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TO ACCOMPANY, DISCERN AND INTEGRATE THE WEAKNESS

With Mary, living the family challenges


Throughout our reflection and study of the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (AL), we have become aware of a novelty, namely, the place reserved for Mary. Normally, in Church documents, she appears towards the end, almost like an ornament one could do without. Here, instead, it is placed at the beginning, in no. 30: “…Families”, writes the Pope, “are invited to contemplate the Child and his Mother…. Like Mary, they are asked to face their family’s challenges with courage and serenity, in good times and bad, and to keep in their heart the great things which God has done (cf. Lk 2:19, 51). The treasury of Mary’s heart also contains the experiences of every family, which she cherishes. For this reason, she can help us understand the meaning of these experiences and to hear the message God wishes to communicate through the life of our families.”


Mary, we know, is always a symbol of tenderness, love and joy, help especially in difficult times, as Don Bosco taught all Christians, especially the members of our ADMA Association



Introduction

This formative path has been intended to once again encourage the journey of the family life, accepting all the challenges and opportunities which the present time offers us. We hope it will serve to set in motion a renewed impetus in favour of the whole pastoral care of the family and a merciful acceptance of those who live in particular situations of fragility.

The Encyclical AL cannot be reduced to the themes set out in Chapter VIII, but much more appropriately must be read and understood as a whole. Starting, as the Pope himself reminds us, from the “joy of love lived in the family": this is not only the title, but also the main content of the Exhortation!

Chap. VIII of AL still urges us to make our ADMA Association grow under many aspects: spirituality of mercy; capacity for hospitality and personal accompaniment; community and liturgical life not limited to the celebration of the Eucharist; the faith journey lived in communion with other families; mutual support and help, which become a shining witness for the world marked by excesses of individualism. So many more reasons not to lose sight of what Pope Francis is proposing to us!


Different situations and possible choices

It is important to understand the perspective of Chapter VIII of AL - entitled: ‘Accompanying, discerning and integrating fragility’ - starting from the two significant images with which it opens: the lighthouse and the torch (AL 291). The Church, with the richness of its principles enlightens the path of men and women of all times (lighthouse), but it is called to act not only ‘from above’, but by becoming a small light in the midst of people (torch).


Thus, after having once again indicated the height and beauty of Christian marriage in the previous chapters, there is the invitation to live the ‘gradualness in pastoral care’, accompanying the couples who are living together (many young people today no longer have faith in marriage!) or bound by civil marriage only (AL 293- 295) with patience and care. It is a demanding task, which should arouse greater attention in the entire Christian community, starting from the concrete life experiences of individuals.


The discernment in so-called ‘irregular’ situations (AL 296-300).

Let us then try to understand, taking inspiration from AL 296-300, the different concrete cases and possible choices related to the ‘so-called irregular situations’. We all know that the great desires and expectations of joy which lead a man and a woman to ‘marry in the Lord’, are sometimes shattered in the face of daily choices which are also made up of misunderstandings and betrayals. A love project, the gift of children, mutual help in life: all seem lost!


The frequency with which many couples today come to this choice opens up various scenarios which entail consequences not only from a practical point of view (just think of the problems linked to the loss of a common home), but also have important repercussions on the Christian moral path.


The only way forward, for those who are separated, is that of fidelity to the marriage bond, sustained by the grace of God received in the celebration of the nuptial sacrament. The Church accompanies with affection and esteem those who act in this way, because this decision, even with its understandable fatigue and apparent ‘madness’ in the eyes of the world, constitutes a witness to daily holiness and affirms the validity of the unique and indissoluble Christian marriage.


Other Scenarios

It is nevertheless possible that a man or a woman separated from their spouse, especially if they are still young, when a profound feeling for a new person arises in them and the opportunity for a new bond presents itself, are unable to renounce this possibility of experiencing a happy love. Thus, the person, left alone, starts a new affective relationship of the conjugal type (cohabitation or civil marriage), although knowing that it is an 'irregular' bond because it contradicts the indissolubility of the first marriage. Other scenarios then open up.

By means of what is, to all intents and purposes, a judicial route, the first question is whether it is possible to initiate a matrimonial nullity case before the ecclesiastical court, in order to ascertain whether the marriage that has broken down never really existed due to a serious defect in the capacity or freedom of the 'consent' that should have given rise to it. It is worth remembering, however, to avoid any ambiguity that this path is not 'Catholic divorce' but the search for the 'truth' about one's marriage. And seeking the truth is the first form of mercy towards anyone!

AL encourages all the faithful and pastors to encourage the participation of these brothers and sisters in community life and take care of their spiritual journey, without passing hasty judgments or sentences of 'excommunication'!


Personal and Pastoral Discernment


Chapter VIII of AL proposes a personal and pastoral discernment through the verification of charity (the heart of the Christian life of every believer), the dispositions of the person's attitude, the sincerity of repentance, the irreversibility of the new marital situation. All done with the maternal accompaniment of the Church indicated in the three attitudes proposed in the title of the chapter: ‘Accompany, discern and integrate frailties’.



The 'Way of Love', the Heart of the Christian Life of Every Believer

First of all, it is necessary for the person in new union to verify the ‘quality’ of his or her Christian life, starting from the ‘commandment of charity’, committing to living its fundamental dimensions.

Whoever begins this path of discernment, Francis reminds us, must show humility and express love for the Church and its teaching (AL 300). As a consequence of this attitude, she commits herself to being open to discussion with the help of a priest or another qualified person.

A further step refers to repentance in relation to the previous marriage (AL 298) and willingness to pursue a path of reconciliation as far as possible, as well as reparation for the damage caused, again as far as possible (AL 300).

The fourth step, perhaps the most delicate discernment, concerns the irreversibility of the new union, because it must be manifested as consolidated over time, with proven faithfulness and generous dedication on the part of both (AL 298).


The possible Readmission to the Sacraments

One could, at this point, ask a question: what is new in AL compared to the doctrine hitherto presented by the Church, starting with the Magisterium of John Paul II? What 'way of mercy' is now being indicated? Personal and pastoral discernment (with the help of a priest and with sacramental confession) was necessary even before, so what?


AL, echoing 'sound reflection' (AL 301) of tradition, calls for a distinction to be made between two aspects of moral action, i.e. to distinguish between negative judgement of an objective situation and the culpability of the person involved who, because of conditioning or mitigating factors, may not be in a state of mortal sin. This distinction is important when, in pastoral discernment, one seeks to assess - as far as possible - the responsibility or imputability of an action.


This is why AL states: “It is can no longer be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace” (AL 301). And a little further Pope Francis adds: “Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end” (AL 305).


Thus, without tiring of proposing the full ideal of marriage (described again in AL 307), the Church is called upon to accompany the faithful with mercy and patience, “making room for the Lord’s mercy, which spurs us on to do our best” (AL 308).


Fundamental task of priests, involvement of married couples, consecrated persons, family groups.

At the centre of this journey is always the Christian community. We are offered a precious opportunity to renew our faith in Mercy: the community is called to open its heart and stretch out its hands so that all may be integrated. When the community becomes concretely involved, it is less inclined to judge and grows in its ability to accompany and welcome.


Priests are asked to be involved in personal accompaniment, to guide those who come to them for a deeper encounter with the Lord, to be the face of the Church's Mercy and to know how to grasp and make the most of what the Lord brings to maturity in people's lives. A suitable catechesis explaining to the faithful the meaning of this journey in the Church will also be very important so as not to weaken the ‘high’ proposal of Christian marriage and, on the other hand, to proclaim the Gospel of mercy.

It may be opportune to join those who are making this journey with other people in the community: married couples, consecrated persons, a family group…, with whom it is possible to establish real relationships, get to know each other, tell their stories, share moments of prayer, along with their difficulties and joys.


Building of an Itinerary

The opportunity to begin this personal journey may arise from an encounter, a question or a request for clarification. In other cases, it may instead be that the person has already made a journey with a priest or in a parish, and needs to take stock of the situation with the inspirations of AL. One has to think of the faithful who, despite being in this situation, do not take the first step to ask for accompaniment. We are also called to go out to look for these brothers and sisters, aware that, perhaps, the Church itself may have contributed to alienating them. A great sensitivity and humanity is always necessary which is expressed in certain important attitudes and conditions, such as the availability of time, the manifestation of a real interest in the other with empathy and avoiding judgement.


It will certainly be necessary to adapt the itinerary to the variety of situations which are too different to be simplified in a few lines. In any case, everyone should be asked to actively participate in the life of the parish so that the community can also be of help to the parish priest in assessing when the time is ripe for the next step which would be readmission to the Sacraments, which is the point of arrival of a journey in the Church and not a benevolent concession, nor even an arbitrary move on the part of some 'broad-minded' priests!


Conclusion: "Families, let us walk, let us keep walking!"



Throughout the Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis offers us a wealth of insights to renew the journey of families and communities. The occasion of this pastoral document therefore renews in all ADMA members the commitment and concerted action to put to good use what the Lord is asking of all believers today. And to walk together. What we are promised is always more. Let us not lose hope because of our limitations, nor let us give up seeking the fullness of love and communion that has been promised to us (AL 325).


FOR PERSONAL AND GROUP REFLECTION

  1. How much attention is given to the preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage in our families and parishes?

  2. How much support and hope can we offer to couples experiencing moments of difficulty and crisis?

  3. As ADMA members, are we aware of the power and the beauty of family life and the grace of the Lord's merciful love?

  4. Can our Association offer a friendly and intelligent acceptance which helps to promote the wonderful conjugal and family vocation?

  5. Can we make a concrete commitment to 'prayer for families in difficult situations' in our parishes?




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