The pope makes it clear that “in no way must the Church desist from propose the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur” (AL 307). “At the same time … without detracting from the evangelical ideal, there is a need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth” (AL 308).
I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care, which leaves no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, “always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street” [Evangelii Gaudium 45]. The Church’s pastors, in proposing to the faithful the full ideal of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching, must also help them treat the weak with compassion, avoiding aggravation or unduly harsh or hasty judgments. The Gospel itself tells us not to judge or condemn. Jesus “expects us to stop looking for those personal or communal niches that shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune, and instead to enter into the reality of other people’s lives and to know the power of tenderness. Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated” [Evangelii Gaudium 270].
This is a document of balance, pastoral insight and, not surprisingly, mercy. This brief reflection does not and cannot adequately reflect its beauty, but merely suggests in broad strokes some of the areas — and so much more — that people will find as they break open this text in the days to come.
Deacon Bill Ditewig, PhD, is executive professor of theology at Santa Clara University, former executive director of the Secretariat for the Diaconate at the USCCB and a retired commander, U.S. Navy.