Another papal document has appeared. This one’s on marriage and the family. It’s more than 250 pages — the size of a hefty book — and yet, remarkably, within hours of its appearance “experts” were on the news making judgments about its meaning. The headlines called it “revolutionary” and said it was a harbinger of great change.
But the truth is: nothing has changed. Nothing at all. In fact, as far as Christianity is concerned, nothing has changed since that first Easter Sunday — when everything changed.
Papal documents, though they vary in their details, all share the same basic message. They call us to conversion to Jesus Christ. They call us to live the Gospel. They call us to transform the world, beginning with the rooms where we live and work and have our leisure.
Nothing has changed. Pope Francis is urging us to “accompany” sinners as they make their way back to the fullness of faith. This has always been our call.
The Holy Father wants us to be merciful as God is merciful. He wants us to hold back our judgment of others and judge ourselves instead.
He wants us to work for better marriages. And he wants us to comfort, console, and guide those whose lives have been devastated by failed marriages.
This is not news. This is what you and I should have been doing all along. We, after all, were baptized into the life of Jesus. We are supposed to be walking his walk and talking his talk every day. And don’t we meet these hurting people every day? Don’t we work with them? Don’t we live next door to them? What are we doing to accompany them along their way?
Pope Francis is showing us what it means to be an intentional disciple today. It means to tend to the wounded, even as we seek greater healing for ourselves. It means that we live with an alertness to suffering and sorrow — not just in distant famines and natural disasters, but in the people we see day after day.
We should meditate on the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel. Jesus is on his way to work. He’s passing through what we would consider a bad section of town: Samaria. He’s thirsty, so he stops at the first-century equivalent of a convenience store: the well. But he can’t draw water without a vessel, so he asks for help from a local woman — whose people hate his people and wouldn’t be inclined to help.
He begins a conversation, though, and he shows an interest not only in what she might do for him, but in her life, her very real sorrows. By the end of the conversation, he has given her hope for the future.
What does Jesus have that we don’t have?
Well, divinity, for one thing.
But that’s not quite right, because we do have divinity through the sacraments. We’re not God. But we have come “to share in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) through baptism. Jesus wants us to look upon others with his compassion, to speak with his wisdom, to heal with his power. He knows we can’t do that apart from grace. So he calls us to grow in the life of grace.
At baptism we became equipped as disciples. At every Holy Communion we commit to be intentional disciples. The priest or minister says: “The Body of Christ.” And we say: “Amen!”
We commit to living the life of Christ — intentionally — in his Body, the Church. We commit to loving with his love, no matter where we find ourselves in the course of the day.
This is our vocation as Christians, as Catholics, as saints. Nothing has changed in the Gospel message. Nothing will change in it.
You and I need to change, to live it more intentionally and more effectively.