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Educationmercy, mercy, family


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Ramiro Pellitero

Professor at School of Theology

In the month of May, and among the many themes Pope Francis has addressed, these three of his interventions in recent weeks stand out: Education, mercy and the family.

In the past few weeks, the Pope has been lavished with teachings, speeches and addresses to various groups on the occasion of anniversaries or pilgrimages to Rome. We have selected three themes here: Education, mercy (on the occasion of Mercy Sunday) and family (at purpose of the Amoris Laetitia Family Year, which will conclude on 26 June 2022, with the Xth World meeting of Families in Rome).

Francis has recently devoted two speeches to Education. The first, addressed to the Global Researchers Advancing Catholic Project (20-IV-2022). Already in his programmatic exhortation Evangelii gaudium (2013), the Pope warned that in an information society that saturates us indiscriminately with data, all on the same level, and ends up leading us to a tremendous superficiality when it comes to raising moral questions, [...] an education that teaches us to think critically and offers a path of maturing in values becomes necessary (n. 64).

Taking up this argument, starting from the contemporary partner-cultural context, he now points to the goal of a Catholic project of Education:

"As educators, you are called to nourish the desire for truth, goodness and beauty that dwells in everyone's heart, so that all may learn to love life and open themselves to the fullness of life".

This, he adds, implies looking for ways of research that combine good methods to serve the whole person, in a process of development integral human. In other words, forming head, hands and heart together: preserving and enhancing the link between learning, doing and feeling in the noblest sense. And in this way Catholic educators can offer both an excellent academic transcript and a coherent vision of life inspired by the teachings of Christ.

Maturity, Christian identity, social commitment

knowledge Secondly, Francis expresses the continuity of this concern with what the Second Vatican Council points out: that the educational work of the Church is directed not only to "ensure the proper maturity of the human person, [...] but tends above all to make the baptised, progressively initiated into the mystery of salvation, more and more aware of the gift of faith which they have received" (Decl. Gravissimum educationis, 2).

On the basis of a Christian vision of life (knowing ourselves, educators and students, beloved children of God in the one human family), says the Pope, "the Catholic Education commits us, among other things, to build a better world by teaching mutual coexistence, fraternal solidarity and peace". We need to develop tools for promote these values in educational institutions and among students.

Thirdly, as well as going to meeting of the current educational status and underlining the basis of the Christian vision, the Pope observes that "the Catholic Education is also evangelisation: bearing witness to the joy of the Gospel and its capacity to renew our communities and to give hope and strength to face today's challenges with wisdom".

The second speech is addressed by the Holy Father to the rectors of the universities of Lazio (May 16, 2022). It also starts from the current status : "The years of the pandemic, the expansion in Europe of the 'third world war' that began in pieces and now it seems that it will no longer be in pieces, the global environmental issue, the growth of inequalities, challenge us in an unprecedented and accelerated way".

The challenge educational , Francis explains, therefore has a strong cultural, intellectual and moral implication, for it must confront this status, which carries the "risk of generating a climate of discouragement, bewilderment, loss of confidence, worse still: addictive". It is a crisis which, on the other hand, can make us grow, provided we overcome it.

Francis evokes the global Pact educational , underway worldwide, together with the signature, in February 2019, of the document on human fraternity, where it is said: "we are concerned about an integral training which is summed up in the knowledge of oneself, of one's brother, of creation and of the Transcendent". This horizon, the Pope indicated to the university rectors, can only be approached "with a critical sense, freedom, healthy confrontation and dialogue", beyond barriers and confines. It is something that belongs, moreover, to the ideal of the university, which is a community, but also a convergence of knowledge around truth and dialogue.

test of this, he notes, is the movement of many doctoral students at Economics, interested in "constructing new and effective responses, overcoming old encrustations linked to a sterile culture of skill for power".

All this requires listening (to students and colleagues, also to reality), as well as imagination and investment, in order to train students also to respect themselves, others, the created world and the Creator.

In short: a Education that must be linked to life, to people and to society; without ideological prejudices, without fears, escapes or conformism.

Mercy: joy, forgiveness and consolation

Second topic: mercy. At the "Mass of Divine Mercy" celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica on the second Sunday of Easter (24 April 2022), Francis took his cue from the greeting of Christ who brings peace (cf. Jn 20:19,21,26). In this peace, the Pope pointed out three dimensions: "it gives joy, then it brings forgiveness, and finally it consoles in fatigue". There is no doubt that we need much of all this in our world.

Jesus does not reproach his disciples for past failures and sins, but encourages them. He brings them "a joy that lifts up without humiliating". And as the Father has sent him, he sends them to forgive (cf. vv. 21 and 23) in the sacrament of reconciliation.

This challenges us all: "Let us ask ourselves: I, here where I live, I in the family, I in the work, in my community, do I promote communion, am I an architect of reconciliation? Do I commit myself to calm conflicts, to bring forgiveness where there is hatred, peace where there is resentment? Or do I fall into the world of gossip that always kills?"

We see," the Pope invited, "also in the way Jesus treats the apostle Thomas, that the Lord does not come in a triumphant and overwhelming way, with bombastic miracles, but consoles us with his mercy, presenting us with his wounds. That is why "in our ministry as confessors we must make people see that before their sins are the wounds of the Lord, which are more powerful than sin".

Jesus, Peter's successor will repeat in the Regina Caeli, "is not looking for perfect Christians", but for us to return to him, again and again, knowing that we are in need of his grace, especially after our doubts, weaknesses and crises; because he always wants to give us "another chance"; and he wants us to behave in the same way towards others.

The following Monday (25-IV-2022) he had a meeting with the "Missionaries of Mercy" priests. It was the third after two others in 2016 and 2018. This time he glossed the biblical figure of Ruth, whose faithfulness and generosity God richly rewarded. Like God, who remains silent in the book of Ruth, priests must also act: "Let us never forget that God does not act in people's daily lives through flashy acts, but in a silent, discreet, simple way, so much so that he manifests himself through the people who become a sacrament of his presence. And you are a sacrament of God's presence. I beg you to keep far from yourselves all forms of judgement and always put the desire to understand the person who is in front of you".

And Francis concluded by recalling some figures of merciful priests, who confessed many people, and who, like the Lord, never tired of forgiving.

Family: remedy for individualism

At the framework of this Family Year Amoris laetitia, now drawing to a close, the Pope addressed the plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (speech, 29-IV-2022), meeting to discuss the reality of the family. In the context of the current crisis, prolonged and multiple, which is putting so many families at test , Francis wishes to rediscover "the value of the family as source and the origin of the social order, as the vital cell of a fraternal society capable of caring for the common home".

Firstly, he points out that, despite the many changes they have undergone in history and among different peoples, "marriage and the family are not purely human institutions". They are, moreover, a remedy to the prevailing individualism.

The social genome of the family

The good that the family promotes is not merely associative, an aggregation of people for the purpose of utility, but a relational bond of perfection. It is so, because family members mature by opening up to each other and to others. This could be called their "social genome". At the same time, "the family is a place of welcome", especially where there are fragile or disabled members, as well as a school of gratuitousness.

To unfold its nature, the family needs "family-friendly" social, economic and cultural policies to be promoted in all countries.

The Pope concluded by pointing out some conditions for rediscovering the beauty of the family. First, to remove "the cataracts of ideologies" from our eyes. Secondly, to rediscover "the correspondence between natural and sacramental marriage" (which is not an addition juxtaposed to the institution of the family). Third condition: awareness of "the grace of the sacrament of Marriage - which is the 'social' sacrament par excellence - heals and elevates the whole of human society and is a leaven of fraternity" (cf. Amoris laetitia, n. 74).

The one great goal: the evangelising family

Finally, also on the family, it is worth mentioning the Pope's speech to congress international of Moral Theology (May 13, 2022). He begins by pondering the spiritual richness of the family, as highlighted in Amoris laetitia. He then goes on to consider that the challenges of our time require moral theology, on the one hand, to speak "a language that is understandable" for those with whom it is concerned, and not only for experts; and, on the other hand, that, in view of the pastoral conversion and missionary transformation of the Church, it should be attentive to "the wounds of humanity". He adds that all this can be helped by interdisciplinarity, between theology, human sciences and Philosophy.

"The only great goal", the Pope points out, "is to answer this question: How do Christian families today, in the joy and effort of conjugal, filial and fraternal love, bear witness to the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?".

The congress is inscribed, not only in fact but also as a fundamental perspective, in the framework of synodality.

Synodality," explains Peter's successor, "is not merely a tactical question, but a necessity for deepening the truth of Revelation, which is not something abstract, but linked to the experience of people, cultures and religions. "The truth of Revelation is addressed to history - it is historical - to those to whom it is addressed, who are called to realise it in the 'flesh' of their witness". Also families: "What a wealth of good there is in the life of so many families, all over the world".

And what, one might ask, does this have to do with moral theology? Well, marriage and the Christian family are "places" and "times" (kairos) of God's action, from which theological reflection can draw in order to deepen and better present faith and morals.

Precisely for this reason - the Pope points out - the internship of discernment is more necessary than ever, opening space "for the conscience of the faithful, who often respond as best they can to the Gospel in the midst of their limitations and can carry out their discernment staff in the face of situations in which all the schemes are broken" (Amoris laetitia, 37.).

Moral theology, in fact, faces no small challenge, at the service of the great goal that families announce and bear witness to the Gospel message.

Thus Francis says to moralists: "All of you are asked today to rethink the categories of moral theology, in their reciprocal link: the relationship between grace and freedom, between conscience, goodness, virtues, rule and Aristotelian phronesis, Thomistic prudentia and spiritual discernment, the relationship between nature and culture, between the plurality of languages and the oneness of agape".

The Bishop of Rome invites moralists to take into account the enriching differences of cultures and, above all, the concrete experiences of believers. He encourages them to draw inspiration from Christian roots, as theologians must always do, not in order to go backwards but to go forward on the path of obedience to Jesus Christ, without being locked into an impoverishing or decadent casuistry.

He concludes by insisting on the true purpose, that one great goal: the evangelising role of the family, with joy: "May the joy of love, which finds an exemplary witness in the family, become an effective sign of the joy of God who is mercy and of the joy of those who receive this mercy as a gift! Joy".