ROME— Pope Francis in Thursday offered a “readers guide” of sorts to the two-fold Synod of Bishops on the Family and the document he penned as a conclusion to the 2014-2015 meeting, Amoris Laetitia, warning against the temptation of following a “separatist logic” to dominate Catholic attitudes about diverse family situations.
Speaking to participants of a pastoral conference of the Diocese of Rome on the family, Francis offered some of the key “ideas/tensions” that arose along the way in the synod process. His goal, he said, was to help those present understand the “spirit reflected in the exhortation,” Amoris Laetitia.
As he defined it, the document was meant to be a tool for the participants’ reflections and dialogue during the convention so they could “encourage and assist” families in their “difficulties.”
In his remarks on Thursday, at Rome’s St. John Latheran Basilica, Francis gave three Biblical images to present his ideas.
The first was that of Moses in front of the burning bush, when God directs him to take off his sandals, “for the place where you stand is holy ground.”
According to Francis, the ground the synod of bishops covered wasn’t “any” ground, nor “any situation:” “We had before us the real faces of so many families. I learned that, in some groups, prior to starting the work, the Synod Fathers shared their family’s reality.”
During the two gatherings, one which took place in October 2014 and the second during the same month in 2015, bishops from all over the world traveled to Rome, where they had daily meetings.
“This putting a face to the issues – so to speak – required (and requires) a climate of respect that can help us to listen to what God is saying to us within our situations,” he said. “Not a diplomatic respect or a politically correct one.”
Putting a face to the issues discussed, he said, “protects us from turning faith into an ideology through nicely landscaped systems which ignore [God’s] grace.”
The second biblical image Francis presented was that of the Pharisee who, in his prayer, thanked God for not being like other people, “robbers, evildoers, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”
Here he spoke of the temptation of a separatist logic: “We believe that we gain in identity and safety whenever we differentiate and isolate ourselves from others, especially those who are living in a different situation.”
The pope said that Catholics can’t analyze situations or pray as if living on different paths, “as if we were out of history.” He said that everyone needs to be converted, “we all have to say with the tax collector: my God, have mercy on me.”
Francis then spoke of the need to observe situations with the emphasis on mercy, which allows to see things through “the realism of God.”
The realism of the Gospel, Francis said, “has no comparison.” It doesn’t offer a mere description of situations or problems, “even less so of sin,” but goes beyond, “seeing in each face, each story, each situation, an opportunity.”
“The realism of the Gospel focuses in the other, the others, and doesn’t turn the ideal or the ‘should be’ and obstacle to encounter others in their realities,” he said.
However, this focus on mercy doesn’t mean “not being clear in the doctrine”, but to avoid falling into judgments and attitudes that don’t consider the complexity of life.
“The realism of the Gospel gets its hands dirty because it knows that ‘wheat and tares’ grow together, and the best wheat in this life will always be mixed with some weeds,” he said.
Here Francis quoted Amoris Laetitia, saying he knows there are those who prefer a “more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion.”
However, as he said in the document, he believes Jesus wants a Church that acts like 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”.
The last biblical image the pope gave is that of the elderly becoming prophets. He used this concept to make an appeal for the elderly to regain “their voices,” because society has “deprived them of their space, we have deprived them of the opportunity to tell us about their lives, their stories, their experiences.”
By doing so, Francis said, “we lost the richness of their wisdom.”
According to the pontiff, this lack of models and testimonials that come from the elderly capable of narrating their dreams, doesn’t allow the younger generations to dream, because the future only inspires “insecurity, mistrust, fear.”
“Only the testimony of our parents, seeing that it was possible [for them] to fight for something worth fighting for, will help [the youth] look up,” he said.
“How do we expect for the young people to live the challenge of the family, of marriage as a gift, if we constantly tell them that it’s a burden?” Francis asked.
During a Q&A session towards the end of the meeting, Francis spoke of a “pastoral cruelty,” such as priests who refuse to baptize the children of young single mothers.
“They’re animals,” he said. “This is individualism.”
[It’s] “an individualism which doesn’t affect only priests, but society as a whole, that looks for pleasure, that is hedonist, searching for that ‘damned’ well-being which has hurt us so much,” he said. [Francis used the word maledeto, in quotation marks].
Francis once again complained of those who, beginning with the culture of well-being 20 years ago, chose to have three cats or a dog instead of children. Jokingly he added, “don’t tell the animal welfare societies because I don’t want to offend anyone!”
A pet, he said, will give affection, but children would become free people.
Asked about the balance between Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and being welcoming to divorced and civilly remarried couples, Francis said that neither “rigorism nor laxity” are the correct path.
“The Gospel chooses another way: welcoming, accompanying, integrating, discerning, without putting our noses in the ‘moral life’ of other people,” he said.