Pope Francis has once again uniquely, and seemingly in his own disarming style, demonstrated a pastor’s heart in his Apostolic Exhortation, “On Love in the Family” released this morning in Rome and in my hands only late yesterday. Let me begin by saying that the document is 261 pages long and I have only been able to give it the most cursory attention. It deserves and will receive far more from me as it should from every serious reader.
Here are just a few of my personal take-aways from my admittedly quick review:
- Pope Francis embraces and expands upon the notion of the primacy of conscience which was begun to be examined by Pope Paul VI in the late ‘60’s and tells us that the Church and its ministers are “called to form consciences not to replace them.” What that seems to me to imply is that once a person has received the input of the teaching, believing and ministering Church, they should not be precluded from applying their experience along with the teaching to reach a conscience conclusion of something which bothers them.
- As he often has, Pope Francis insists that Jesus healed, not judged the persons he met and confronted and that a Church which consists of a manual of don’ts and do’s is not helping people live but hurting or at least obstructing them from the truth.
- In marriage, in procreation, in raising children, the Pope acknowledges and affirms traditional teaching as the ideal but acknowledges that not everyone reaches or can live at the ideal level. This man knows the common person’s struggles like many of our finest priests and deacons and carefully says, as they know, that no one size necessarily fits all human conditions.
- Every married person should read his reflection on 1 Corinthians (89-119)
- We priests will have to give additional time, reflection and prayer to Francis’ notions of accompaniment. This is particularly applicable in those sections which touch on the matter of those divorced and civilly remarried.
- A Church which offers to those struggling with relationships, marriage and its definition, cohabitation, and contraception could use a larger spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down – the sugar being mercy, forgiveness, compassion, understanding, love, tenderness.
In conclusion, I find “On Love in the Family” to be an invitation not a rejection. It is an invitation to those who might have wished for a different result, a different message to hear that not only are you not drummed out of the corps, but the door is open even wider. Mercy trumps (sorry about the verb choice) judgment when your spiritual, mental and physical well-being are at stake. The Church wishes to accompany you as a friend on your journey and perhaps we as Church can and should learn to live with and accept a certain amount of messiness as we try to walk by light.
First read, first reaction. More later. I promise.