"Are we prepared to promote conditions in which the living contact with God can be reestablished? For our lives today have become godless to the point of complete vacuity. God is no longer with us in the conscious sense of the word. He is denied, ignored, excluded from every claim to have a part in our daily life." - Alfred Delp, S.J.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What does the Pope mean when he "told priests they should welcome couples that live together"?

What does Pope Francis mean when he speaks about accompanying people?  When he speaks about going "out to the 'existential peripheries'”?

He insists that "the truth factor is crucial here. 'The truth must always be told,' not just in the dogmatic sense of the word but in the sense of 'love and God’s fullness'. The priest must 'accompany' people."

I do not believe the Holy Father is speaking in contradiction of Catholic teaching on marriage and divorce, nor is he recommending the Gospel be compromised.  In fact, I think the only way to understand what the Pope is saying is in the light of the Gospel, and in the light of his own way of accompanying those under his pastoral care in Buenos Aires.  Remember, he did not just visit the slums, he spent time there - he was a guest in their homes.  If society and culture is dysfunctional, we know - especially by experience - that ordinary family life is too.  Bergoglio visited ordinary families, in their home, around their kitchen table, relatives and neighbors coming and going.

It seems to me what the Pope means when he says priests "should welcome couples that live together" may also be better understood in light of today's Gospel, when Christ raised the son of the widow of Nain: the Lord was moved with pity for her, he had compassion for her.   With that attitude in mind, I thought of the Gospel of the Woman at the Well and her 'unexpected' encounter with Christ.

Christ asked a Samaritan woman to have compassion on him - he revealed his thirst to her, knowing full well she herself thirsted for love and acceptance.  Christ visited her, in her own neighborhood.  A Jew, who shouldn't have anything to do with a Samaritan 'dog', Christ visits and drinks with her.  Christ was moved with pity for her, he had compassion for her.  He also tells her truths about herself no one else could know, yet he wasn't repulsed, nor was she offended by his simplicity and straightforwardness.  She welcomed him who welcomed her.  God assuaged her thirst as she assuaged his, in the 'existential peripheries' of the era, if you will.

The disciples returned, confused and somewhat scandalized that Christ was speaking with a Samaritan - and a woman.  Christ had not compromised teaching, the woman herself boasted of that, "He told me everything I ever did!"  God met her where she was.

I think that is what the Pope is saying, that is what he means when he says priests "should welcome couples that live together"... While insisting, “The truth must always be told,” not just in the dogmatic sense of the word but in the sense of “love and God’s fullness”. - Citations from Vatican Insider

...  in the sense of “love and God’s fullness”. . . the fullness of truth - with compassion.


  1. I think that is what the Pope is saying,...

    The major problem of the papacy, summarized in this one, simple clause. Whatever the Holy father says seems to be confusing, contradictory, so much so that we need to parse the words, jump through hoops, squint and look sideways just to understand him...or *think* we understand him.

    Can't we just get some clear statements for a change? Is is that something Jesuits take a vow against?

    1. I'm not holding my breath for any clarity from the Holy Father. I'm still wondering who the "Pelagians and Triumphalists" are myself and whether he mean't people like me? Clarity from Popes of the last 40+ years hasn't been a strong point...more often than not one is left to sift through verbose or cloaked or veiled references and off the cuff statements to draw one's own conclusions.

  2. Jesus had compassion on the Samaritan woman, but he also convicted of her sin, which she clearly recognizes in the passage from John! Also, Jesus had compassion on the woman caught in adultery, but he told her, "sin no more!" Compassion and love involve truth, and as Mother Angelica would say, you love someone to the degree you are willing to tell them the truth!

  3. Thanks for your comment Robert, Jesus did tell the Samaritan woman the truth - that's pretty much my point.

    Michael - I think we will have to wait for official documents or words straight from the Pontiff's mouth in order to understand. I have to agree, it is frustrating to try and make sense of the sound bites and headlines. I wish he would be more clear.

    Anyway guys - my post is just a thought, my take on what he said. I have no expertise in translating what he says.

  4. I attend a Spanish only speaking parish here in Los Angeles, CA. The priests there are always inviting those couples who live together to attend Mass, to consider Holy Matrimony rather than living together. They are loving towards these folks and never condemning them.

    I am coming at my understanding of what the Holy Father is saying from my Hispanic roots and what Fr. Rolando and the other priests are inviting the unmarried couples to consider. They are invited to participate more fully in the life of the Church but in the fullness of truth and in the beauty that is the sacrament of marriage.

    I know that stuff gets lost in translation but because Papa Francis is Argentino and I am Mexican, I have no problems understanding what he is trying to say. I am no expert but I sure like him so far. ^^

    I hope that clarifications can be made so that those who are frustrated at the lack thereof can be put at ease.

    God bless you all!

  5. "He also tells her truths about herself no one else could know, yet he wasn't repulsed, nor was she offended by his simplicity and straightforwardness."

    This is a fantastic observation of a beautiful and timeless encounter. And the woman went away in awe and hopefully changed. This is why we should not be afraid to encounter Christ in confession.

  6. Hi Terry, I must agree that I too share a bit of frustration in this... I think you're right on what Pope Francis means here, but I do wish he would be more clear and not so "off-the-cuff" sometimes, as it only leaves us all guessing - and gives the media just one more reason to twist words or knock the Church.

    God give you peace,
    Jason @ AMC

  7. Yaya - I agree with you - you explain it well. His Wednesday audience address helps us understand even better. Thanks.

  8. Terry, I think you nailed it. This past week's Sunday gospel spoke of Jesus eating with sinners and the Pharisees being scandalized. He then told them the three parables concluding with the story of the prodigal son. I think the pope wants us - his priests and faithful laity - to welcome the sinner so that he or she may encounter Christ in the Church and in the Truth. In the truth these folks will find the fulfillment that their hearts seek. It does not mean compromising the Truth; it means explaining it in charity. One can invite people to mass in the hope that the gospel message will touch their hearts. If they are pushed away, there is little chance for reconciliation. But nothing the pope has said,despite media efforts contradicts church's teaching. Indeed if one reads his reflections on a retreat he gave on the Spiritual Exercises, there is nothing wimpy about his defense of and exhortation to live the Church's teachings. "In Him Alone is Our Hope: The Church according to the Heart of Pope Francis."

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  10. I think the Pope is first trying to assure the couples living together that they are welcome into the church, as opposed to those priests who tell those couples not to come to church because they do not comply with the church teaching. So first of all, we need these couples at least to come to church, if we really want them to understand first and later accept, and only later embrace the catholic teaching on marriage.
    I thing that the pope wants the priests to accept people as they are, instead of kicking them out right away. Once the couples attend the church, then, only then, we may talk to them about any change. But if the priest kicks them out right away, it looks like he does not care and does not extend any hand to help these couples into understanding the catholic teaching on marriage.
    Can we help someone to embrace the catholic teaching if we close the door in their nose?


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