Family Spirituality and Pastoral Mercy
CHAPTER eight of The Joy of Love, “Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness,” has elicited much comment; it deals with Church pastoral situations “which do not yet or no longer correspond to her teaching on marriage” (292), e.g. cohabitation, the divorced and civilly remarried, their acceptance within the Church.
This modest reflection cannot respond to the many, diverse pastoral questions that arise (consider reading The Joy of Love for yourself). Only some of Pope Francis’ pastoral guidelines are presented.
Francis recommends that we follow “the logic of pastoral mercy” (307-312), employing the principle of “gradualness in pastoral care” (293-295) and the “discernment of ‘irregular’ situations” (296-300). Such sensitive approaches are needed, since “we know that no ‘easy recipes’ exist” (298) for such greatly diverse marital and family situations that exist in the world today.
Need for Pastoral Sensitivity. “As for the way of dealing with different ‘irregular’ situations [several were noted earlier], the Synod Fathers reached a general consensus, which I [Pope Francis] support: ‘In considering a pastoral approach toward people who have contracted a civil marriage, who are divorced and remarried, or simply living together, the Church has the responsibility of helping them understand the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives and offering them assistance so they can reach the fullness of God’s plan for them,’ something which is always possible by the power of the Holy Spirit” (297).
Thus, Francis sees the Church’s task in such cases as acting like a “field hospital” which will serve and “accompany with attention and care the weakest of her children, who show signs of a wounded and troubled love” (291). Undoubtedly, the key for Pope Francis is “pastoral mercy” (307).
Spirituality of Marriage and Family. In the ninth and concluding chapter of The Joy of Love, Pope Francis notes that “the spirituality of family love is made up of thousands of small but real gestures”; indeed, “the Lord’s presence dwells in real and concrete families, with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes” (315). Authentic spirituality “becomes incarnate in the communion of the family” (316).
For Francis, everything, all “moments of joy, relaxation, celebration, and even sexuality can be experienced as a sharing in the full life of the resurrection” (317). The pope encourages “family prayer [as] a special way of expressing and strengthening” the faith (318). “All family life is a ‘shepherding’ in mercy. Each of us, by our love and care, leaves a mark on the life of others” (322).
“It is a profound spiritual experience to contemplate our loved ones with the eyes of God and to see Christ in them…. Our loved ones merit our complete attention…. This gives rise to a tenderness which can ‘stir in the other the joy of being loved. Tenderness is expressed in a particular way by exercising loving care in treating the limitations of the other’” (323).
Conclusion. In the final paragraph Francis affirms: “No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in their ability to love. This is a never-ending vocation…. Let us make this journey as families, let us keep walking together…. Holy Family of Nazareth, grant that our families too may be places of communion and prayer, authentic schools of the Gospel and small domestic churches” (325). Holy Family of Nazareth, we turn to you; guide our path; pray for us!