A good pastor helps the members of his flock who are in the middle of the marriage mess by using these tools of analysis and assessment. Like the speeders, one divorced and remarried person may be far more guilty than another divorced and remarried person. Both have broken God’s law by being remarried after divorce, but the degree of their fault may vary. This doesn’t mean a divorced and remarried person who is only mildly guilty may automatically receive communion. That person still needs to have his or her irregular relationship sorted out.
Understanding that marriages are messy just means that a good pastor will use the tools of his training to help them understand their situation, see the wisdom of the Church’s teaching and discipline and then continue the process toward full repentance, a decree of nullity (if necessary), deep experience of God’s mercy and final, full reconciliation with Christ and his Church.
The pope’s pastoral exhortation is a recognition that the reality of being Christ’s disciple is not easy. Learning to love and be loved is the work of a lifetime. We stumble and fall. We repent and get up again. We repent and get up again. The church teaching and discipline are the aids we need to help us on that long, hard journey, and a good shepherd meets us where we are and leads us where we should be. He helps us match the reality of our loves and lives with that greater love and life to which we are called.
Fr. Dwight Longeneckeris a former Evangelical, then an Anglican priest and now a Catholic priest. Visit his website atdwightlongenecker.comto browse his books and be in touch.