At a recent press conference for the Synod on the Family it was announced that one presenter, who was not to be named, had proposed that “language such as ‘living in sin’, ‘intrinsically disordered’, or ‘contraceptive mentality’ are not necessarily words that invite people to draw closer to Christ and the Church.”
That may have an element of truth in it. People do not like to hear that they are living a sinful life and that their souls are in danger of eternal death and so they stay away or their hearts become hardened. But it is not the language that is the problem. This language is speaking the truth with love for the individual created in the image and likeness of God, and who is made for heaven.
The problem lies in the attitude of those who wish to “bend the rules” as it were to “pastorally” embrace those who, because of their personal situations and experiences, feel unwelcomed by the Church.
So much of the discussion around this Synod on the Family has been around the “hardship” people face whose lives, for whatever reason, do not reflect the teaching of the Church on life, love, marriage and family. It is argued that the Church must allow these people full participation in the Sacraments because that would be truly compassionate and merciful.
But true compassion and mercy stems from concern for the eternal salvation of a person’s soul.
A feeling is just that, a feeling. It may not be a true reflection of reality at all.
All are welcomed into the Church. All of us are sinners. Each one of us must daily choose to take up our cross and follow Jesus. When we fall we make a firm decision to not fall into the same sinfulness again and we seek reconciliation with our God through the Sacrament of Penance.
A real pastoral response does not push aside the sins as irrelevant, nor does it seek to hide the language of truth in order to make individuals feel better about their choices in life. Instead, a real pastoral response teaches the flock, explaining carefully the reasons why the teachings exist and then assists people to live their lives faithfully through appropriate practical measures.
Those who defend the Church’s teaching do so, with a great understanding of the trials faced by families and individuals in today’s culture. They have a deep love of Christ and his people. They have a zeal for the eternal happiness of souls. Like a good parent who loves their child, they realise that rules exist to protect and to ultimately lead one into the Truth. Their response is one of true compassion and mercy.
The Saints knew that the goal of heaven could not be won by taking the easy road. They knew that a true Christian must live sacrificial love. They inspire us to do the same. Each one of us is called to sainthood.
St Thomas More was martyred for his stand against Henry VIII’s refusal to accept the Church’s teaching on marriage and divorce. He defended with all his might the truth of the Catholic Church while Henry changed the rules to suit his own desires and whims, ultimately forming his own church.
St Gianna Beretta Molla knew about sacrificial love. She gave her life in order that her preborn child may live.
St John Paul II understood the great value of suffering, of giving oneself totally and entering into Calvary. He taught that to love is to be gift to one another.
St John Paul II’s legacy was also one where many, many young people, encouraged by his words, chose to pick up their cross and follow Jesus daily despite the hardships and difficulties. These young people are now the families of today who are faithfully living their married lives, opening their hearts and lives to children, living the Gospel of Life. Sometimes they are seen as fundamentalists or self-righteous when they seek the support they need to live out their vocation faithfully or when they actively search for Pastors who will teach them and their children the Catholic faith without excuses.
A true pastoral response teaches the truth in love without fear.
Great witnesses of the faith are born through solid, truthful formation.
The world needs Christ. We must not be afraid to love sacrificially, to teach the beauty of God’s plan for love and life and family. We must know that God’s grace is sufficient and that real mercy can be obtained. We must not be afraid, as St John Paul II said “to go out on the streets and public places.”
As we serve with love, as we live love, as we teach the truth in love, then we will draw people back into the loving arms of the Church our Mother.