Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Word is a gift. Other persons are a gift.

Pope Francis opens his message for Lent 2017 with a call to conversion:
Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death. This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God “with all their hearts” (Joel 2:12), to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord. Jesus is the faithful friend who never abandons us. Even when we sin, he patiently awaits our return; by that patient expectation, he shows us his readiness to forgive...
He ends it, encouraging us to renew our encounter with Christ:
Dear friends, Lent is the favourable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbour. The Lord, who overcame the deceptions of the Tempter during the forty days in the desert, shows us the path we must take. May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need. 
The heart of Pope Francis' message is an exegesis of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, an exegesis which put me in mind of the kind of exegesis that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI might have offered.

The encouragement to "serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need" prompted another thought on my part. In this message it is reflected in the needs of the person of Lazarus, and in this short exhortation at the end. But, during the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis' particularly modelled the practice of the corporal works of mercy by his Friday visits. I felt that he was trying to teach us that what, in Amoris Laetitia n.306, is referred to as the via caritatis, is at the very heart of the living of the Christian life and the journey into the life of grace. Pope Francis was trying to enhance the value given by the Church to living this way of charity.

My reading of Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia is that the discernment and pastoral accompaniment of those whose marriage situations are "irregular" or reflect human weakness is primarily focussed on recognising which of the dimensions of the way of charity can be undertaken within the limits of the particular situation. If we share with Pope Francis a high valuing of this life of charity then, for those in difficult marriage situations, we can also value the accompaniment offered by Amoris Laetitia to take part in this life as allowing them to make substantial progress in the life of grace. The question of access to the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion becomes an incidental question to the core question of living the via caritatis (though one can see how progress in the via caritatis can bring one closer to experience of these sacraments).

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