As Pope Francis continually reminds us, the first attribute of God is mercy. Mercy is His name, and this mercy is greater than any error that we might commit. In being intimately connected with the love of God, it is transformed into infinite proportions. It has no limits. Nevertheless, sometimes we have allowed religious guilt to detain it. In life, one can make mistakes; one can fall. What’s important is that you get back up. Mercy encourages us to continue. Guilt stops us in our tracks; it closes the door of mercy.
The family is the primary school of mercy, and the second should be the Church. There the doors open; they don’t close. You don’t cease to be a son or a daughter because you made a mistake, or tripped on the way, or was the victim of someone else’s errors. Once a son, always a son. The home and the Church must be places where you can always come back. Whether that return is beneficial or not depends on those at the door.
In the Gospel of Luke, we read of how God receives those sons and daughters that lost their way and distanced themselves. A young man decides to intentionally abandon his father (who represents principles, values, and virtues). As he goes, he draws further and further from those family values and virtues. At one point, he finds himself in “another country.” After passing through the “springtime of life,” he begins to reflect. He realizes that he is far from his Father.
After this examination of conscience, the son decides to return home. On his way, he recalls all those beautiful moments of intimacy and joy with his Father. But he also realizes that he is not the same guy that left. Things have changed. He has made decisions with serious consequences. He knows that he has a challenge ahead of him: he must reconquer his Father’s heart.
Nevertheless, he never expected what happened next. It had been so long since he walked this path, now it was covered with weeds and brush. Doubts and fears began to invade his mind. The upcoming encounter with his Father caused him all sorts of anxiety. What will they say about him? Will he receive him with a condemning gaze? Will he throw him out? Will he judge him for his errors? His heart was a stew of nerves and conflicting emotions. Every now and then, he looked behind him and asked himself whether it might be better to go back to taking care of the pigs.
The Church represents the Father’s house. it is the Door of Mercy. For this reason, as Christians, it is our utmost priority to be a source of affection and healing in a very hurt world. We must be that living manifestation of the Father’s love. We must be distributors of that undeserved, unconditional and free mercy (Amoris Laetitia, 297). In all of this, remember that the Father doesn’t change, he continues to sustain those same principles, values, and virtues.
Let us begin this walk of sensibility and compassion, reviewing some ideas that we should always keep in mind when the time comes to embrace our brothers and sisters in the faith. This article in no way looks to promote divorce; it only wants to offer a few guidelines for walking along our brothers and sisters in this situation.
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1. Jesus Doesn’t Judge, Neither Should You.
The Church is not called to be some customs agency that scans all the bags for errors. Rather it should be it “the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems” (AL 310).
Thus the community’s principal pastoral task is to be sensitive to the situation of each and every person. We need to be compassionate so that we can open ourselves up to the pain that our brothers and sisters are going through. Only then we will be able to know how to best help them.
2. Choose Your Words Carefully
Perhaps using the word “divorced” to identify a group of people can sound pretty harsh. The first thing the oldest son in the parable did when he heard of his brother’s return was point out the errors and weaknesses of his younger brother. If we start identifying people with their mistakes, we are going to be building walls, not bridges. Treat each person with reverence. Be aware of the fact that the words that we use might be harmful to others in ways that didn’t expect.
3. Be Aware that Families are different
Each family is the world in and unto itself. They have their proper culture, with particular rhythms and ways of communicating. Every person is unrepeatable and unique. Each family is constituted by a variety of personalities and characters. People who have divorced and remarried no longer have a family structure like a nuclear family (might) have. For example, they now have an ex-wife, stepchildren, etc. It’s important then to be understanding and receive each family/person as a unique case, we need to learn about and keep in mind their particular needs.
4. Be prudent when we ask questions, not all children come from the same parents
Again, it is important that we be careful and sensitive with this. These families children might be coming from different parents. They might have different last names or even have differing physiologies. Let’s be careful not to pry needlessly into delicate situations. It might be obvious, but it would probably be best not to ask a child why he or she looks different from one of their parents. This could easily cause offense or pain, stirring up memories of lost or damaged relationships with other family members.
5. They too need help to strengthen their bonds without being stigmatized for their past.
These families are a combination of a number of nuclear families. Some examples: a dad might have a child that decided to marry a women who already had two children; a widowed mother that has three children might have married a single man with no children to a father who already has two children. What really characterizes these families is the fact that they have had children in previous marriages, but it’s not always the case that the both parents have. Depending on the country, we can call these “mixed” or “reconstructed,” or “mosaic” families. They require that each member be flexible. If they are just getting started, it often takes time for them to get to know each other and learn to live together.
One of the best things that we can do for them is to not stigmatize them. They already live in a complicated situation and, more than anything, need our support, both the adults and the children.
Saint Luke reminds us that when the oldest son returns home, they threw a great party! They had the tastiest food, the finest wine, and the best music. At the heart of it all was the Father’s love for his son who was lost and now found (Lk 15:24). Our brothers and sisters can’t discover this joy if we are full of religious guilt and seem to want to close the doors of heaven itself!
We need to show them that joyful love that knows how to welcome with open arms. We must accompany them through the threshold of mercy. They need to perceive that gaze of mercy, those warm embraces, and healthy pastoral attitudes that are based on both truth and charity.
The original article was written for Catholic-Link Spanish by Gabriel Saucedo.