Víctor and Stella Domínguez, co-founders of the Schoenstatt Apostolate of Hope for Divorced People in New Unions in Paraguay •
The Apostolic Exhortation is a “long letter of the Pope’s love for families.”
It is an extraordinary document: The Holy Father presents the reality of families but in the form of a love poem. We can even say that this document is a hymn to love. And this reality is inspired by the practical application of the Christian doctrine on the family.
The family: “an irreplaceable good for society and civilisation.”
“The future of society is forged in the family,” Pope John Paul II used to say.
In the “Joy of Love” the Holy Father proposes a Christian open-mindedness and an ability to embrace the family and give it the value of, for all human beings, belonging to a family, growing in a family, being sustained and above all, feeling loved by a family.
God is the “God of love” who goes out to encounter fallen man, the work of his hands. And we marvel at the madness of a God who always goes ahead of us and surprises us.
The incarnation of God’s Son, who did not descend into Mary’s womb simply to live with human beings, so that we can know him and adore him, but to get involved and commit himself to us. If he had only come down to pass through our lives like a King who passively watches and remains indifferent, then his coming would neither have touched us nor radically change the course of human history.
“And the Word became flesh and “lived” among us. “Lived,” “set up his tent,” remained “with” and “in” us, that is, God did not come to the world with a tourist passport but as one of us. He is not just another person in the context of human history but is God himself who became man among us. It is the selfless gift that cost him his only Begotten Son.
By daring to bring himself even lower and share the table with sinners, we see his complete emptying of self.
Christ adapts to everyone to save everyone as St Paul says and this is the “key of meditation” to draw fruit from Jesus’ surprising encounter with sinners. And to see how Jesus simultaneously “encounters me,” “you” and “each person” at the table of daily life.
Mercy: heaven touches the mud of sin
To share the table, to eat the same bread goes so much further than a mere “satisfaction of bodily hunger” because it implies and encourages the “more noble values and virtues” in the “heart of man.”
To share the table is synonymous with “friendship, cordiality, joy, unity” and in this Gospel, it is when Jesus “relinquished” his own self, equal to God the Father, and mixed with “sinners, prostitutes, thieves,” “without ceasing to be God.” Heaven touches earth, or even better, it “touches the mud of sin.
A few hours before Jesus sat at the table with these sinful men, his finger had already lovingly called one of his disciples, “Levi” who was later called Matthew, electing him and drawing his attention and his heart away from the “shine of the coins” that filled his tax collector’s table…Therefore, Jesus eats at Matthew’s house. And the encounter with the Lord, touches his heart like a sharpened sword, the sword that aided his conversion. In one word: “mercy.”
It seems as if the world today is not so different from Matthew’s time and “perhaps still” our hearts are lost and do not “get” that Jesus is mercy, is love, and that he comes to sit at the table of our lives, in our daily tasks, our problems and above all, “our lack of heart.”
Remembering that God is love and we are God’s beggars is to experience a gentle balm that heals our bodies from our head to the tips of or toes; it is to know that we are loved by God despite our wounds. Because it is true that we are hurt; we constantly suffer hurt. How many wounds we carry through life! Wounds caused by our history, by our faults, wounds caused by others, by friends, by people we love, indifference, betrayal, and so many other things…And Jesus with his mercy comes as a balm that cures our wounds of sin and loneliness so that we can once again lift our heads and continue with our lives.
Mercy: as scandalous logic
The idea that always comes to mind is that it is far easier for us to accept that Christ sits down to eat with the worst sinners, than for our hardened and arrogant hearts to accept everything Jesus asks me to “do it for Him,” that I not only eat with them, but he also asks me to “embrace them” and above all, “love them.” Especially those people who have injured me or those who in my understanding have distanced themselves from God.
Mercy from afar, without commitment, without risk of touching the suffering flesh of Christ in a brother, without coming closer, preferring to pass by indifferently, “doesn’t work.”
I am not merciful when I do something for charity or give some of my time to others, doing it publically, even posting it on Facebook! On the inside I’m screaming out loudly “I’m giving to you so that you can give to me,” demanding repayment. And in front of my heart, I place a placard: “I’m better than you.” “Poor you.”
We know that Jesus teaches us that mercy is given to those who “cannot repay it.”
Jesus comes out to meet us “when we fall,” when we offend him with our actions, shares his forgiveness, sometimes giving us his cheek because he knows we are weak, that we forget our good promises of conversion and inner transformation; he knows that without his grace and mercy the things we swear in the light, we deny in the darkness, because we are sinners.
I remember once when we were really able to see that we often are unable to “open ourselves to grace” and the “divine sense of forgiveness and mercy.” Someone came up to us as we were launching the Apostolate of Hope and told us that what we were proposing seemed very unfair: an apostolate for divorced people in a new union! Why give space to these people who had broken their sacramental union, when we should rather be working to “defend marriage,” that one should fight to remain in the marriage. Dedicating our time to the divorced “was a waste.” This apostolate, this person said, carries a contradictory message: “It’s an invitation to young people who don’t feel happy in their marriage to separate and find someone else who makes them happier, and then we say: “come here, where there is space for everyone.”
Our human mentality works in the same way as in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It is the same rationalist complaint that comes from the heart of the older son: when he comes home, hears the music and realizes there’s a party because his younger brother has returned home, he is indignant and complains: “Father, I have served you for so many years, and you never gave me a goat to celebrate with my friends. Now this son of yours who squandered your inheritance with prostitutes returns and you kill a fattened calf and have a party!” It is the same indignation of this person who complained. Why should we dedicate ourselves to divorced people in a new union?
If we think in human terms, we would agree with this person because we normally act without understanding God’s infinite mercy.
When we say that sinners deserve to be punished for their crimes, we think about “sinners, others,” without including ourselves, even though we know that we’re all sinners. Pope Francis expressed this really well during one of his general audiences when he talked about visiting prisoners: “All of us are capable of sinning and making the same mistake in life. They are not worse than you and I!” Our task as Christians is to look with eyes of mercy and then the world can recognize that Jesus Christ is the Lord, is Love, is the balm that heals our wounds.
Mercy: a doctor who does not give up
Another reflection from this testimony is what comes out of Jesus’ mouth in relation to those who criticise his attitude from afar: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Christ’s answer focuses our mission, it is the programme of those who desire to follow him more closely, learn from him who is gentle and humble of heart.
Only God’s sweet mercy can heal our wounds.
Mercy: how can we learn to incarnate it?
The invitation Jesus gives us through the Holy Father in his Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of Love” is that we enrol in the school of mercy, that we soften our hearts of stone. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ First is the verb “go.” It questions us, puts us into motion, shakes us from our comfort zones. In order to be “merciful like the Father” we need to put our hearts to the test, because we have to learn to always go out, encounter the other, in our homes, in the streets, in the existential peripheries, touching pain and wiping away the tears of so many of our brothers and sisters, “God’s beloved children.”
If mercy is born out of God’s loving heart, we only need to recognise how God is merciful to me! And like Him, we are called to take pity on and suffer with those who suffer and weep, forgiving as we want to be forgiven:
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Do we live, do we incarnate the words we repeat so often?
More concretely, in Chapter 8, the Pope shows us the way to go with three verbs: accompanying, discerning, and integrating weakness. [291-312]
All of us as Christians should try to overcome some kind of rejection that we may have had and adopt a fraternal attitude to divorced people in a new union. They deserve our special closeness and understanding. Then, take another step. I look at these “beloved children of the Father” with love and acceptance. This is what Jesus did throughout his life.
Jesus saves the woman caught in the act of adultery. Nobody threw the first stone and he also did not condemn her: Now go and leave your life of sin (Jn 8:11). This shows us the need to discern. We should show each person the infinite mercy of God the Father who embraces all of his children because he wants our happiness, despite our sins and weaknesses. He asked the adulterous woman the most. We can help them to find a way that leads them to God the Father’s embrace. There are many. This is the second step that brings us closer to his eternal life while still in this life. God our Father has many options for our growth.
“There is a need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively appear”, making room for “the Lord’s mercy, which spurs us on to do our best”…Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching… Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated”.
“At times we find it hard to make room for God’s unconditional love in our pastoral activity.” – “Mercy is the fullness of justice and the most radiant manifestation of God’s truth (AL 311)
This is where the Pope’s suggestion to use a priest prepared by him or the Bishop comes from. (cf. AL 311)
With his customary tenderness and concern for those who suffer, the Pope tells us: “The pastors of the Church, lay people, those engaged in pastoral activities must equip ourselves to know how to discern, accompany and integrate weakness, not condemning but helping everyone to participate in the life of the Church.”
We want to end with the Holy Father’s words:
“Love is the only light which can constantly illuminate a world grown dim.”
We are all “the Father’s beloved children.”
Original: Spanish. Translation: Sarah-Leah Pimentel, Cape Town, South Africa