In his weekly audience Wednesday, Pope Francis continued his series of reflections on the family, focusing on the situation of the divorced and remarried and their participation in the life of the Church.
Francis said that in past decades the Church has come to a “growing awareness” of the need for a “fraternal and attentive hospitality, in love and truth, towards the baptized who have entered into a new relationship following the failure of their sacramental marriage.”
These people, he said, “are not excommunicated! And they should never be treated as such. They are always part of the Church.”
Acknowledging that “such a situation contradicts the Christian sacrament,” the Pope said that the Church has “a mother’s heart” that always looks for the good and the salvation of people.
Distinctions must also be made, Francis said, for instance, “between those who have suffered the separation as opposed to those who caused it.”
The pontiff also insisted on the need to look at these new relationships “through the eyes of young children,” because in this way we become aware of the “urgent need” to develop in our communities a real welcome for the people living these situations.
It is important, he said, “that the style of the community, its language and its attitudes are always attentive to persons, beginning with the little ones. They are the ones who suffer the most in these situations.”
The Pope stayed away from the vexed question of the possibility of sacramental Communion for the divorced and remarried, though he did not shy from urging a greater effort at making all feel welcome in the Church.
“How can we recommend that these parents do all they can to educate their children in the Christian life, by giving them the example of a convinced, practiced faith,” he said, “if we keep them away from the life of the community, as if they were excommunicated?”
Pastors, Francis said, must “manifest openly and consistently the community’s willingness to welcome them and encourage them, that they may live and develop more and more their membership in Christ and in the Church through prayer, by listening to the Word of God, by attending the liturgy, through the Christian education of their children, through love and service to the poor and a commitment to justice and peace.”
Citing his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, Francis said that there is no “simple recipe” for people living in these difficult situations.
The Pope said that the Church looks to the biblical icon of the Good Shepherd, which he called “a model for the Church,” who welcomes her children as a mother who lays down her life for them. “The Church is called to always be the open house of the Father. No closed doors! No closed doors! Everyone can participate in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community,” he said.
Francis concluded by urging all Christians to adopt the attitude of the Good Shepherd, taking care of wounded families and accompanying them in the faith life of the community.
Each plays his part in revealing the attitude of the Good Shepherd, he said, “who knows each of his sheep and excludes no one from his infinite love!”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.