Page last updated at 03:59 CST6CDT, Monday, 16 December 2013 PH
Pope Francis is asking Catholics to be more conscientious in distinguishing the sinner from the sin in their daily human relations. Without falling into relativism, Catholics should go out of their way to treat with great friendliness and compassion those among their relatives and friends who may not be living in conformity with the commandments of God or of the Church. Even when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he complained to Jewish Rabbi Skorka in a published dialogue about the very intransigent behavior of traditional Catholic families (including his own) towards divorced people who remarried. He said that in his own home, no divorced person who remarried was ever permitted to visit. This was an example of excessive moralism.
As early as 1981, Pope John Paul II already wrote an Apostolic Exhortation describing the more compassionate and understanding manner in which Catholics have to deal with people who have had the misfortune of a failed marriage that ended in divorce. He cautioned about being judgmental because of the many circumstances that could mitigate the culpability of divorcees. As he cautioned: "Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations. There is in fact a difference between those who have sincerely tried to save their first marriage and have been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage. Finally, there are those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children's upbringing, and who are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid."
Contrary to the impressions of some that the Church is unreasonably intransigent in her dealings with divorced people, the truth is she has been very compassionate and understanding as can be gleaned from the following advice of soon-to-be canonized John Paul II: "I earnestly call upon pastors and the whole community of the faithful to help the divorced, and with solicitous care to make sure that they do not consider themselves as separated from the Church, for as baptized persons they can, and indeed must, share in her life. They should be encouraged to listen to the word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayers, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts in favor of justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God's grace. Let the Church pray for them, encourage them and show herself a merciful mother, and thus sustain them in faith and hope."
This motherly care for the divorcees does not in any way compromise the doctrine about the indissolubility of a valid marriage. As Pope John Paul II explained: "Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance, which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligations to separate, they 'take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.' "
These provisions found in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio should inspire us to be discerning in distinguishing between the objectively wrong behavior we notice among our friends and relatives and the continuing love and concern we should have for them. As long as they are aware that we do not in any way rationalize intrinsically evil actions, we need not constantly harp on their wrongdoing but instead shower on them utmost charity and affection. As Pope Francis recently reminded us, let us speak to them constantly about the love that God has for them and the need for them to discover more and more the merciful heart of Jesus. For comments, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.