The Church’s Mission of Mercy to Families
“This saying is hard, who can accept it?” Here in John’s Gospel we read the response of many disciples to Jesus’s beautiful exposition on the Eucharist. Jesus is telling the crowd that eternal life will be found by those “who eat his flesh and drink his blood” (John 6:60). In the face of one of the deepest expressions of God’s plan for salvation, many followers seem to all but give up trying to understand.
It is a very human response. What the disciples learn and what we ourselves come to learn is that in the face of the mystery of our faith, we have to trust God. In the Catechism we read, “Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from our faith in any human person. It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says” (CCC 150).
In our age, it is often the Church’s teaching on human sexuality and marriage that make people ask, “Who can accept it?” It is for many a moment of crisis. This is touched on in the working paper for the upcoming Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of the New Evangelization. “Often, when the lay faithful sense the great distance between the ideal of family living and the impossibility of achieving that goal, the couple’s crisis in marriage and the family gradually becomes a crisis in faith” (Instrumentum Laboris, 62).
There is a common theme that has emerged from the broad consultation conducted by bishops in local churches all over the world in preparation for the Synod. In challenging pastoral situations related to relationships, marriage and family life, the work of the Church must at all times be marked by compassion and mercy. The working paper itself notes that no person or situation is beyond the reach of God’s love.
“The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open, […] where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems” (The Joy of the Gospel, 47). Real pastoral attention is urgently needed to care for these people and bring them healing so that they might continue their journey with the entire ecclesial community. The mercy of God does not provide a temporary cover-up of personal misdeeds, but rather radically opens lives to reconciliation which brings new trust and serenity through true inward renewal. The pastoral care of families, far from limiting itself to a legal point of view, has a mission to recall the great vocation of love to which each person is called and to help a person live up to the dignity of that calling (Instrumentum Laboris, 80).
With so much attention focused on this Synod and its many challenging topics, we have the chance to share our trust in God in the face of teachings that some find hard to accept. It is incumbent on all of us to be ambassadors of faith to our family members, friends and co-workers as all different types of news outlets seek to interpret the work of the Synod. I encourage all of us to read and listen with the eyes and ears of faith, knowing that the work of the Synod under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will manifest a fuller understanding of God’s plan for marriage and family life.
All of us have to be open to the Holy Spirit. No one can rightfully claim to know already what must be the outcome of the deliberations called for by our Holy Father. Certainly no one is able now to say in advance what the Synod “must say.” While we stand in the truth we stand there humbly.
As ambassadors, we also have a wonderful opportunity to remind people that the doors of the Church are open to all. We can invite to Mass or the Sacrament of Reconciliation those we know who may be separated from the Church or afraid to face Our Lord. We can put them in touch with a priest we know manifests God’s compassion and mercy. We can be the first to share that, no matter our situation, we are all called to live “radically open lives” in fidelity to the Gospel.