Two things – one political and the other ecclesiastical – tell the story of 2016.
The election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States and Pope Francis’ issuance of “Amoris Laetitia” were the signature moments of the year. Both point to revolutionary moments in the history of the country and the Church.
The choice of Trump as Chief Executive – and Great Britain’s vote to secede from the European Union – loudly proclaimed that it would no longer be politics as usual. People are fed up with the ways things are going and they want a change.
President-elect Trump campaigned on making America great again, meaning getting back to times when people had jobs, the government interfered less in people’s lives and America was respected around the world.
Love Trump or not, his presidency seems destined to be different from all others and signals a turning point for the country.
Another turning point came for the Church when Pope Francis offered his reflection on the Synod on the Family. The papal exhortation, entitled “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), outlined a shift in pastoral ministry that has encouraged many and annoyed others.
The Holy Father sees more gray areas than black and white and so he proposes a more flexible pastoral approach on issues such as marriage and divorce. Some Church leaders see the pope’s statements as nebulous on doctrine and yet others welcome it as being more flexible in staying in contact with people as they grow in their experience of life.
The papal document proclaims that the Church may not always have the answers to all the questions. When was the last time you heard a pope say something like that?
Pope Francis is determined to have the Church walk alongside its people and accompany them on their journeys through life. This may be a lot messier and less certain than the way we have acted in the past. More flexibility and less rigidity are the guiding lights.
President-elect Trump and Pope Francis, although they may not think alike on all the issues, are setting out on new paths. While sometimes they seem to be going in different directions, they both support the sacredness of the individual person and they each have strong and loyal constituencies.
The nation and the Church are putting their hopes in these two men and the ideas they are espousing. The two have never met. When they do, we hope that there will be a meeting of the minds and that they will lead to a new day for all people around the globe.
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Need something to read over the Christmas holidays. Try one of these: “Mulligan’s Christmas Stew,” a collection of columns by the late Hugh Mulligan; James Patterson’s “Merry Christmas, Alex Cross;” and Mary Higgins Clark’s “Silent Night.”