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On “Fiducia Supplicans”

A shepherd’s heart that never closes the door

22 December 2023

“Nmo venit nisi tractus”: No one comes to Jesus unless drawn, wrote Saint Augustine, paraphrasing the words of the Nazarene: “No one comes to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”.

At the origin of our attraction to Jesus — that attraction Benedict xvi spoke of, recalling how faith is spread — there is always the action of grace. God always precedes us, calls us, draws us, moves us a step towards Him, or at least ignites in us the desire to take that step, even if we still feel we lack the strength and find ourselves paralysed.

The heart of a shepherd cannot remain indifferent to the people who approach him, humbly asking to be blessed, regardless of their condition, their history, or the path of their life. The shepherd's heart does not extinguish the flickering light of one who senses their own incompleteness, knowing they need mercy and help from on High.

The shepherd's heart sees in that request for blessing a crack in the wall, a tiny opening through which grace might already be at work. Therefore, their first concern is not to close the small crack, but to welcome and implore blessing and mercy so that the people before them can begin to understand God’s plan for their lives.

This underlying awareness is reflected in “Fiducia Supplicans,” the Declaration of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith on the meaning of blessings, which opens the possibility of blessing couples in irregular situations, including same-sex couples. It clarifies that blessing in this case does not mean approving their life choices and emphasizes the need to avoid any ritualization or other elements that may remotely imitate marriage.

This document deepens the doctrine on blessings, distinguishing between ritual and liturgical blessings and spontaneous ones that are acts of devotion linked to popular piety. It is a text that makes concrete, ten years later, the words written by Pope Francis in “Evangelii Gaudium” (EG 17): “The Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.”

The origin of the Declaration is evangelical. On almost every page of the Gospel, Jesus breaks traditions and religious prescriptions, respectability, and social conventions. He performs actions that scandalize the self-righteous, the so-called “pure,” those who shield themselves with norms and rules to distance, reject, and close doors. On almost every page of the Gospel, we see the doctors of the law trying to corner the Master with tendentious questions, then muttering indignantly at His freedom overflowing with mercy: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!”

Jesus was ready to run to the house of the centurion in Capernaum to heal his beloved servant, without concern about contaminating Himself by entering the home of a pagan. He allowed the sinful woman to wash His feet amid the judgmental and disdainful looks of the guests, unable to understand why He did not send her away. He looked at and called Zacchaeus the tax collector while he clung to the branches of the sycamore tree, without demanding that he convert and change his life before receiving that gaze of mercy. He did not condemn the adulteress who, according to the law, was subject to stoning but disarmed the hands of her executioners, reminding them that they too — like everyone — were sinners. He said He came for the sick and not the healthy, compared Himself to the singular figure of a shepherd willing to leave ninety-nine sheep unguarded to search for the one that is lost. He touched the leper, healing him from both illness and the stigma of being an “untouchable” outcast. These “discarded” encountered His gaze and felt loved, recipients of an embrace of mercy given to them without any precondition. Discovering themselves loved and forgiven, they realized what they were: poor sinners like everyone else, in need of conversion, beggars for everything.

Pope Francis said to the new cardinals in February 2015: “For Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family! And this is scandalous to some people! Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal! He does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness which does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity.”

The “perennial Catholic doctrine of marriage,” the Declaration emphasizes, does not change: only in the context of marriage between a man and a woman do “sexual relations find their natural, proper, and fully human meaning”.

Therefore, it is necessary to avoid recognizing as marriage “what contradicts it”. But from a pastoral and missionary perspective, the door is not closed to “couples in irregular situations” seeking a simple blessing, perhaps during a visit to a shrine or pilgrimage.

The Jewish scholar Claude Montefiore identified the peculiarity of Christianity in this: “While other religions describe humanity seeking God, Christianity announces a God seeking humanity... Jesus taught that God does not wait for the repentance of the sinner; He goes to seek him to call him to Himself”.

The open door of a prayer and a small blessing can be a beginning, an opportunity, a help. (a.t.)

By Andrea Tornielli