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Monday, March 4, 2024

Do Not Confuse Pope Francis’s Same-Sex Blessing With Same-Sex Marriage – By Matthew Ma

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“In today’s modern era, individuals face an increasing challenge when it comes to engaging with written content. The famous adage “out of sight, out of mind” seems to apply to reading, as people are often more drawn to social media and frivolous news rather than informative text. Even when a significant document, like a statement from the Pope, is readily accessible online, many individuals prefer to rely on other people’s viewpoints instead of reading the source themselves. In a world where an abundance of information is available at our disposal, it’s crucial to take responsibility for our own learning by actively seeking out and reading primary sources rather than relying on hearsay and secondary interpretations.”

A few days ago, there was a significant development within the Roman Catholic Church that caused a lot of controversy and sparked a heated debate among the Catholic community. The leader of the church, Pope Francis, made a statement regarding the long-standing issue of same-sex blessings. However, this statement has been interpreted in different ways by various media outlets, leading to a lot of confusion among people. While some news sources reported that Pope Francis approved the blessing of same-sex marriage, others claimed that the Pope permitted priests to bless same-sex couples. Some people have seen the declaration as a progressive and inclusive step, while others criticize it as a departure from traditional Catholic values and norms. Since the announcement, many members of the Catholic community have expressed mixed reactions to the Pope’s move. Some people praise the Pope’s decision as a positive change towards inclusivity and acceptance. In contrast, others are deeply concerned about the reports they have heard regarding the Pope’s apparent approval of the blessing of same-sex marriages. Many individuals have been seeking clarification on the Pope’s stance and what this means for the Catholic Church going forward. Some members are even considering leaving the church altogether as a result. However, it’s important to note that the situation is more complex than it initially seems. The debate has brought to light important questions about the Catholic Church’s role in shaping public opinion on same-sex relationships and its stance on the matter. In order to gain a better understanding of the situation, it’s essential to take a closer look at the Declaration “Fiducia supplicans,” which was recently issued by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. This document provides insight into whether or not the blessing of a same-sex couple would be considered a sin or an offense. However, there is more to the controversy than just the question of whether or not same-sex blessings are permissible. At the heart of the matter lies a fundamental problem about the nature of blessings themselves. What does it mean to bless someone or something, and how does this action impact us? These are critical questions that require careful thought, reflection, and consideration.

The concept of blessings is frequently discussed in the Bible, with individuals giving praise and glory to God in various situations. The Catholic Encyclopedia provides a general definition of blessing as being synonymous with praise, exemplified by the Psalmist’s declaration, “I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall always be in my mouth.” Blessing is described in the Catechism as a movement of prayer, representing an encounter between God and man. Through blessing, God’s gift and man’s acceptance are united in dialogue. As God blesses, the human heart reciprocate and bless the One who is the source of every blessing. Additionally, “blessing” also refer to praying that the graces of God may be bestowed upon another individual. The theme of God’s blessing is woven throughout the entirety of the Bible, from the first chapter to the last. It is a central theme that encompasses all of God’s goodness and favor towards humanity. However, the concept of divine blessing is often misunderstood in Christian circles. Many believers often request God’s blessings upon themselves or their endeavors without giving much thought to whether they are genuinely eligible to receive God’s favor or if they are willing to put themselves in a position to receive it. If we look at the stories of Noah, Abraham, and Joseph in the Bible, we see that God’s blessing is not simply bestowed upon anyone who asks for it. Instead, it is often granted to those who demonstrate unwavering faith and obedience to God’s instructions. For instance, Noah was blessed by God because of his steadfast dedication and obedience to God’s instructions, even when the entire world was against him. God blessed Abraham because he demonstrated his faith and obedience by leaving everything he knew to follow God’s call. Joseph was also blessed by God even when he was a slave and a prisoner, long before he became a high-ranking official in the government. Therefore, as believers, we must have a deep and biblical understanding of the nature of divine blessing. We must realize that God’s blessing is not something we can ask for and expect to receive without first demonstrating our faith and obedience to Him.

It’s important to note that blessings are not sacraments but rather sacramentals. It’s essential to understand that while both blessings and sacraments are important rituals in the Catholic Church, they are not the same. Blessings are sacramentals, which are objects, actions, and prayers that the Church uses to bless people, places, and things. They are different from sacraments, which are seven specific rituals that convey God’s grace to the recipient, such as baptism, communion, and confirmation. So, when we say that blessings are not sacraments, we mean that they do not have the same effect as sacraments and are not necessary for salvation, but they are still an essential part of Catholic tradition and worship. Blessings are one of the primary sacramentals, praising God and requesting His gifts. Christians are blessed by God the Father through Christ with every spiritual blessing. The Church invokes the name of Jesus and makes the holy sign of the cross of Christ when imparting blessings. Specific blessings are significant as they consecrate people to God or reserve objects and places for liturgical use. Examples include the blessing of the abbot or abbess of a monastery, the consecration of virgins and widows, the rite of religious profession, and the blessing of specific ministries of the Church. Blessings of objects include the dedication or blessing of a church or altar, as well as the blessing of holy oils, vessels, vestments, and bells. The faithful may receive the sprinkling of holy water at the end of Mass when the priest makes the Sign of the Cross over them.

When two couple seek a blessing, even if their relationship is considered “irregular,” an ordained minister may grant it. However, this act of pastoral kindness must not resemble a marriage ceremony in any way. According to Catholic experts, a recent declaration from the Vatican regarding pastoral blessings does not alter the Catholic Church’s stance on marriage. Instead, the statement, titled “Fiducia Supplicans” (“Supplicating Trust”) and subtitled “On the pastoral meaning of blessings,” aims to expand the church’s support for those in unconventional situations. Pope Francis approved the document on Dec. 18 during a meeting with the head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernandez. Cardinal Fernandez explained in an introductory note that his office had been receiving inquiries about blessings for unmarried couples, including same-sex couples, and that the declaration was necessary to provide a more comprehensive explanation of blessings. In response to the declaration, the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) has maintained that despite the Pope’s directive, the Church’s teachings on marriage remain unchanged. Marriage is still regarded as a sacred and lifelong bond between a man and a woman. While an official from the Secretariat spoke in confidence, they emphasized the importance of clarifying that this stance does not alter the Church’s principles on the sacrament of marriage. The Church’s position on same-sex marriage remains unaltered. However, the decision to allow blessings for same-sex couples under specific circumstances is viewed as a way to acknowledge and respect the experiences of all members while staying true to the Church’s core beliefs. This move highlights the Church’s role in blessing its community rather than judging them.

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According to the statement, the document distinguishes between sacramental blessings performed during liturgical ceremonies and pastoral blessings provided to individuals seeking God’s grace in their lives. Additionally, the text emphasizes the importance of offering pastoral blessings to support people in need of God’s love and mercy. The Vatican’s stance on same-sex relationship blessings is unequivocal – they cannot be performed in a manner resembling marriage, with no rituals, vestments, liturgies, or links to civil ceremonies. Contrary to popular belief, pastoral guidance merely suggests that during a profound religious experience, such as a pilgrimage or spiritual retreat, a couple striving to live according to God’s will may seek a priest’s blessing spontaneously. The document is very clear about what it says and doesn’t say. The Church has the power to bless anyone, but it cannot provide formal liturgical blessings to couples in irregular relationships, whether same-sex or heterosexual. The point of the document is to highlight the possibility of an informal blessing for the positive aspects of a relationship, even if it is clouded in some way by sin.

However, this represents a significant advancement in the Catholic Church’s outreach to LGBTQ individuals. It acknowledges the sincere yearning of many same-sex Catholic couples for divine guidance and support in their committed and affectionate partnerships. The text marks a notable departure from the previous statement, “God does not and cannot bless sin,” issued just two years ago. The updated declaration permits non-liturgical blessings for same-sex couples, an option that was previously prohibited for all clergy. Though the document is undeniably eloquent, it is also more “conservative” than many media outlets have suggested. Regardless of your stance on the matter, the declaration navigates a delicate balance. It endeavors to answer the question, “Can we offer blessings to couples whose relationships do not align with the church’s definition of marriage? Rather than simply turning them away, can we bless them despite any perceived discrepancies in their union?”

The extent to which this will be carried out pastorally remains to be determined. The document does not mandate blessings; instead, it leaves the decision to the discretion of pastoral discernment. I would use stronger language in accordance with Catholic moral teaching and describe it as a prudential judgment. It’s difficult to see a scenario in which blessing an adulterous relationship resulting from a dissolved marriage would not be imprudent or potentially scandalous. While I anticipate that some advocates of recognizing same-sex relationships within the church will not be satisfied with this new guidance, I also predict that the frequency of spontaneous blessing requests will be minimal. Although the document aims to permit non-liturgical blessings for “whatever human good is present in the relationship to help (the individuals) move more completely into embracing (God’s) will for their lives,” there is potential for the document to be abused. Those who advocate for changing the church’s stance on same-sex relationships and marriage may use this as an endorsement for their selfish interest.

Although there may be room for misinterpretation, it is essential to note that the document in question does not challenge the moral teachings of the church. The issue of blessing same-sex unions is a separate matter altogether and is not the focus of the document. Instead, the emphasis is on accompaniment – providing support and blessings for individuals who seek God’s guidance. This is not a new concept for priests, who often encounter gay couples in various settings, such as family events, spiritual crises, and confessions. The document represents a genuine development from what has been taught about blessings in the past, enabling the potential for “blessing couples in irregular situations” without validating their status officially or altering the church’s age-old teachings about marriage in any way. For example, polygamy is deeply rooted in African culture. It is not only widely accepted; it is also seen as the preferred form of marriage by many. Africans associate monogamy with people of lower social status since polygamy allows a man to have many children and ensures the immortality of his family. This issue has presented a problem for the Catholic church as many polygamists are Mass attendants, and some even occupy prominent positions in the church. In 2017, the South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier raised the question of polygamy in the context of whether divorced and remarried Catholics should be permitted to receive Holy Communion on a case-by-case basis. According to Cardinal Napier, if the Western church in irregular situations can have access to the sacraments, why can’t we allow polygamists to do the same?” At the same time, some theologians have signaled their support for remarried couples to receive Holy Communion. They argued that the church might need to reinterpret Scripture to accept those restricted by law. There are people in polygamous relationships who were involved in it before becoming Christians. The church will need new catechesis to carry them along.

Change is an inevitable part of life that can manifest in various forms, ranging from minor adjustments to significant shifts that impact our daily routines. However, regardless of its form, change can be both costly and challenging to adapt to. It requires an investment of time, money, and effort to adjust to a new reality, which is why many people are resistant to it. The degree to which a particular individual is immune to a specific change depends on their cost and benefit analysis of the contemplated change. It’s worth noting that there are better approaches than changing everything and avoiding change altogether. While some people might view change as a reason to push themselves forward and embrace it as an opportunity for growth, others might find it overwhelming and challenging to navigate. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that resistance to change can sometimes hold us back and prevent us from achieving our full potential. The recent changes made by the church in regard to the blessing of same-sex couples have sparked a conversation on the importance of balancing progress with the costs involved. While it’s crucial to embrace change, it’s equally important to be mindful of its consequences. However, change is an inevitable part of life, and our ability to adapt and grow during times of transition can be a defining characteristic of our personal and professional success. Therefore, it’s essential to approach change with an open mind, thoughtful consideration, and a willingness to learn and evolve.

What lessons can we draw from the recent statement by the Pope regarding the blessing of same-sex unions? The Pope’s declaration has also raised questions about the future of the Catholic Church and its ability to adapt to changing social norms and values. It has also led to a number of legitimate questions among Catholics regarding the ability of the Church to impart blessings in morally and ethically acceptable ways for relationships of this nature. Some of them have also pointed out that if the Church starts blessing gay couples, it should also consider blessing other objectively sinful situations, such as polygamy and cohabitation. This has led to a broader discussion about the nature of blessings and whether or not they should be limited to certain kinds of relationships. The debate has been ongoing for quite some time now, with different factions within the Catholic community holding differing views on the matter. While some Catholics believe that the Church should be more inclusive and accepting of same-sex relationships, others argue that such relationships go against the Church’s teachings and should not be blessed. The issue of blessings has also been a point of contention, with some Catholics questioning what exactly constitutes a blessing and whether or not it should be limited to certain situations. Some have argued that blessings should be a way for the Church to show its acceptance and support for all kinds of relationships. In contrast, others have cautioned against the potential slippery slope of blessing objectively sinful situations. Overall, the Pope’s declaration has sparked a much-needed conversation within the Catholic community about the nature of relationships and the role of the Church in blessing them. While opinions may differ, it is clear that this is a topic that requires careful consideration and thoughtful dialogue.

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There are certain instances where people may feel compelled to request a blessing, whether it be during a pilgrimage, at a religious shrine, or even while encountering a priest on the street. It is important to note that these blessings are meant for everyone, without exception. This includes those individuals who may be in polygamous marriages or those who are cohabiting with a partner who is not their legal spouse. While it may not be appropriate to establish any formal procedures or rituals for such cases, an ordained minister or religious leader may choose to join in prayer with those individuals who seek the Lord’s mercy and understanding of his plan of love and truth. For those who are in unions that cannot be compared in any way to marriage, it is still possible to seek solace in the Lord’s guidance and assistance in navigating the complexities of these relationships. This compassionate approach allows for a deeper understanding of the complexities of life and the different paths that individuals may be on. It is a reminder that everyone is deserving of God’s love and grace, regardless of their circumstances or life choices.

In paragraph 21, it is mentioned that asking for a blessing is an expression of a petition for God’s assistance and a plea to live better. It is a way of acknowledging one’s need for God’s saving presence in their lives. This request for a blessing should be valued and received with respect, regardless of whether it is made within a liturgical framework or in a more spontaneous and accessible setting. When considering blessings from the perspective of popular piety, it is essential to recognize them as acts of devotion. Those who request a blessing should not be judged or evaluated based on their prior moral perfection. Instead, the focus should be on the intention behind the request and the recognition of a need for God’s grace and assistance. In this way, blessings can be seen as a meaningful and authentic expression of one’s faith and devotion.

It’s important to clarify that the Pope’s comments should not be taken as a shift in the Catholic Church’s official stance on marriage equality. Although the Pope expressed support for legal protections of same-sex couples, he has reaffirmed that marriage is a sacrament between a man and a woman, which is a fundamental belief in the Catholic Church. Therefore, it is essential to avoid conflating the Pope’s “blessing” of same-sex unions with a change in the Church’s official position on marriage equality. While the Pope’s comments may be seen as a step in the right direction for those who support marriage equality, the Catholic Church’s teachings on marriage remain unchanged. Marriage is a legally and socially recognized union between two individuals, traditionally a man and a woman, who vow to love and honor each other for the rest of their lives. The phrase “one flesh” refers to the physical union that takes place on the wedding night, symbolizing the couple’s commitment to becoming a single entity. This union is considered sacred in many cultures and religions and is often accompanied by religious rituals and customs. In the Catholic church, it is believed that marriage is a covenant between the couple and God and that they are no longer two separate entities but one. This means that what God has joined together, no one should try to separate. It is a lifelong commitment that requires love, trust, and respect from both partners and is considered the foundation of a strong family and community.

It is important to note that different religious institutions may have varying policies and beliefs when it comes to same-sex blessings. Some religious organizations may have strict rules against it, while others may be more accepting. Furthermore, some religious institutions may have specific policies in place regarding same-sex blessings, while others may be more open to the idea. Ultimately, the couple decides to determine what is best for them and their relationship. However, couples who belong to a particular church must take into account their religious institution’s stance on same-sex blessings. This knowledge can help them make an informed decision on what is best for their relationship and whether or not to ask their clergy for a blessing. It is crucial to understand that the couple should be the ones to decide what aligns with their values and beliefs. They must weigh their religious beliefs against their desire to have their relationship blessed by their religious institution. Ultimately, the decision should be made based on what the couple feels is best for them, taking into account their beliefs and values.

In conclusion, it is important to note that Pope Francis’s recent statement supporting same-sex couples’ rights to ask for blessing by the Catholic Church does not equate to endorsing marriage equality. While this is a significant step towards inclusion and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, it is crucial to understand that the Catholic Church still considers marriage as a sacrament between a man and a woman. Therefore, this statement does not necessarily imply a change in the Church’s stance on marriage, but rather an extension of its pastoral care to all of its members, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In today’s modern era, individuals face an increasing challenge when it comes to engaging with written content. The famous adage “out of sight, out of mind” seems to apply to reading, as people are often more drawn to social media and frivolous news rather than informative text. Even when a significant document, like a statement from the Pope, is readily accessible online, many individuals prefer to rely on other people’s viewpoints instead of reading the source themselves. In a world where an abundance of information is available at our disposal, it’s crucial to take responsibility for our own learning by actively seeking out and reading primary sources rather than relying on hearsay and secondary interpretations. Utilize a search engine like Google to explore the Pope’s message. The information is readily available to us for free, so there’s no reason not to delve into it.

Rev. Ma, S.J, is a Jesuit Catholic priest and PhD candidate in public and social policy at St. Louis University in the state of Missouri, USA.

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