Theology and pastoral care 'go hand in hand', Pope tells JPII Institute

Pope Francis greets John Paul II Institute Paglia Oct 27 2016 Credit LOR Pope Francis greets officials of the John Paul II Institute at the Clementine Hall in the Vatican, Oct. 27, 2016. | L'Osservatore Romano.

Doctrine and theological reflection are to be formed by its evangelizing purpose and by pastoral concerns, Pope Francis told the faculty and students of the John Paul II Institute on Thursday.

"Theology and pastoral care go hand in hand," the Pope said Oct. 27 at the Vatican's Clementine Hall. "Theological doctrine that doesn't let itself be directed and formed by its evangelizing purpose and by the Church's pastoral concerns is no less unthinkable than pastoral activity that doesn't know how to use revelation and tradition to better understand the Faith and preach it as Jesus commands."

Francis' address marked the opening of the new academic year for the institute, which will be celebrating its 35th anniversary. The address to open the academic year had been scheduled to be delivered by Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, but he was replaced by the Pope earlier this month.

Pope Francis began, saying that the "fruitfulness and value of the far-sighted intuition" of St. John Paul II "can be recognized and appreciated ever more clearly today. His wise discernment of the 'signs of the times' has enabled us to refocus, in the Church, and in society as a whole, our attention on the depth and sensitivity of the relationship that springs from the marriage covenant between a man and a woman."

He lamented the forces that strain the marriage bond and families ties, citing "a culture that glorifies narcissistic individualism, the idea that freedom can be unhinged from our responsibility for one another, growing indifference to the common good, the imposition of ideologies that directly attack the traditional family, together with poverty that threatens the future of so many families."

Mentioning the complexity of "newly developed technologies that make possible courses of action that are in conflict with authentic human dignity," the Pope advised "a much closer relationship between the Saint John Paul II Institute and the Pontifical Academy for Life."

The proximity of that relationship is facilitated by Pope Francis' recent appointment of Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia as grand chancellor of the St. John Paul II Institute and as president of the Pontifical Academy for Life. The institute's previous grand chancellor had been, ex officio, the Vicar General of the Diocese of Rome, currently Cardinal Agostino Vallini.

The Pope said that culture's individualism, "leading 'me' to prevail over 'us' and the individual over society … goes against God's plan, the plan that has entrusted the world and history to the covenant between man and woman. By its very nature, this covenant calls for cooperation and respect, generous commitment and shared responsibility, and the ability to recognize difference as being richness and promise, not a justification for subjugation and abuse."

To understand the dignity of both man and woman "requires a proper appreciation of the relationship between the two. How can we know fully our own concrete humanity other than through an appreciation of the complementary difference between ourselves, man or woman, and the other sex?"

This knowledge is reached, he said, "as man and woman speak to each other, question each other and act together, with mutual respect and good will. It is impossible to deny the contribution that modern culture has made to the rediscovery of the difference between the sexes."

"For this reason, it is very troubling that this same culture appears unable to get beyond a tendency to eliminate difference rather than addressing the problems that threaten it," he added.

Francis reflected that it is "only in the cradle of the family" that the covenant of marriage between man and woman can first be nourished, and that "when all is well between man and woman, all is also well in the world and in history. If not, the world becomes unwelcoming and history grinds to a halt."

The Pope said that the "witness of the thoroughgoing humanity and pure beauty of the Christian ideal of the family should inspire us to our very core … The love that is in the Church commits itself to the development, in doctrine and in pastoral practice, of its own ability to make understandable, to people of our own time, the truth and beauty of God's creative plan."

To make this plan effective today "requires a special and loving understanding, as well as a complete commitment to evangelization that is animated by great compassion and mercy toward the vulnerability and weakness of human love."

"The dynamism of the relationship among God, man and woman is a golden key that unlocks the meaning of the world and of history and of all that is in them, as well as, after all, something of the depth of the love that is God Himself. Can we embrace the greatness of such a revelation?" he asked. "Do we know how to keep the new generations from giving up and bring them back to the boldness of this plan?"

In the face of this, Pope Francis recalled the reality of sin, saying that "we have to learn not to resign ourselves to human failure but rather to support the fulfillment of God's plan by every means possible."

He quoted from his apostolic exhortation on love in the family, Amoris laetitia, saying it is right to admit that at times "we have presented a theological ideal of matrimony that is too abstract, almost artificial, far from the concrete situation of families and from what they are capable of in their day-to-day lives. This excessive idealization, particularly when we haven't reawakened any trust in grace, hasn't made matrimony more desirable and attractive, it has made it less so."

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The justice of God "shines forth in His faithfulness to his promise, and the splendor of that faithfulness …  is the mercy He bestows," Francis commented.

He stated that the 2014 and 2015 Synods on the Family "were in agreement about the need to broaden the Church's understanding of and love for the mystery of human love that reveals God's love for everyone," and that Amoris laetitia "emphasizes this wider understanding of love and calls on the whole People of God to make the family dimension of the Church more visible and more effective."

Christian families should become proud of putting grace "at the service of all those who, poor and abandoned, despair of ever finding it, or getting it back. Pastoral discourse today isn't just about how far many Christians are from the ideal and the practice of the Christian truth about matrimony and the family," he said.

"Much more important is the idea of the Church's 'closeness' – closeness to new generations of married couples in making the Church's blessing of the matrimonial and family ever more central to their lives, and in helping them confront human weakness so that grace can deliver, give new life and heal."

The Pope called the "unbreakable bond between the Church and its sons and daughters" the "clearest witness we have of God's faithful and merciful love."

The John Paul II Institute is tasked with supporting "the necessary openness of intelligence formed by faith in the service of the pastoral mission of Peter's Successor," he told them, recalling the importance of pastors – and theologians – of "smelling like the sheep".

"Theology and pastoral care go hand in hand," he said. "Theological doctrine that doesn't let itself be directed and formed by its evangelizing purpose and by the Church's pastoral concerns is no less unthinkable than pastoral activity that doesn't know how to use revelation and tradition to better understand the Faith and preach it as Jesus commands."

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Pope Francis concluded his address, saying the Church's mission "must be rooted in the happiness that faith brings and in the humility that marks joyful service to the Church. The Church that is, not imaginary churches that we think should be."

"The living Church in which we live, the beautiful Church to which we belong, the Church of the one Lord and one Spirit to which we commit ourselves as servants who are 'worthless' but who offer their best to the Lord, the Church that we love so that all can love it, the Church in which we feel ourselves loved more than we deserve, and for which we are ready to sacrifice with perfect happiness!"

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