Hope in a time of desolation
Allow me to share an experience that happened just after the election of Pope Francis. The pope was celebrating a simple morning Mass with those cardinals who had remained at the Santa Marta guesthouse to await the Inauguration Mass on the feast of St Joseph, March 19.
Taking his cue from the readings, Pope Francis crafted his homily around the experience of desolation that marked this period in Jesus life. Alone, abandoned, weak and vulnerable, Jesus entered such a deep period of desolation that he was tempted to believe that even God had abandoned him! My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Pope Francis then applied this reflection to the experiences which the Church as a whole, but also particular communities or individuals, might be going through.
The answer he said was not to fight the battle alone, but rather to join Jesus where he was, because the effort to be one with him would give him the space and time to share his burden with us, and take ours upon himself.
What brought this experience to mind was last months Advent season. The Scripture readings used in the Prayer of the Church and the Holy Mass during Advent continued the reflection (which began in the last Sundays of the year) on the fact that each of us is now a year nearer to that fateful day when we will be called to experience the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven or Hell.
What is particularly interesting is that this reflection took place at the time when we celebrated the end of the Year of Faith and began the Year of the Family.
Because of the recent announcement by Pope Francis of his decision to convene in October 2014 an Extraordinary Session of the Synod of Bishops on the theme Pastoral Challenges facing the Family in the Context of Evangelisation, it has become necessary to consider all important aspects of the family and family life.
Initial responses to the proposed theme, even by the members of the council of the Synod of Bishops, painted a very bleak picture of the state of the family, not just in terms of its physical health but even more its spiritual health.
Therefore, right from the beginning, the focus shifted from a) the sociological and psychological causes of the malaise affecting the family, to b) how the Church could and should use its spiritual treasury the sacraments to bring healing and well-being to the Family.
Of obvious and high concern was the situation of those who had married, divorced and remarried, and are now unable to access the sacraments.
As the discussion progressed I could not help recalling that our book, God, Love, Life and Sex, already contained the kernel of the answers that needed to be worked out and applied.
I recalled in particular those aspects of the book covering the absolutely necessary area of preparation for matrimony the sacrament that brings Jesus into the life of the married couple and gives them the special privilege of being the means of salvation for each other.
Without the sacraments that salvific role which they play towards each other, and towards their children, is significantly reduced, if not neutralised, as when in despair they give up the practice of their faith altogether.
The Year of the Family provides us with the ideal opportunity to make a concerted start in bringing the considerable teaching, sanctifying and organising resources of the Church to bear on this essential area of Church and social life.
While the debate around God, Love, Life and Sex may lead one to believe that it is solely about Humanae Vitae, and in particular the one line in that encyclical by Pope Paul VI – Every marital act must remain open to life – nothing could be further from the truth. The book actually covers many more aspects of married life and family life, including the crucial area of educating consciences, especially consciences of the young so that they make healthy and life-giving choices in life.
I cannot think of anything that can sharpen a persons focus more keenly on these key areas of life than what the Church put before us during Advent, when as I said at the beginning we were invited to reflect seriously on the four Last Things.
Such reflection, done under the light and inspiration of the Word of God, is an ideal time for spiritual spring cleaning.