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Back to 14_9_16_TEO_Doctrina y pastoral, verdad y misericordia

Ramiro Pellitero, Professor of Theology

Doctrine and pastoral care, truth and mercy

Tue, 16 Sep 2014 13:09:00 +0000 Published in

Our society today is very sensitive to authenticity, particularly as a human value. People who really live by agreement with what they think and make an effort to reflect on what they live are appreciated. We also know that it is not so easy to be so coherent, and perhaps this is, for most, more a goal than a reality.

On the occasion of the forthcoming Synod on the family, it is worth rediscovering the relationship between doctrine and life, or "pastoral care". It is an essential and necessary relationship, because these two aspects of Christianity cannot be separated, just as it is not possible to put truth on one side and charity and mercy on the other.

Let us go deeper into this relationship between doctrine and Christian life, keeping in mind that everything derives from the Person of Christ, and that the Gospel is both doctrine and life, life and doctrine, both truth and charity.

Both Christian doctrine and Christian life are centered on Christ. The expression of Benedict XVI in his first encyclical is already famous: "One does not begin to be a Christian by an ethical decision or a great idea, but by meeting with an event, with a Person, who gives a new horizon to life and, with it, a decisive orientation"(Deus Caritas Est, n. 1).

Everything Christian - faith, sacraments and charity, doctrine and Christian life - is centered, lived and understood starting from the Person of Christ, from meeting with Him and from life with Him and in Him through the Holy Spirit. If on the human level being comes before acting, our life with Christ is the condition for knowing how to act in our life of relationship with God, with others and with the realities that surround us. It is not possible "tolead a double life: the interior life, the life of relationship with God, on the one hand; and on the other, distinct and separate, family, professional and social life, full of small earthly realities" ( St. Josemaría Escrivá, Conversations, no. 114) .

Acting follows being. The Christian philosophical tradition places logos before ethos, metaphysics and anthropology before ethics. The message of the Gospel proposes, on the one hand, to understand and know what it means to live with Christ, in order to be able to act like Him and with Him. At the same time, it proposes to live with Christ in order to be able to understand and know God and his love for us better every day.

2. Living precedes thinking and thinking determines living. This explains why many cultivators of Theology internship (Moral and Spiritual Theology, Pastoral Theology) are at pains to point out that their disciplines should not be elaborated simply as mere "applications" of Christian dogma. A look of faith, a theological look, at the reality of Christian life, marriage and the Christian family is needed, which, in the light of dogma and Christian morals, is capable of helping in a more concrete and effective way in these fields. This is what Francis has called us to do, and this is why he wanted the next Synod on the family to be held in two stages, 2014 and 2015.

Therefore, it is not a matter of opposing the doctrine on marriage to the pastoral care of marriage and the family, but of reflecting from doctrine towards life and at the same time from life towards doctrine. In this way we will be able to infer the pastoral or practical implications of Christian doctrine for our times, and at the same time the concrete situations that Christian marriages and families are experiencing will help us to understand Christian doctrine better and better - as has happened in the history of Christianity.

3. The underlying question here is the relationship between truth and charity. As Benedict XVI lucidly taught, understanding this relationship presupposes remembering who we are and how we have been saved. The full truth is the love of God manifested in Christ. Neither truth is mere doctrine nor charity is mere sentiment. Truth and charity require each other (cf. Encyclical Caritas in veritate, nn. 1-4).

In Christ," Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out shortly before becoming Pope, "truth and charity coincide. To the extent that we draw closer to Christ, truth and charity merge in our lives as well. Charity without truth would be blind; truth without charity would be like 'a clanging cymbal' (1 Cor 13:1)"(Homily at the funeral of John Paul II, September 8, 2005). Such, he affirmed, is the fundamental formula of Christian existence.

Between faith and charity there is an order and a close connection: "Faith precedes charity, but it reveals itself to be genuine only if it culminates in it" (Benedict XVI, Message for Lent 2013). Christian doctrine can only be fully understood if it is lived: "Faith knows because it is linked to love, insofar as love itself brings a light (...) The understanding of faith is that which is born when we receive the great love of God that transforms us interiorly and gives us new eyes to see reality" (Encyclical Lumen fidei, n. 26). And this is so because love - and its concreteness in mercy - is, for the Christian, the principal source of knowledge.

For this reason, the first thing the Church does is to teach, by the example of the saints, the internship of love and mercy for those in need, and from there, as a consequence, the message of Christian wisdom emerges (cf. Francis, General Audience 10-IX-2014); for "the essence of being Christian is not knowledge but love" (John Paul II, Homily at the beatification of Edith Stein, May 1, 1987). In fact, the truth that fully liberates is only union with the love of Christ.

If we want to better understand the Christian doctrine on marriage and the family, we must strive to live it thoroughly, with charity and mercy. And if we want to do the latter, we must know the substance of the doctrine well.

4. All this leads us to appreciate the necessary distinction between the deposit of faith and its variable expressions (cf. John XXIII, allocution Gaudet Mater Ecclesia, at the inauguration of the Second Vatican Council, October 11, 1962), a fundamental distinction for understanding the intimate relationship between doctrine and pastoral care. The meaning of pastoral care - that is, the care of the baptized by their pastors in the context of the Church's mission statement for the world - is to help live Christian doctrine in this particular time and place, so that love of God and neighbor can make us better persons, embracing the perennial newness of the Gospel.

Consequently, a pastoral ministry that, with the excuse of appealing to life, charity or mercy, pretends to change the substance of Christian doctrine would serve no positive purpose. Nor would it serve, with the intention of maintaining fidelity to doctrine, to neglect the concrete circumstances and requirements of life, and mercy as the principal expression of charity (cf. St. Thomas, S.Th II-II, q.30, a. 4 and Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, n. 37).

The relationship between doctrine and life, between truth and mercy, between the essentials of the faith and the variable expressions or pastoral implications, is not always easy. To clarify it we have the Magisterium of the Church as guide guaranteed by the attendance of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, through prayer, study and dialogue, all Christians can and should contribute to the Church's mission statement , particularly now, with regard to the role of Christian marriages and families in the context of the new evangelization.

See article in Italian