Gospel and Fragility
“Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.” These words, almost a hymn, are how Pope Francis expressed himself in the Bull with which he inaugurated the Jubilee Year of Mercy on April 11th. They reveal the heart of his understanding of the Petrine mystery that he spells out in an unmistakably concrete manner: God “does not limit himself merely to affirming his love, but makes it visible and tangible. Love, after all, can never be just an abstraction. By its very nature, it indicates something concrete: intentions, attitudes, and behaviors that are shown in daily living.” Thus: “In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.” (1)
It needs to be said from the outset: Pope Francis does not intend to minimize the importance of faithfulness to truth and dogmatic clarity but weaves them into the reality experienced by ordinary people with a pastoral concern that fully expresses the agape of the Gospel. This is not giving in to compromises but being loyal to the God whose accomplished Truth is Love. A liberating message that leaves no one in peace.
This is the path which has been followed by the two synods of bishops dedicated to the theme of the family. A journey which is to be lived by reading “both the signs of God and human history, in a twofold yet unique faithfulness which this reading involves” and which must be anchored in “the reality and the dynamic of mercy and truth that meet in Christ”. There must also be a realistic listening to the family today with all its ”joys and trials, deep love and relationships which, at times, can be wounded” while at the same time keeping "our gaze [is] fixed on Christ to ponder, with renewed freshness and enthusiasm, what Revelation, transmitted in the Church’s faith, tells us about the beauty, the role and the dignity of the family”, i.e. the Gospel of the family. (2)
On the one hand, faithfulness to the design of God is not to be understood "as a 'yoke' imposed on men but rather as a 'gift'", as "good news" that liberates and which must serve the deepest fulfillment and happiness of people; and on the other hand, faithfulness to people in how they actually live and often suffer in a complex society and with an inner experience - their own and others - which is no less complex and from which many frailties derive.
In this situation – as the Lineamenta say – the Church needs a dual conversion. First of all “a missionary conversion (…), that is, not stopping at proclaiming a merely theoretical message with no connection to people’s real problems” but where “conversion also needs to be seen in the language we use, so that it might prove to be effectively meaningful.” (3)
The key phrase is the art of accompaniment. In this regard the Lineamenta refer to what is masterfully illustrated by Pope Francis in Evangelii gaudium: ”without detracting from the evangelical ideal, they need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively occur.” We always must learn “to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life.” A good companion, in fact, “does not give in to frustrations or fears. He or she invites others to let themselves be healed, to take up their mat, embrace the cross, leave all behind and go forth ever anew to proclaim the Gospel.” (4)
This is a demanding program which the Church is called to implement - as the Lineamenta also say – “with the tenderness of a mother and the clarity of a teacher (cf. Eph 4:15), in faithfulness to the mercy displayed in Christ’s kenosis. Truth became flesh in human weakness, not to condemn it but to save it (cf. Jn 3:16, 17).” Yes, "the Church", not only bishops and priests, but the entire People of God, are called all together to be the protagonists of this great enterprise of evangelization and accompany the family. “Without the joyous testimony of married people and families, domestic churches, proclamation, even if done in its proper way, risks being misunderstood or lost in a flurry of words that is characteristic of today's society.” (5)
This issue of Being One wants to be evidence of this fruitful sharing of responsibility and interaction between families and ordained ministers. The insights and experiences gathered here on the theme of the "wounds" of married life and how to prevent them, how to accompany them and how to treat them, come largely from committed lay people, from families that were formed in contact with other families, but also with consecrated persons and ordained ministers, each with their special gift. There is no doubt that we have to grow in this communion at the service of the ecclesial community and of a world built according to what can be the best in human beings.
1 Bull Misericordiae vultus, nn. 2, 9 e 12.
2 Relatio Synodi, nn. 3, 11, 2, 4, in: Lineamenta for the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of bishops.
3 Relatio Synodi, nn. 32 e 33.
4 Evangelii gaudium, nn. 44, 169, 172.
5 Relatio Synodi, n. 29 and 30.