Fiducia Supplicans Blessing? What blessing? (3)

HomeFilioque in EnglishFiducia Supplicans Blessing? What blessing? (3)

Homeward-bound in the ark of tradition (3): Blessing? What blessing?

How the last two instructions of the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) creates genuine feelings of unease @PaterElias #FilioQueInEnglish 

Homeward-bound in the ark of tradition 

In ‘FilioQue in English, the catholic trademark’ Father Elias Leyds c.s.j. tries to distinguish in both written and spoken word the truth from the false, the Word that has become flesh, always in search for Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life. “As a priest, a foot soldier in the Lord’s trenches, I should not comment but explain, because Clarity is the only munition of the gospel of life”.   

December 2023, Oisterwijk – Just when I was finalizing an article about tradition and looking forward to watch the news about another volcanic eruption taking place in Iceland, my peaceful focus was disturbed by the breaking news about a declaration issued by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, approved by Pope Francis, concerning blessings: Fiducia Supplicans. By some the document itself was received as a blessing. Others were less enthusiastic. In the mainstream media, it seemed to be just another piece of wreckage floating slowly but irreversibly towards yawning oceans of indetermination. This document probably will soon be forgotten and another headline will be needed to assuage modernity’s collective acedia. As far as I’m concerned, the complete lack of objective clarity meant that after reading it my thoughts were caught in a traffic jam of questions.

If I insist on objectivity and clarity, it’s not because I am a fan of Ayn Rand’s doctrine of objectivism, which I am not. Sure, I do appreciate her attempt to escape from the stranglehold of the tedious and ultimately oppressive and repressive doctrine of Immanuel Kant, but unfortunately, she spectacularly fails. Her understanding of freedom is so nihilistic and solipsistic, that to me it is rather a subjectivist kiss of death. In fact, learning about the objective truth and trying to communicate it as clearly as possible, has been a guiding light in my personal life. And it has brought me closer to other, very different and sometimes threatening people. It first freed me from the cheerless self-centredness of liberal Christianity, which is where I was baptised. It then helped me to see through the hypocrisy of the more observing Calvinist culture of my secondary school. While at university, the thirst of objectivity guided my way towards the Roman Catholic Church, despite the elitist originally masonic environment of my student fraternity.

Then, when as prison chaplain of Lithuania’s largest prison in Vilnius, in the former Soviet Union, the despair of hundreds of young fatherless guys forced me onto the ropes. No inclusive smile could save me from the knock-out blow of the darkness they were trying to flee as they challenged my hope. None of this happened to me on the margins of society. I was at its centre, surrounded and encircled by the demons of a failed utopian paradigm. Only by objectivity could those guys regain confidence in God and in themselves. For them, clear truths were a powerful fatherly blessing.

As a matter of fact, as a priestly servant of souls in the Church of Christ, respecting and relaying objectivity is the most effective way to combat my own very human tendency to become narcissistic when in a position of authority. For any mediator, and member of a hierarchy, taking the risk of being lonely and unloved for proclaiming the truthful gospel is the best remedy against the abysmal sin of vanity. God wants to change our opaque flesh into transparency to the Word, the sole Mediator in whom we can discover the Father. Clarity therefore is not optional, it’s obligatory. So here I am again, with many questions.

When I started reading Fiducia Supplicans, I first checked the 31 footnotes. Of these, 21 are references to other documents of this pontificate. None are to documents older than 1985. I therefore did not expect any surprises and wondered what all the fuss was about. However, the first thing that struck me while reading was the absence of clarity concerning the relationship between benediction, fatherhood and fertility. The Catechism clearly makes this link[1]. And it does so with good reason, for it simply follows the biblical mystagogy. Moreover, as usual in contemporary Church teaching, fatherhood and motherhood are barely distinguished, if at all. In §27 we even find the strangely innovating and para-biblical remark that ‘God is mother’. What has happened to our Lady, chosen to be Mother of God? Does Jesus ever call God His mother? Or does He have two? Maybe I missed something? Sure, in God is motherhood, for He is the beginning and origin of all things. But He revealed this mystery in an amazing way by being God in a mother, chosen from amongst all women.

So, what is the difference between fatherhood and motherhood, between man and woman, if any? If ever our theologians of the Magisterium have some spare time, maybe writing some document about the divine wisdom of creating man and woman differently would be very helpful. Why and how do man and woman need each other? Moreover, because the Catholic faith is neither binary, nor Taoistic, nor dualistic in any way, but humanly trinary and divinely trinitarian, let’s not forget the natural side effect of the complementarity of man and woman. Yes, it would be even more helpful to shed some light of wisdom on the way a child needs a father and a mother.

One plus one is two but then becomes three. We know what it means to consummate the sacrament of marriage. But in what way is the life of marriage, fruitful and eventful, in which children are received and educated, completed when responsible grown-ups set out into the world? What is the fatherly and what is the motherly contribution to education? There is a stark emergency here. Everywhere in the Church parents are on the ropes. We live in a culture where government sponsored programs encourage kids to despise their own bodies, and punish them by mutilating them irreversibly. Maybe the disguised cry of despair of these kids and the stifled bewilderment of their loving parents have not yet reached the serene hill in Rome. But isn’t it time to risk a negative reaction in mainstream media and do something about this apocalyptic turmoil devouring our kids? If this is not child abuse, then what is?

A rather mystifying trait of Fiducia Supplicans is its ‘pastoral’ language, which does not refer to dogmatic or moral theological aspects of blessings. The place of benediction within the sacramental economy and the economy of good deeds is not clear. There is no real explanation of the meaning of blessing: what is a blessing and why does God want to bless? Moreover, why should someone want to receive a blessing? The intention of the demander, which involves more than just a feeling or a desire to be confirmed, hardly gets any attention. An intention implies attention and focus with respect to a purpose seen from afar. Here the heart and the mind shall meet, unite and be fruitful. Here the desire is not blind, it sees and wants to see better, and it knows and wants to meet face to face. It wants to receive and respond. The intention of the demand for a blessing is crucial, especially when the blessing takes place outside a ritualized context, because it originates from the invisible Father and after descending through someone mediating, it ascends to Him according to divine wisdom as a thanksgiving. But … a thanksgiving for what? Without intention, freedom is an absurdity and only a totalitarian paradigm can keep mankind together. Inclusion denying free will naturally transforms into incarceration.

After a rather elaborate repetitive text about blessing individuals, it passes to the blessing of groups, like pilgrims. Thus, the step is made from the relationship of individuals with God to relationships amongst people. Here suddenly something objective must determine the nature of that relationship. Nothing is specified. But then it becomes clear that at the core of this document’s reasoning is a vague neologism concerning how the blessing takes place: it can be an ‘unritualized’ blessing. It is concluded, that the blessing of a homosexual couple is allowed, on the condition that the blessing is categorized as unritualized and any resemblance to the sacrament of marriage is excluded. I wonder if this prescription will heal any homosexual couple’s feeling of being excluded. It certainly does not heal my feeling of being duped. What on earth does it mean, ‘unritualized’ blessings?

Is a blessing possible without any ritualization that makes it identifiable as such? If no objective form is prescribed, can there be any reference to its principal Author, on whose behalf its mediating action takes place and can be warranted? Can the concrete form of a ritual be exclusively determined by the spontaneity of the one performing it, and if so, what then gives the blessing gesture a fiduciary and transcendental character, beyond the individuals involved? Instead of a laying on of hands or making a sign of the cross, may I also apply a laying on of feet, and make a yin/yang sign on the forehead with my left little toe? Can it be also a spontaneous compassionate hug? Or is there some natural meaning of a blessing, and therefore a naturally appropriate form of its gesture? How do I prevent my unritualized blessing from having any resemblance with a ritualized blessing or a sacramental? There is an obvious problem here. Any gesture representing a supernatural mediation must have some recognizable form, referring to and warranting the connection with some transcendent authority. If unrecognizable, it is also irrelevant. Any discernment about to whom and how it can be administered is pointless.

Not so much because of the shifting of a moral boundary, but because of the total blurring of the concept of blessing, there will be different interpretations of Fiducia Supplicans, from which there will be even more division. Conservatives will probably feel it goes too far, while progressives might find it does not go far enough. They’ll have to wait for the next loss of meaning to push the frontier of what is allowed. I wonder, who has caught on, that the text first strips the term blessing of its meaning, and then declares that everyone and everything should be able to be blessed. Of course, that’s the easiest solution: proclaim that something merciful but meaningless be allowed anywhere and everywhere. Therefore, my question is: what is a blessing in itself? What form and meaning did it have in both scriptural and catholic church tradition? How can a blessing take place without an objective recognizable ritual, prescribed or unwritten, and why would anyone ask for such a blessing at all? In the mean time, I sit on my peaceful rock by the vast river, watching aghast as it slowly flows with floating wreckage towards those oceanic waters, where deconstructed vessels sink into oblivion. I have chosen not to flow with it. But if at any time, I am forced to swim, I will do so against its current.

+ Father Elias Leyds c.s.j.


[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, especially 1078-1083


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