A Secular Franciscan Perspective
By Joe Edwards, OFS
Minster of Holy Trinity Region of the Secular Franciscan Order
Those who have followed Pope Francis know that he has taken a new, more empathic, and forgiving approach in viewing the frailties associated with family. While no change has occurred in terms of church law, he reinterprets church doctrine. He has consistently advocated for a Gospel approach to meeting people where they are---with their human imperfections. He has insisted that church doctrine cannot be the final word when viewing tricky moral questions, but rather, Catholics be guided by their informed consciences.
Pope Francis has addressed the topic of family in several ways during his pontificate. He has dedicated a series of catechesis to the family, centered his Wednesday addresses on this topic several times, held a world meeting on family, and convened two bishop synods. Pope Francis has emphasized family more than any previous shepherd. He realizes the importance of recognizing that the Church consists of imperfect individuals. Like St. Francis, he is responding to a call to rebuild an imperfect Church. Pope Francis has used the metaphor of the Church as a “field hospital on a battleground”—where we are called to quickly respond as medics to help those injured and in pain, and to heal.
His speeches have included various topics that impact family in our times, emphasizing the need to be compassionate while avoiding judgment. He has not shied away from controversial issues like divorces, remarrying; women who have been verbally, physically, and sexually abused; racism; human trafficking; couples grappling with conception; sex education; or sexual orientation. He has emphasized that if family wounds aren’t dealt with in a healthy and timely manner, they can negatively affect spouses and children. The pope has encouraged wounded families to work toward healing so that the outcome will not be bitterness and detachment. He reassures those struggling that Jesus’ family experienced hardships. The Holy Father sends a message of hope to families, emphasizing that God is compassionate, loving, and merciful and that healing must occur for the wounded.
So how does this apply to Secular Franciscans? The message preached by Pope Francis is at its core very Franciscan. It emphasizes the importance of fraternity, compassion, and the importance of accepting people as they are—we are all sinners who rely on the compassion and mercy of our loving God. Francis of Assisi was a man who understood the power of forgiveness—for in forgiving others—it frees us to love as God loves. So that we can receive and radiate His joy and peace! Let us become channels of healing to a world divided in pain and confusion, helping heal and resolve inequities throughout the world.