Pope Francis meets with the Tribunal of the Roman Rota in Vatican City on January 22, 2016. (Credit: © L'Osservatore Romano)
Pope Francis has once again put a substantial dent in the hopes of “progressives” that the Church will finally join the modern age on sexuality and the family. I wrote here recently how the Bishop’s Final Report on the Synod of the Family was remarkably strong and concise regarding biblical and historic orthodoxy on the issues of sexuality, marriage and the family.
The Holy Father reaffirmed the steadfast moorings of the Church on these issues in his recent address to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota on the occasion of the beginning of their work year. The Tribunal is the final court of appeal in the Church on marriage nullity cases. His brief address can be read in its fullness here and is significant because it gives a strong indication of what his upcoming decision might be regarding divorced and civilly remarried Catholics and their access to the Eucharist.
London’s Catholic Herald editorialized that “In the end, Pope Francis delivered an address which was remarkable for its continuity with the previous addresses of John Paul II and Benedict XVI” adding “…it would be easy to characterise it as strikingly conservative.”
Francis’ talk to the Roman Rota is a graceful and pastoral balance of truth and grace. Spoken under the compassionate recognition that all marriages face troubling and seemingly hopeless times—some much more so than others—Francis exhorts that the Church can and should “show the indefectible merciful love of God to families, in particular those wounded by sin and by trials of life…” But at the same time, the Church has no choice but to proclaim and hold to “the inalienable truth of marriage according to God’s plan”, a service entrusted “primarily to the Pope and the Bishops.”
The Roman Rota heard the Holy Father explain the bigness, sacredness, essential qualities and eternal imagery of God’s first created institution: “The family, founded on indissoluble, unitive and procreative marriage, belongs to God’s ‘dream’ and that of His Church for the salvation of humanity.”
Pope Francis took this opportunity to make it clear that the work and recommendations of the Synod along with his comments to the Tribune are to be taken together as from one cloth: the scriptural truth taught by and entrusted to the Church.
In the Synodal sessions on the subject of the family, which the Lord granted us to carry out in the last two years, we were able to acquire, in a spirit and style of effective collegiality, a profound and wise discernment, thanks to which the Church has—among other things—indicated to the world that there cannot be confusion between the family willed by God and all other types of union. (emphasis added)
The Holy Father continued with a further illumination that is worth reading, expounding on and entrusting to each married couple in every parish throughout the world with this meaty quote from Blessed Paul VI’s teaching on the matter:
Through the means of marriage and the family, God has wisely united two of the greatest human realities: the mission to transmit life and the mutual and legitimate love of man and woman, by which they are called to complete one another in a mutual donation which is not only physical but above all spiritual.
Or to say it better: God willed to render spouses participants of His love: of the personal love that He has for each one of them and by which He calls them to help one another and to give themselves to each other to reach the fullness of their personal life; and of the love that He brings to humanity and to all His children, by which He desires to multiply the children of men to render them participants of His Life and His eternal felicity. (Address to the Participants in the 13th National Congress of the Italian Women’s Center, February 12, 1966)
In his conclusion, Francis notes that no small number of couples marry within the Church with “a limited awareness of the fullness of God’s plan” for the nuptial union and thus, “errors that regard the sacredness of marriage must be assessed very carefully” by its clergy and this Tribunal. He ends the substance of his remarks with this solemn charge:
Therefore, with a renewed sense of responsibility, the Church continues to propose marriage in its essential elements—offspring, the good of the spouses, unity, indissolubility, sacredness—not as an ideal for a few, despite modern models centered on the ephemeral and the transitory, but as a reality that, with the grace of Christ, can be lived by all the baptized faithful.
We can and must trust that the Holy Spirit is indeed watching over His Church with great care. He loves Her in unison with the Father and Son dramatically more than all of its members—past and present—combined. We must continue to seek, trust and allow Him to lead and keep us in all truth as is the great will of our Father.