Pope Francis says Church must accompany, not condemn, those whose marriages fail

Vatican Radio reports on his homily this morning:

Pope Francis celebrated Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta residence in the Vatican this morning. In remarks following the readings of the day, the Holy Father focused on the beauty of marriage and warned that the Church must accompany – not condemn – those who experience failure in married life. He explained that Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church, and therefore you cannot understand one without the Other.

The Holy Father also warned against giving in to the temptation to entertain “special pleading” in questions regarding marriage. The Pharisees, he noted, present Jesus with the problem of divorce. Their method, the Pope said, is always the same: “casuistry,” — “is this licit or not?”

“It is always the small case. And this is the trap, behind casuistry, behind casuistical thought, there is always a trap: against people, against us, and against God, always. ‘But is it licit to do this? To divorce his wife?’ And Jesus answered, asking them what the Law said, and explaining why Moses framed the Law as he did. But He doesn’t stop there. From [the study of the particular case], He goes to the heart of the problem, and here He goes straight to the days of Creation. That reference of the Lord is so beautiful: ‘But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh’.”

Pope Francis went on to say, “The Lord refers to the masterpiece of Creation,” which is precisely the human person, created as male and female. God said He “did not want man to be alone,” He wanted him to be with “his companion along the way.” The moment Adam meets Eve, he said, is a poetic moment: “It is the beginning of love: [a couple] going together as one flesh.” The Lord , he repeated, “always takes casuistic thought and brings it to the beginning of revelation.” On the other hand, he explained, “this masterpiece of the Lord is not finished there, in the days of Creation, because the Lord has chosen this icon to explain the love that He has for His people.” At the very point “when the people is unfaithful,” he said, God speaks to him with words of love”:

“The Lord takes this love of the masterpiece of Creation to explain the love He has for His people. And going further: when Paul needs to explain the mystery of Christ, he does it in a relationship, in reference to His Spouse: because Christ is married, Christ was married, He married the Church, His people. As the Father had married the People of Israel, Christ married His people. This is the love story, this is the history of the masterpiece of Creation – and before this path of love, this icon, casuistry falls and becomes sorrowful. When, however, this leaving one’s father and mother, and joining oneself to a woman, and going forward… when this love fails – because many times it fails – we have to feel the pain of the failure, [we must] accompany those people who have had this failure in their love. Do not condemn. Walk with them – and don’t practice casuistry on their situation.”

Pope Francis also said the Gospel episode encourages us to reflect “about this plan of love, this journey of love in Christian marriage, that God has blessed the masterpiece of His Creation,” a blessing, he said, “that has never been taken away. Not even original sin has destroyed it.” When we thinks of this, we can “see how beautiful love is, how beautiful marriage is, how beautiful the family is, how beautiful this journey is, and how much love we too [must have], how close we must be to our brothers and sisters who in life have had the misfortune of a failure in love.”

Turning again to Saint Paul, Pope Francis emphasized the beauty of “the love Christ has for His bride, the Church”:

“Here too, we must be careful that love should not fail: [it is dangerous] to speak about a bachelor-Christ (It. Cristo troppo scappolo): Christ married the Church. You can’t understand Christ without the Church, and you can’t understand the Church without Christ. This is the great mystery of the masterpiece of Creation. May the Lord give all of us the grace to understand it and also the grace to never fall into these casuistical attitudes of the Pharisees, of the teachers of the law.”

John Thavis, meantime, helps put these remarks in context:

 His message was clear: the church’s approach should be merciful and understanding.

The comment is especially interesting as an internal debate heats up among Vatican officials and others in the hierarchy over the correct pastoral response to Catholics who have divorced and remarried civilly without an annulment.

Earlier this week, German Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reiterated his view that pastoral policies must be in line with doctrine, specifically the doctrine on the permanence of marriage.

The Synod of Bishops on the Family is expected to take up the issue in October.


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