The Pope is calling shepherds to “adopt the demanding and merciful gaze of Christ, the Good Shepherd who is attentive to each one of his sheep and to their journey”
Father François Gonon, Lecturer in moral theology at the College of the Bernardins, Paris (France)
Priest advisor to Love and Truth.
The Pope is calling shepherds to “adopt the demanding and merciful gaze of Christ, the Good Shepherd who is attentive to each one of his sheep and to their journey,” says Father François Gonon.
Start with people and real situations
What changes in terms of family pastoral care can be observed in the Exhortation by Pope Francis? The first change is in the literary genre employed. Never has Catholic doctrine on love in marriage and the family been expressed by the Magisterium in terms that are so existential and pedagogical, bringing together the human and spiritual, the psychological and theological aspects in words that are so simple and profound. These words which ring so true demonstrate the living truth of the Word of God and reveal the merciful way God teaches us about salvation. All who read this text, whether shepherds or sheep, whether they are in joy or in sorrow, feel accompanied in what they experience. This perspective, and this is a second change, leads Pope Francis to propose very practical pastoral ways to make progress in supporting young people, fiancés, couples or families, whatever their situation and whatever stage they have reached. The task, well marked out, is huge.
But there is a change that is even more decisive: that of the conversion of hearts and this conversion implies that we must get away from approaches that are sometimes too idealised or theoretical and open our eyes to see couples and the family as they are today.
Of the way we look on people to which the Pope is calling the whole Church and, above all, its shepherds. They are called to adopt the demanding and merciful gaze of Christ, the Good Shepherd, who is attentive to each one of his sheep and to their journey. It is not possible to confine people in rigid categories. It is not sufficient to talk in general terms about fiancés, the married, cohabitees or the divorced-remarried. This attitude is the essential challenge of the text since it determines the way in which shepherds will support the sheep, discern situations and integrate people who are in situations of fragility.
Such a conversion implies that we must get away from approaches that are sometimes too idealised or theoretical. We must open our eyes to see couples and
With the sacrament of marriage everything is given, but everything remains to be done.
The family as they are today, and also see how people actually understand what the Church says. Seeing people in this way is crucial since the grace of God does not work with ideas or rules imposed externally, but with real people and real situations, transforming them gradually at the pace of a journey that needs to be accompanied step by step.
Here we are at the heart of the pastoral approach of Amoris Laetitia, a real antidote to rigorism or laxity both of which neglect people and the support necessary to their growth in maturity. A process of growth and a journey of conversion are the condition common to all couples, whatever their situation, who wish to grow in holiness. All need to be supported by brothers and sisters, guided by shepherds, and strengthened and restored by the grace of God. Thus, with the sacrament of marriage everything is given, but everything remains to be done. A journey is beginning, at the pace of its various stages – and sometimes of its crises – which needs to be supported, for love is powerful and fragile at the same time.
Attention to their journey is also the key to supporting couples in “irregular” situations who must be the object of special care. Let us not always judge negatively anything that does not match up to the ideal, but let us recognize that it may be a stage in a journey of making progress. Reminding people of the moral teaching of the Church may bear fruit and lead to their conversion if we are looking on them with hope and mercy. This way of seeing people is the fundamental key to the pastoral approach proposed by Pope Francis, which is nothing other than the teaching of the Good Shepherd.