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home : bishop : columns

4/14/2016 9:00:00 AM
BISHOP'S COLUMN
The gift of family
My response to 'The Joy of Love'
MYSTERY READER: BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER surprised second-graders at All Saints Catholic Academy in Albany by popping in to read a book to them as the week's
MYSTERY READER: BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER surprised second-graders at All Saints Catholic Academy in Albany by popping in to read a book to them as the week's "mystery reader." He chose "Letters to God" as his book to read. The Bishop also explained that the cross he wears is the one Pope Francis has, and gave the class a special blessing.
'I am taking my time to do what the Holy Father has asked us all to do and not rush my reading to find what I want to hear, but pray through it to hear what I need to hear. I want to grow and change, not just be told I am right and stay exactly where I am. Otherwise, I will never reach others who need me to move to meet them.' -- Bishop Scharfenberger

QUOTES FROM 'THE JOY OF LOVE'
'Young love needs to keep dancing toward the future with immense hope. Hope is the leaven that, in those first years of engagement and marriage, makes it possible to look beyond arguments, conflicts and problems and to see things in a broader perspective.'

'Lovers do not see their relationship as merely temporary. Those who marry do not expect their excitement to fade. Those who witness the celebration of a loving union, however fragile, trust that it will pass the test of time.'

'Although the body ages, it still expresses that personal identity that first won our heart. Even if others can no longer see the beauty of that identity, a spouse continues to see it with the eyes of love and so his or her affection does not diminish.'

BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER


Friday, April 8, saw the arrival of Pope Francis's long-awaited apostolic exhortation on the family, "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love"). Judging from the activity on social media such as Twitter and Facebook, I think it can be said that first reactions have been as quick and vigorous as the prior expectations of those who seized and scoured the 264-page document for the content they had already either feared or hoped for.

A slower, more deliberative reading will reveal, however, that Pope Francis is opening doors, not closing them. Why? Because -- to paraphrase poet Robert Frost -- home is where, when you knock on the door, they have to take you in.

The Holy Father has often said he views the Church as more of a field hospital for sinners than a hotel for saints. Home is also where families welcome all their members to give them shelter, sustenance and support on life's journey so they can, in turn, go out into the world and engage their skills and experiences fruitfully.

The Church, as a family of families -- and a family for those who have no family -- seeks to be a home for all, especially the lost and vulnerable. That, no doubt, includes just about all of us at some point in our lives.

Jesus meets us wherever we are on life's journey and even runs after us when we get lost. He is the model pastor, going out of His way to be our way. This is the living Savior Pope Francis invites us to encounter in our personal lives, our families and our Church.

In that sense, it is heartening that Pope Francis is expressing thanksgiving for the gift of family life, for its unique capacity to bring all of its members to a very personal awareness of God's love through its many expressions in patience, sacrifice, tenderness, nurturing, forgiveness and discipline.

Families, by forming human beings, can help them grow and mature so that they, in turn, can go out into the world and tell the Good News. This is the very heart of the new evangelization. It starts at home.

Pope Francis writes in a very accessible and down-to-earth style that is not difficult to read or understand. Because he often uses earthy language and surprisingly vivid examples, one commentator has dubbed this "kitchen-sink theology."

I am not sure if that might be taken as a compliment or just a comment, but it seems to say that Pope Francis encourages a pastoral approach that does not abandon family members in their struggles because they are not perfect.

In one particularly illuminating paragraph, he writes: "We have to realize that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows. Love does not have to be perfect for us to value it. The other person loves me as best they can, with all their limits, but the fact that love is imperfect does not mean that it is untrue or unreal. Love exists with imperfection. It bears all things and can hold its peace before the limitations of the loved one."

Throughout the exhortation, there is an emphasis on what we, individually and collectively, should be doing. After all, the pope writes, "there is no sense in simply decrying present-day evils, as if this could change things," or indeed on "wasting pastoral energy on denouncing a decadent world without being proactive in proposing ways of finding true happiness."

This is how I have always felt about our pastoral ministry.

Nothing the pope says or is about -- or our Church teaching -- sees us as isolated individuals just on our own. Conscience is personal, yes, but never just individual. It is always formed in context, and that context includes experience, the actual situation, reflection on actions, principles, values and consequences - and openness to the Holy Spirit, a source of truth outside ourselves.

Sometimes, conscience even compels us to assent to a truth which we may have at first rejected because we did not like it, agree with it or feel comfortable with it. In one especially challenging passage, Pope Francis says: "We have to arrive at the point where the good that the intellect grasps can take root in us as a profound affective inclination, as a thirst for the good that outweighs other attractions and helps us to realize that what we consider objectively good is also good 'for us' here and now."

I am taking my time to do what the Holy Father has asked us and not rush my reading to find what I want to hear, but pray through it to hear what I need to hear. I want to grow and change, not just be told I am right and stay exactly where I am. Otherwise, I will never reach others who need me to move to meet them.

I hope that, throughout our Diocese, everyone will take the time to read the exhortation prayerfully and to get together with others in their families and parishes to share their reflections.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)





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