This month’s teaching editorials will explore vital aspects of the richness of marriage and family life in preparation for the October 2015 Synod: “The Vocation and Mission of the Family for the Church and Contemporary Society.”
Many of us in the baby boomer generation remember the popular television show M*A*S*H. Those who are younger likely have viewed reruns.
M*A*S*H chronicled the life-saving activity of a mobile Army surgical hospital on the battlefields of the Korean Conflict during the early 1950s. The show highlighted the lives of doctors, nurses and other military personnel who fought to save wounded patients in an environment that was often hostile and dangerous. M*A*S*H always presented its subject matter with a blend of humor combined with genuine compassion for those who were suffering.
This small trip down memory lane is designed to help illustrate the vision of Pope Francis for the church. Early in his papacy many of us were enthralled with the simplicity of Pope Francis’ lifestyle and his emphasis on service to those who live on the margins of society.
An often-quoted statement made by Pope Francis regarding the mission of the church can be found in an interview conducted in September of 2013 by Father Antonio Spadaro for the Italian Jesuit Journal, La Civiltà Cattolica. An English translation was published in America Magazine.
Pope Francis made the following observation about the church: “I see clearly … that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle.”
Last October when many bishops and other representatives gathered with Pope Francis at the Vatican to discuss the agenda for the upcoming synod, I had the privilege of attending a three-day discussion of the application of Pope Francis’ concept of the church as field hospital.
Most of those presenting opinions were theologians. Some had attended previous synods. At the meeting, there was a consensus that in convening the synod, Pope Francis has a true pastoral concern for married couples and families and that there will be much discussion at the synod about the need for ongoing support for healthy marriages and family life.
In keeping with Pope Francis’ theme of the church as a field hospital, we also will see at the synod a real concern for families and marriages that are in a great deal of pain. There will be discussion concerning those who feel separated from the church due to any number of circumstances, including divorce and remarriage.
We do not know the concrete specific pastoral solutions that will arise from the synod. There may be no easy solutions.
We do know that without a doubt, Pope Francis wants a church that will walk with couples and families who are in pain.
He wants this presence to be compassionate and concrete.
One observer who recently met with Pope Francis stated that in his presence a person can sense that Pope Francis truly suffers with those who are suffering. Pope Francis desires that this solidarity with those in pain permeates the entire church in every part of the world.
Pope Francis has recently taken a bold step in the direction of pastoral care for the entire church by announcing on Divine Mercy Sunday an extraordinary Year of Mercy to begin on the feast of the Immaculate Conception of this year (Dec. 8) and to conclude on the feast of Christ the King (Nov. 20) in 2016. During this time, emphasis will be placed on the sacrament of reconciliation as well as on the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
What does this have to do with the church as field hospital and family life?
Over the years I have seen difficult situations in both marriages and families that remain unresolved. The pain is ongoing. Even the best therapeutic interventions fail to bring relief.
At the heart of some situations is deep guilt and despair that there is no forgiveness for something that has happened in the past. I also, however, have seen the miracle of forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation that can provide healing that removes the block to progress.
Pope Francis himself has stated that during this holy year he wants to reach those who feel no hope that they can be forgiven.
I believe that the coming year of jubilee, along with the synod, will be a real year of grace for us. Let us continue to pray for all of those who gather for the synod and let us pray for families everywhere in need of healing. Guided by the Spirit, may the church be a home for all wounded hearts.
Michael Ahrens, M.Div. is a retired mission leader for KentuckyOne Health and a member of St. Albert the Great Church.