Pope Francis is big on not judging people, and he wants others not to judge people either. This has always been a challenge for me, as I tend to base my self-worth on being “different” from others, and so I get mad when someone has the same talent as me or when someone is “better” than me at something. I have also been told that I am extremely hard on myself because I’m not meeting my own impossible expectations. Irrational and stupid, I know, but everyone has faults. So hearing about the message of the encyclical was a huge wake-up slap for me. I really need to work on that whole “not judging” thing.
Anyway, in the exhortation, the Pope talks about how it is no longer OK (well, it has never been OK) to judge a person’s situation without knowing the specifics of that situation. If two people are living together out of wedlock, which is extremely common nowadays, so common that it’s no longer frowned upon anymore (at least by most people), you can’t point the finger at them and say, “You can’t receive Holy Communion because you’re living in sin!” And going along with that, we can’t think that we’re superior to those people whom we perceive as breaking one of the 10 Commandments.
The Pope doesn’t explicitly state that it is now totally OK for two people to live together before marriage or for divorced or remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion. None of the main Catholic teachings were changed one bit. I believe he said that that the decision of whether to receive Holy Communion ultimately comes down to that individual’s conscience. That struck me as kind of an odd statement to make because conscience is so subjective. If people are sinning and they don’t want to break away from their sin or even see that what they’re doing is a sin, they will do everything in their power to rationalize it. So their conscience may become clouded.
Also, we are living in a culture that forms consciences in a negative way. Parents are supposed to help form a child’s conscience, along with church, CCD classes, and other positive influences. However, many other things in today’s society can form a child’s conscience in a negative way: pop culture, music, oversexualized advertising, video games, the media, TV, Internet, and so on. If people are living in a world that does not help them to develop a good conscience, then they will be guided by a mixture of positive and negative elements and will become confused.
So… can people living in today’s society truly rely on their conscience? Again, it depends on the individual. The “rely on your conscience” part of it is troubling to me, but I understand that Pope Francis wants people who are divorced or remarried to seek reconciliation so they can come into full communion with the church, and he wants them to ask the advice of priests and confessors so they may form their conscience correctly and make the right decision for their unique situation. Pope Francis wants us to welcome people into the church and not make judgments about them, to leave those judgments up to the person’s conscience and ultimately to God. Pope Francis wants to avoid rigidity in church rules; it’s not black and white, and the person’s situation must be taken into account.
For me, the tl;dr version of the entire exhortation is this: Do not judge others. Let God worry about the “judgment” part of it.