Communicate the Joy of the Gospel With Witness
by Pope Francis
Reverend Prelates Auditors
Dear Officials of the Roman Rota!
I’m happy to be able to meet with you today, on the occasion of the opening of the Court’s new judicial year. I earnestly thank the Dean for the noble words he addressed to me and for the wise methodological propositions he formulated.
I wish to recall the catechesis I gave at the General Audience of Wednesday, November 13, 2019, on offering to you today a further reflection on the principal role of the married couple Aquila and Priscilla as models of conjugal life. In fact, to follow Jesus, the Church must work according to the conditions established by the divine Master himself: homelessness, rapidity and decision (Cf. Angelus June 30, 2019). By her nature, the Church is in movement; she doesn’t remain tranquil in her enclosure, she is open to the widest horizons. The Church is sent to bring the Gospel to the streets and to reach the human and existential peripheries. That makes us think of Aquila and Priscilla, spouses of the New Testament.
The Holy Spirit willed to put beside the Apostle [Paul] this admirable example of itinerant spouses: in fact, both in the Acts of the Apostles as well as in Paul’s description, they are never immobile, but always in continual movement. And we wonder why this model of itinerant spouses has never had, for centuries in the Church’s pastoral <ministry>, evangelizing spouses. It’s what we are in need of in our parishes, especially in urban areas, where the parish priest and his clerical collaborators can never have enough time and strength to reach the faithful that, although declaring themselves Christians, don’t frequent the Sacraments and are deprived, or almost <deprived>, of knowledge of Christ.
The modern image of holy spouses in movement so that Christ is made known is, therefore, surprising, after so many centuries: they evangelize by being masters of passion for the Lord and for the Gospel, a heartfelt passion that is translated in concrete gestures of proximity, of hospitality and care to the neediest.
In the Preamble to the reform of the marital proceedings, I insisted on these two pearls: proximity and gratuitousness. It’s necessary not to forget that Saint Paul found with these spouses the way to be close of those that are far, and he loved them on living with them for more than a year at Corinth because they were masters of gratuitousness. Very often I feel fear of thinking of God’s judgment that we will have on these two things. When judging, have I been close to a persons’ heart? When judging, have I opened my heart to gratuitousness or have commercial interests seized me? God’s judgment will be very strong on that.
Christian spouses must learn from Aquila and Priscilla to fall in love with Christ and to become close to families, often deprived of the light of faith, not by their fault, but because they are left on the margins of our pastoral ministry: an elite pastoral <care> that forgets the people.
How I would like this address not to remain only a symphony of words, but that it encourage, on one hand, the Pastors, the Bishops, the parish priests to seek to love, as the Apostle Paul did, missionary Christian couples who are humble and willing to reach those places and buildings of our metropolises, which the light of the Gospel and Jesus’ voice haven’t reached and where they haven’t penetrated. And, on the other hand, Christian spouses that have the boldness to shake themselves, as Aquila and Priscilla did; spouses capable of being agents not in an autonomous way, but having sufficient courage to wake Pastors from their torpor and their sleep who are, perhaps, too immobile or blocked by the philosophy of the little circle of the perfect. The Lord came to seek sinners, not the perfect.
In the Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam, Saint Paul VI noted: “before even speaking it’s necessary to listen to the voice and even more so to the heart of man; to understand him as much as possible, to respect him and, where he merits it, to go in his direction.” (n. 90). To listen to man’s heart.
As I recommended to the Italian Bishops, it’s about “listening to the flock, [. . . ] to put oneself next to the people, attentive to learn their language, to address each one with charity, accompanying persons throughout the nights of their loneliness, of their anxieties and of their failures” (Address to the General Assembly of C.E.I. [Italian Episcopal Conference] May 19, 2014).
We must be conscious that it’s not Pastors that invent holy Christian couples by their human enterprise — no matter how honest it is; these couples are the work of the Holy Spirit, who is always the protagonist of the mission, and they are already present in our territorial communities. It is up to us, Pastors, to enlighten them, to give them visibility, to make them sources of novelties for Christian marriage; and also to protect them so that they don’t fall into ideologies. These couples, which the Spirit certainly continues to animate, must be ready “to go out of themselves, to open themselves to others, to live proximity, a style of life in common, which transforms every inter-personal relationship into an experience of fraternity” (Catechesis , October16, 2019). We think of the pastoral work of the preparation for marriage and of the post-marital catechumenate: it’s these couples that must do it and continue.
It’s necessary to watch that they not fall into the danger of particularism, on choosing to live in the chosen groups. On the contrary, it’s necessary “to open oneself to the universality of salvation” (Ibid.). In fact, if we are grateful to God for the presence of Movements and Associations that don’t neglect the formation of Christian spouses in the Church, in addition, one must affirm forcefully that the parish is in itself the ecclesial place of proclamation and witness, because it’s in this territorial context that Christian spouses already live <who are> worthy of enlightening us, spouses that can be active witnesses of the beauty and of conjugal and family love (Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, 126-130).
Therefore, the apostolic action of parishes is enriched in the Church by the presence of spouses such as those of the New Testament, described by Paul and by Luke, never immobile, always in movement, certainly with children, according to what is transmitted by the iconography of the Oriental Churches. For all that, the Pastors must let themselves be enlightened again today by the Spirit so that this salvific proclamation made by couples already ready but not called is realized. There are such couples.
Behold, the Church is in need today of couples in movement, everywhere in the world, but stemming from the roots of the Church of the four first centuries and, hence, of the catacombs, as Saint Paul VI did at the end of the Council, going to the Catacombs of Domitilla. In these Catacombs, this holy Pope affirmed: “Christianity took root here in poverty, in the ostracism of the constituted powers, in the suffering of unjust and bloody persecutions; here the Church was despoiled of all human power, she was poor, she was humble, she was pious, she was oppressed, she was heroic. Here the primacy of the Spirit of which the Gospel speaks had its obscure affirmation, almost mysterious, but unvanquished, her incomparable witness, her martyrdom” (Homily, September 12, 1965).
If the Spirit isn’t invoked and, hence, remains unknown and absent (Cf. Homily at Saint Martha’s, May 9, 2016) in the context of our particular Churches, we will be deprived of this strength that makes of Christian couples the soul and form of evangelization. Concretely: on living the parish as this juridical and salvific territory, because a “house in the midst of houses,” family of families (Cf. Homily at Albano, September 21, 2019); the Church — that is to say parish — poor for the poor, chain of enthusiastic and loving spouses of their faith in the Resurrected One, capable of a new revolution of the tenderness of love, as Aquila and Priscilla, never satisfied or withdrawn into themselves.
One would come to think that these holy spouses of the New Testament didn’t have the time to show themselves tired. In act, they are so described by Paul and by Luke, for whom they were almost indispensable companions, precisely because they were not called by Paul but aroused by the Spirit of Jesus. It’s here that their apostolic dignity as Christian spouses is founded. It’s the Spirit that raised them up. When a missionary arrives in a place, the Holy Spirit is already there, awaiting him. The long silence, which surrounded these figures of the early Church throughout the centuries, leaves one pretty perplexed.
I invite and encourage brother Bishops and all Pastors to show these holy spouses of the early Church as faithful and luminous companions of the Pastors of the time; as a support for today, and an example of the way in which Christian spouses, young and older, can make their Christian marriage always fruitful as children in Christ. We must be convinced, and I would like to say certain, that similar couples in the Church are a gift of God, and not because of our merits but because they are the fruit of the action of the Holy Spirit, who never abandons the Church. Rather, the Spirit hopes for the zeal of the Pastors so that the light diffused by these couples in the peripheries of the world, isn’t extinguished (Cf. Gadium et Spes, 4-10).
So let the Spirit not resign itself to a Church of a few, as if one appreciated remaining the only isolated leaven, deprived of this capacity of spouses of the New Testament to multiply in humility and in obedience to the Spirit; the Spirit that enlightens and is capable of rendering our human activity and our poverty salvific; that is capable of rendering all our activity salvific. Let us be convinced that the Church doesn’t grow by proselytism but by attraction — the witness of these persons attracts — and let us ensure always and everywhere the signature of the witness by the Spirit.
We don’t know if Aquila and Priscilla died martyrs, but they are certainly for our spouses of today signs of martyrdom, at least spiritual, namely witnesses capable of being leaven that goes in the flour, of being leaven in the dough, who die to become the dough (Cf. Address to the Associations of Catholic Families in Europe, June 1, 2017). It’s possible today, everywhere.
Dear Judges of the Roman Rota, for already twenty years your decisions have lamented as a possible circumstantial cause of the nullity of consent the obscurity of the faith or the desert of the faith. This offers me, as it did my Predecessor Benedict XVI (Cf. Allocutions to the Roman Rota, January 23, 2015, and January 22, 2016; January 22, 2011; Cf. art. 14 Ratio procedendi of the Motu Proprio Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus), the reason of a grave and pressing invitation to the children of the Church of our time, to feel ourselves all called to transmit the beauty of the Christian family to the future.
The Church has need ubicunque terrarum of married couples like Aquila and Priscilla, who speak and live with the authority of Baptism, which “doesn’t consist of commanding and making oneself understood, but of being coherent, of being witness and, for that, of being fellow travelers on the way of the Lord” (Homily at Saint Martha’s, January 14, 2020).
I thank the Lord for giving again today to the children of the Church the courage and the light to return to the origins of the faith and rediscover the passion of the spouses Aquila and Priscilla, who are recognizable in each marriage celebrated in Jesus Christ.
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