I was in Rome last week attending a course for bishops promoted by the Roman Rota on new guidelines regarding marriage and annulments. At the end of our gathering Pope Francis came to see us and address us.
Grateful to ZENIT:ORG for the English text:
Your presence in this Course of Formation, promoted by the Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota, underscores how much Bishops, though constituted by virtue of their Ordination as teachers of the faith (cf. Lumen Gentium, 25), have the need to always be learning. This is to understand the needs and questions of the man of today and to seek answers in the Word of God and in the truths of the faith, which can be studied and known ever better. The exercise of the munus docendi is intimately joined with those sanctificandi and regendi. Expressed through these three functions is the Bishop’s pastoral ministry, founded on the will of Christ,
on the assistance of the Holy Spirit, to actualize Jesus’ message. The inculturation of the Gospel is founded in fact on this principle, which unites fidelity to the evangelical proclamation and its understanding and translation in time.
In Evangelii Nuntiandi, Blessed Paul VI exhorted to evangelize not in a superficial way, but by lowering oneself into the concreteness of situations and persons. These are his words: one must evangelize “not in a purely decorative way, as it were, by applying a thin veneer, but in a vital way, in depth and right to their very roots […] always taking the person as one’s starting-point and always coming back to the relationships of people among themselves and with God” (no. 20).
In fact, attention to persons is the theological and ecclesiastical reason underlying this Course of Formation. The spiritual health, the salus animarum of the persons entrusted to us constitutes the end of all pastoral action.
In the First Letter of Peter we find a fundamental point of reference of the episcopal office: “Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock” (5:2-3). This exhortation illumines the Bishop’s whole mission, presenting him his spiritual power as a service for the salvation of men. In this perspective, every impediment of a worldly character that makes it difficult for a great many of the faithful to access the Ecclesiastical Tribunals must be eliminated. Questions of an economic and organizational type cannot be obstacles for the canonical verification of the validity of a marriage.
In the perspective of a healthy relation between justice and charity, the law of the Church cannot do without the fundamental principle of the salus animarum. Therefore, the Ecclesiastical Tribunals are called to be tangible expressions of a diaconal service of the law in regard to this primary end. It is placed opportunely as the last word of the Code of Canon Law because it prevails as supreme law and as value that exceeds the law itself, thus indicating the horizon of mercy.
The Church has always walked in this perspective, as a mother that receives and loves, following the example of Jesus the Good Samaritan. The Church of the Incarnate Word is “incarnated” in the sad and suffering vicissitudes of the people; she bends over the poor and over all those who are far from the ecclesial community or who consider themselves outside of it because of their conjugal failure. However, they are and remain incorporated to Christ in virtue of their Baptism. Therefore, the grave responsibility corresponds to us to exercise the munus, received from Jesus the divine Shepherd, doctor and judge of souls, never to consider them foreign to the Body of Christ, which is the Church. We are called not to exclude them from our pastoral concern, but to dedicate ourselves to them and to their irregular and suffering situation will all solicitude and charity.
Dear Brother Bishops, you come from diverse countries and you have brought to this meeting the solicitations and questions that emerge in the realm of the marriage ministry of your respective dioceses. Such instances require answers and provisions that are not always easy. I am certain that these days of study will help you to single out the most opportune approach to the various problems. Therefore, I thank the Dean, Monsignor Pinto, for having promoted this Formative Course, as well as the Relators for their competent juridical, theological and pastoral contribution.
You will return to your dioceses enriched with useful notions and suggestions to carry out your ministry more effectively, especially in regard to the new marriage process. It represents an important aid to have grow, in the flock entrusted to you, the measure of the stature of Christ the Good Shepherd, of whom we must learn every day the wise search of the unum necessarium: the salus animarum. It is the supreme good and is identified with God Himself, as Saint Gregory of Nazianzen taught. Trust in the indefectible assistance of the Holy Spirit, who leads the Church invisibly but really.
Let us pray to Him to help you and to help the Successor of Peter also to respond, with willingness and humility, to the cry for help of so many of our brothers and sisters who are in need of the truth on their marriage and on their life’s journey.