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Pastoral mercy

In „Amoris Laetitia - On love in the family” (Pope Francis 2016)

 

305.  For this reason, a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in “irregular” situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives.
This would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings,
 “sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult cases and wounded families”.349

 

..”natural law could not be presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal350 process of making decisions”.

Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace,
can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.351
[In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 [2013],  1038).  I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (ibid., 47: 1039).]

 By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth,
 and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God.

 

 Let us remember that “a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order, but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties”.352

The practical pastoral care of ministers and of communities must not fail to embrace this reality.

306. In every situation, when dealing with those who have difficulties in living God’s law to the full, the invitation to pursue the via caritatis must be clearly heard.


Fraternal charity is the first law of Christians (cf. Jn 15:12; Gal 5:14).
 Let us not forget the reassuring words of Scripture:
“Maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8);
“Atone for your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed, so that your prosperity may be prolonged” (Dan 4:24[27]);
“As water extinguishes a blazing ire, so almsgiving atones for sins” (Sir 3:30).

 


The Logic of pastoral mercy

 

307. In order to avoid all misunderstanding, I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur. “



308. At the same time, from our awareness of the weight of mitigating circumstances
– psychological, historical and even biological –
it follows that “without detracting from the evangelical ideal, there is a need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively appear”, making room for “the Lord’s mercy, which spurs us on 355to do our best”.

 

I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion.
But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness,

 a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, “always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street”.356

 

The Church’s pastors, in proposing to the faithful the full ideal of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching,
must also help them to treat the weak with compassion,
avoiding aggravation or unduly harsh or hasty judgements.

 

The Gospel itself tells us not to judge or condemn
(cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37).

 Jesus “expects us to stop looking for those personal or communal niches which shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune, and instead to enter into the reality of other people’s lives and to know the power of tenderness.
Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated”.357

309. …

 The Bride of Christ must pattern her behavior after the Son of God who goes out to everyone with358out exception”.
She knows that Jesus himself is the shepherd of the hundred, not just of the ninety-nine.
He loves them all.

On the basis of this realization, it will become possible for “the balm of mercy to reach everyone, believers and those far away, as a sign that the kingdom of God is already present in our midst”.359

310. We cannot forget that “mercy is not only the working of the Father;
 it becomes a criterion for knowing who his true children are.
In a word, we are called to show mercy because mercy was first 360shown to us”.

 

… For “mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness which she shows to believers; nothing in her preaching and her witness to the world can 361be lacking in mercy”.
 It is true that at times “we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators.
But the Church is not a tollhouse;
it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for 362everyone, with all their problems”.


311. …

At times we find it hard to make room for God’s unconditional love in our pastoral activity.364
We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That is the worst way of watering down the Gospel.



312. This offers us a framework and a setting which help us
avoid a cold bureaucratic morality in dealing with more sensitive issues.
 Instead, it sets us in the context of a
pastoral discernment filled with merciful love,
which is ever ready to understand, forgive, accompany, hope,
and above all integrate.

 

That is the mindset which should prevail in the Church and lead us to “open our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society”.366

 

I also encourage the Church’s pastors to listen to them with sensitivity and serenity, with a sincere desire to understand their plight and their point of view, in order to help them live better lives and to recognize their proper place in the Church.

Text selection and formatting by M.Hanglberger (www.hanglberger-manfred.de)

 

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