Some Pastoral Perspectives
The Joy of Love - Chapter Six
"[Jesus] said to them in reply, 'My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.'” – Luke 8:21
In this chapter, Pope Francis focuses our attention on how the Catholic community can – and should – offer pastoral ministry to families in all stages of their development: from young people who are considering marriage to people who are mourning the death of a spouse, another close family member, or anticipating their own death. People involved in many forms of ministry – from youth ministry to bereavement ministry – will find nuggets of wisdom, guidance, support and challenge for them to ponder. To get a handle on this lengthy and meaty chapter, it may be best to discuss three important concepts which the Holy Father offers which can inform and inspire our work.
Family ministry is the vocation of the entire parish community.
It is not enough, for example, for a priest or deacon to meet a few times with an engaged couple before their wedding. Nor is it enough to send an engaged couple to a workshop, retreat, or weekend. All these things are essential and most important. However, Pope Francis also sees married couples in parishes reaching out to engaged couples in a mentoring relationship, one that continues after the wedding. This can be crucial once a newly-married couple encounters challenges and crises in their relationship. The parish becomes a missionary community. Couples seek out and visit recently married couples who have dropped out of parish life. Parish staffs seek ways to take advantage of opportunities when young couples are present at a parish event and offer welcome and some form of evangelization. The parish is also like an extended family, where all are related by virtue of baptism, and all support one another.This notion has nothing to do with any shortage of priests. It is part of the vocation of all the baptized – as baptized – to help one another to become ever more faithful to the Lord and to their own vocation. Very often, the burden that priests feel is not only due to the relatively small number of priests. It is also due to their trying to do things that others in the parish should be doing.On the other hand, it often happens that only a relatively small number of laity share this vision. They also can feel burdened with more ministry than they can handle. All of us are challenged to build parish communities that become better able to respond to the Pope’s call to minister to our families.
Family life often mirrors salvation history.
In his Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul famously compares the relationship of husband and wife to that of Christ and the Church. Pope Francis draws a logical conclusion from this: family life will often mirror salvation history. For married couples and families who are facing any serious challenge or crisis, this is an enormously helpful insight. Like the people of Israel whom God chose, married couples do not begin at the end. Both spouses are imperfect, scarred by sin and past hurts. Just as ancient Israel and the early Church grew through faithfulness to their covenant with the Lord, so, too, married couples and families grow through faithfulness to their commitment to each other, especially in facing difficult times together and in dealing with one another’s imperfections. In fact, families are called upon, by their fidelity to each other, to help one other grow as Christians. Families, then, can find passages in the Scriptures that will shed light on whatever they are experiencing, and show them where the Lord is leading them through it all.
Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.
Just as family members remain family members even if they go astray in a serious way, so, too, members of our Catholic family remain so even when their family situations fall short of the ideal. Pope Francis calls on parish communities to show pastoral care and concern to the divorced, those in single-parent families, and others. These are to be invited to share in the life of the parish to the extent that Church teaching allows. No one is shunned. If anyone is living in an irregular situation, an outreach based on unconditional love will be the best means for them to hear the call to conversion of heart. This is how Jesus himself reached out to many people.
One could easily say much more about any of these three concepts. Moreover, there is much more in this chapter that hasn’t been said here. I hope that these few words will pique your curiosity so that you will spend time reading this chapter of The Joy of Love. Anyone involved in any kind of family ministry will profit from it.
Father Mark P. Nolette, a priest/hermit of the Diocese of Portland, resides in Pittsfield and also does part-time ministry at Our Lady of the Snows and Saint Agnes parishes. Father Nolette also writes a regular blog which can be found at www.theanchorite.net/.