Pope Francis is a man who knows how to speak to the heart, from the heart. His homilies and talks touch many because he genuinely shared the life of the people he served in Buenos Aires.
Evening falls on our assembly. It is the hour at which one willingly returns home to meet at the same table, in the depth of affection, of the good that has been done and received, of the encounters which warm the heart and make it grow, good wine which anticipates the unending feast in the days of man. It is also the weightiest hour for one who finds himself face to face with his own loneliness, in the bitter twilight of shattered dreams and broken plans; how many people trudge through the day in the blind alley of resignation, of abandonment, even resentment: in how many homes the wine of joy has been less plentiful, and therefore, also the zest — the very wisdom — for life […]. Let us make our prayer heard for one another this evening, a prayer for all.
(Pope Francis, October 4, 2014. Prayer vigil before Synod on the family.)
Francis paints a realistic image of the joys and struggles of family life. Pastoral experience and compassion give credibility to his words. The above quote is included in the lineamenta for the 2015 Synod on the family.
Some priests and bishops focus on promoting an idealized model of family wrapped in doctrinal purity and moral perfection. Perfection is unattainable for most. Despite our sincerest efforts, family life is often challenging and down right messy. We do not need to hear any more condemnations of our failings, or judgmental diatribes about our lives or those of our loved ones. We need compassionate support and practical help to safely traverse the challenges before us. We need spiritual tools to remain grounded in God’s love in the midst of the messiness.
It is simplistic and wrong to say that priests and bishops, because they are celibate, have no right to preach or teach about family life. The key, of course, is how grounded they are in the lived reality of those they serve. Pope Francis has captured the hearts of many because of his experience as a pastor who reached out beyond the confines of the chancery office. The recent synod recognized the need for the church to embrace this pastoral approach.
The path of renewal delineated by the Extraordinary Synod is set within the wider ecclesial context indicated by Pope Francis in his Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, namely, starting from “life’s periphery” and engaging in pastoral activity that is characterized by a “culture of encounter” (Lineamenta, p.18)
Do you know a pastor or bishop whose homilies are characterized by a “culture of encounter” formed from genuine time spent with the families he serves? Please share your story.