Catholics should let their bishops know their hopes and concerns for the forthcoming Synod of Bishops on the family, but even more importantly they should pray that the Holy Spirit guides the bishops’ deliberations, Cardinal Walter Kasper has said.
“We should all pray for it because a battle is going on,” he said in a speech presenting his new book, Pope Francis’s Revolution of Tenderness and Love, published in English by Paulist Press.
Bishops attending the synod, scheduled for October 4-25, will be called to discern ways the Church can communicate joy to all families, including those who have experienced the brokenness of a sacramental marriage, he said.
“Hopefully, the synod will be able to find a common answer, with a large majority, which will not be a rupture with tradition, but a doctrine that is a development of tradition,” the cardinal said, adding that if the Church believes it has a “living tradition”, it means that there is room for it to develop.
Pope Francis chose Cardinal Kasper to make a presentation to the College of Cardinals in early 2014 about possible ways the Catholic Church could welcome some divorced and civilly remarried Catholics back to the sacraments.
The Pope also named the cardinal to be a member of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family last October. The pastoral care of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics became a focus of sharp debate. All members of the synod strongly affirmed Church teaching that marriage is forever, but no consensus was reached on pastoral care to those people whose marriages have failed.
Cardinal Kasper said Pope Francis’s approach to the synod was that it is an appropriate forum for discerning, with the help of the Holy Spirit, how best to respond to the faith and needs of the Catholic people.
“Synodality does not weaken the papacy,” but is a complementary structure that allows a universal breadth of input, he said.
For the synod to live up to its potential and to give the Pope the information and inspiration he needs, Cardinal Kasper said, the participating bishops must hear from Catholic faithful and be supported by their prayers.
“The Pope and the synod must decide” what steps to take next, he said, “but decide after they listen.”
The cardinal also spoke about Pope Francis’s preaching about the mercy of God and his calling a special Holy Year of Mercy for 2015-16.
When the Pope speaks about God’s mercy, he said, it “captures the hearts of many people” because it is a source of joy and of hope. “Who does not need a merciful God? Who does not need merciful neighbours?”
“Mercy is, theologically, the expression of the inner nature of God: God is love.” God cannot be other than merciful “if he is to be true to his own essence, he has to be merciful,” the cardinal said.
The Church, as the sacrament of God’s presence in the world, must spread God’s mercy, he said. “God does not let fall anybody who cries, who wants; God does not abandon anybody who hopes for a new start, a new beginning, a new chance.”
Mercy is not “pastoral softness” or the denial of the truth of human sin; granting mercy assumes that a person does not deserve such benevolence, the cardinal said.
“Mercy is not against the commandments; it is a commandment, and it is not an easy thing.”
In preaching the centrality of God’s mercy, Cardinal Kasper said, “Pope Francis stands in the tradition of many saints in the Church, especially the holy women Catherine of Siena and Thérèse of Lisieux,” both of whom are recognised as Doctors of the Church.