A post by Piers Paul Reid in the Catholic Herald has I think got to the root of the issues surrounding the fallout around that weighty and worrisome document Amoris Laetitia. However, I thoroughly disagree with his line of argument and with his tentative conclusion. You can read the whole post here. I am going to attack it here from the quiet seclusion of my blog. My attack will somewhat oblique and what is written below will stand up for itself and doesn't need the background of the article in the Herald.
The spiritual life has often been considered as a long ascent towards God. As I see it, there are stages in this ascent. At the base is a garish seaside town with many distractions, you have to climb up a cliff to break free from them. The path is well trod and it is fairly obvious where you ought to stick your feet. The path meanders away from the town and as you climb you realise that at the base of the cliff is a surging sea and unpleasant looking rocks. This path can go on for what seems like an age. It is easy to double back and return to the town, the path is boring and doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Whilst the rocks look unpleasant, you feel fairly sure the path is sturdy and you won't be falling back anytime soon, what does it matter if you go back? It only matters in the fact that the next time you try to climb, it will provide you with fresh challenges and you will have less and less resources to deal with them. Sin weakens your ability to see the path clearly and sin makes what you do away from your spiritual life seem justifiably OK. Each time you attempt the climb you will make less progress. Worldliness will give you blisters and discomfort.
However I am sure saints have been made who have hardly begun the ascent: their constant battle to even begin the climb has been a struggle of heroic virtue for them. They have been truly full of contrition in the confessional and been frequently, they have made good use of the sacraments and they have a holy fear of offending God. These are the souls who often die shortly after overcoming some sin that they have been going to the confessional for years with.
For those who see nothing of interest in the town and climb because they don't know what else they should be doing, the gradual distance from the town and from the rocks below the path are a comfort of sorts and they plod on. Falls can be painful, the path becomes ever more treacherous and the climber knows they are ever more reliant on God. And the souls here learn the praise of God and learn to sing it all the more frequently. There are saints who have never got further than this. It is the spiritual enemies they have had to overcome to get this far that have brought them into the arms of their loving God. A less good hearted person on this stage who dies before reaching the end of it will most certainly make purgatory.
If you get to the top of the cliffs, what lies beyond is terrible. It is a flat plateau and in the distance rise some magnificent mountains. Overhead eagles circle. The plateau is boggy, there is no clear path to the mountains. In this stage lies isolation. There is silence. In this spiritual place you are alone with God, and often simply alone. Yet in the real world, you will be surrounded by souls who need your assistance, who look to you for advice, who consider you to be a good and holy sort of person. You don't believe a word of it. You have lost your moral compass, you no longer have any sense of anything other than trust in God. Moral arguments and virtue stop meaning anything, but it is the abhorrence of sin and the holy fear of offending God that keep you able to sing His praise in this wilderness. Spiritual death can happen here usually at the hands of despair as you deliberately fall headlong into the bog rather than trusting God to lead you along the path you can't see towards the mountains that aren't getting any closer. And the devil will be bellowing in your ear that it is pointless, that you are wasting your time, that nothing is worthwhile, that there is no happiness to be found in what you are doing, that what you are doing must be wrong because it brings no reward. And the devil attaches weights to your arms and legs and you plod on.
You see, there is no predestination. God wants us all to be saints and that is our calling. We can become saints at any stage along the way provided we trust in God and humbly know we are incapable of anything without Him. We can end up in hell from any stage through trusting in ourselves and through allowing worldly distractions to take over. The way to hell feels a lot pleasanter than the road away from hell until it is nearly too late to escape from it.
You see, we all need the sacraments. We all need the grace of God. We all need to cast off the old Adam and let our souls flourish as we learn to love God more and more.
But the sacraments aren't a right. Nobody has a right to receive. Nobody is worthy of receiving the Eucharist. If the sacraments are the food on the journey, then like ordinary food they need to be digested properly, but there can be a thousand and one things wrong with the gut. It is wrong to say that frequent reception of the sacraments will be a sure fire way to make progress, in the same way it is wrong to say that eating is always a good thing. It is wrong to say they in some way they are a nutritious tonic that can only do good. That turns them into magic and magic they are not. The sacraments are more the resting places along the way than the food taken on the way. They are the holy rest in the arms of God. So if the sacraments are taken in order to be busy, like a nutrition bar to help you climb, you will sooner or later slip up again and everything will become so much harder. The sacraments aren't about you. They are about God. And God will provide you with all you need for the journey, provided you humbly rest with Him along the way.
My point being that the sacraments are not a panacea and should not be treated as such. They won't always do you good. Especially if you are presumptuous enough to believe you have a right to them. Surely there is a great sin in encouraging souls to approach the sacraments as a never failing, sweet tasting medicine that will cure you as if by magic in isolation to everything else. The real cure lies in a change of lifestyle, a clearer determination to follow the path, receiving the sacraments worthily and giving yourself over totally in loving submission to the will of the Divine Physician.