Reaching the unredeemables
Some weeks ago I attending a very interesting meeting on how to improve interpersonal communication within consecrated life. Although I did not agree with every idea mentioned I am thankful to God that I attended this intriguing lecture. The talented speaker rightly pointed out that even within religious communities there are those who may qualify as unredeemables. They are misfits in their respective communities.
Even in Malta one can easily find members of the Church who have distanced themselves from the institution. Some may have taken this decision because their lifestyle openly contradicts what the Church teaches on certain ethical issues. I am thinking of homosexuals, transsexuals, divorced and remarried people, cohabiting people, and so forth.
Irrespective of who these ‘unredeemables’ are, the Church’s pastors and her faithful are squarely challenged by the questions: Are these people the subject to the Church’s care? To what extent can the Church care for them?
It is interesting that when Pope Benedict met families during the ‘Feast of Testimonies’ at the seventh World Meeting of Families in Milan on June 4, a Brazilian couple asked the Holy Father the thorny question of why remarried couples are refused the sacraments. Naturally, such a refusal would make them feel excluded and discriminated against by a judgement to which there is seemingly no way of return.
The German pontiff bravely answered that “this problem of divorced people who have remarried is among the more painful things that today’s Church has to suffer. And we do not have simple fixes for it.”
The Pope continued that “…in regard to divorced persons, we must tell them… that the Church loves them, but they must see and feel this love”. The enormous task of the Catholic community is to do “what is possible so that they really feel loved, accepted, that they are not ‘outside’ even if they cannot receive absolution and the Eucharist: they must see that even in this way they live fully in the Church.”
The Pope suggested that these apparently unredeemable people be in permanent contact with a priest, with a spiritual director “so that they can see that someone is there for them, helping them”. Sound pastoral care helps them open their hearts to live an authentic life of faith.
How can divorced and remarried people be engaged in a life of faith? In his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio on the role of the Christian family in the modern world, Blessed John Paul II strongly urged bishops, priests and the entire Catholic community to help the divorced by showing concern and caring for them so as to assure them that they are not neglected from the Church’s pastoral activities.
This is because since they are baptised they have an equal right and duty to participate in Church life. The Polish pontiff’s subsequent suggestions can certainly help: “They should be encouraged to listen to the Word of God, to attend Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts in favour of justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace. Let the Church pray for them, encourage them and show herself a merciful mother, and thus sustain them in faith and hope.”
Reaching the unredeemables was Jesus Christ’s messianic mission. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him to “preach good news to the poor, ...to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4, 18-19).
To the judgmental Pharisees, Jesus replied: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick... For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt 9, 12-13).
May the Church keep discerning better evangelical ways of reaching the unredeemables.
Fr Attard is a member of the Order of Franciscan Capuchins.