church, for the LGBTQ+ community and for healing from the horror of the sex abuse crisis. This journey of the Synod promises to be long and challenging, but the hope is that it seeks a larger tent of radical inclusion, reaching to the margins with listening and welcoming, fostering encounter with trust, recognition and respect. This seems to be a call for the love for which we were made.
Yet, about the same time that the report “Enlarge the space of your tent” was published, we read another report: at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall meeting, the already divided and mistrusted body of bishops chose a candidate who seems more in line with polarization, discord and division and less in favor of creating the welcoming Church expressed in the synodal report. There seems to be a disconnect between what we might hope for from the synodal report and what we see in the decisions of the USCCB.
My students experience a similar disconnect with the Church. One LGBTQ student said to me, “It doesn’t match up—the love you say that Jesus brings in the Gospel and what the Church says to us.” This student’s remarks resonate with what so many of my students (straight and LGBTQ) want: a church where they feel welcome and accepted. Yet, they do not always experience that sense of belonging.
Now, another disconnect occurs between the hope engendered by the first synod report and what we heard in a recent interview where Pope Francis explained why women cannot be ordained as priests. He gives us the theory of the Petrine Principle (the keys went to Peter), and he offers women the Marian Principle (to be a spouse) and the administrative way (to manage and organize for the Church). How does this statement match up with what has been reported about the call for women’s ordination and the role of women in the Church in “Enlarge the space of your tent?” How will this statement affect the general extended synodal encounter and dialogue—which must be based upon trust? Will the tent be widened? How will the tent balance “authentic teaching” with “radical inclusion”? How will the ineffable love of the Incarnation, for which we were made, and which is the essence of our Church, be enfleshed in this enlarged tent?
Michelle Loris is the chair of the Catholic studies department and associate dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at Sacred Heart University.
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