Washington D.C., Mar 5, 2018 / 10:37 am
Since the beginning of the debate on whether chapter eight of Pope Francis' Amoris Laetitia permits the divorced and civilly married to receive Holy Communion, Cardinal Donald Wuerl has lamented that the exhortation has been co-opted by that single issue and that, really, the Holy Father's concern is much broader than that debate suggests.
Some people, though, have suggested that the synods and Amoris Laetitia were simply a cover to change the practice of not giving Holy Communion to the divorced and civilly married. In a newly-released pastoral plan for the Archdiocese of Washington, Cardinal Wuerl has taken a decided step away from such a cynical view and captured the passion of the Pope Francis' insistence that because we are all in need of it, we must also go out and give God's mercy and truth to those who do not know it, who are not living it, and who are desperate to receive it.
Sharing in the Joy of Love in Marriage and Family, the Archdiocese of Washington's pastoral plan, focuses the implementation of the exhortation not on questions of sacramental doctrine and practice, since these truths have been definitively taught and Church teaching has not changed.
Rather, echoing a cornerstone in the thought of Pope Francis, Pope St. John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI, Wuerl's plan begins with the principle that "the desire to love and to be loved is a deep, enduring part of our human experience." This desire is part of God's providential care for us and his plan for marriage. Echoing a reflection on our need for God that Joseph Ratzinger once made in his "Introduction to Christianity," Cardinal Wuerl notes that the joy of love in this life "gives us an invitation to experience Christian hope in the love of God that never ends."
It's somewhat surprising that it was thought necessary to hold two synods and to issue an apostolic exhortation to encourage priests and parish leaders to reach out to people living in irregular situations. In the United States I've certainly not noticed priests turning people away who struggle to live the Christian life. If anything, I think many priests are loathe to challenge people to strive for holiness and virtue by living in the grace of Jesus Christ. Perhaps that's another story about our own weaknesses as priests and pastors.