January in Rome is pretty bleak. There is a big Post- Christmas letdown; there is no Roman Sun on your face or peeking through the Pantheon ceiling; no tourists to amuse the Romans. It’s a good time to let your mind wander to the law. That is just what every Pope does every January for the inauguration of the Judicial Year of the Holy See. On Saturday, January 21st, Francis received in audience, the Roman Rota, the high Court of the Catholic Church. This included the Prelate Auditors, officials, lawyers and collaborators. In the picture from L’Osservatore Romano, the men in purple robes are the Judges who get to sit up front. But, this year, Pope Francis’ address seemed not to be addressing the Rota at all. Well, except for the line half way through that said that the context of today’s culture lacking in religious values and faith, cannot but condition matrimonial consent. With lack of consent being often used as a grounds for a marriage annulment, this should have made the audience sit up and listen. So much for Canon Law.
For me, the sound byte of the address came towards the very end when Pope Francis said “it takes great courage to marry in the times in which we live.” No truer words are spoken here. In this line Pope Francis showed a profound understanding of life, that so many clerics do not have. How could they? Those getting paid by the hour, terrified about health care for themselves let alone a family, and lucky enough to really have a mortgage to pay, actually know the courage the Pope is talking about. Get this thought into your head and then read the address over again. (It’s only two and a half pages in English). Then you will see how right the Pope is when he recognizes the young married couples “so often left to their own devices”, especially after the birth of a child. The real world Catholics know how much we need the “new Catechuminate” he exhorts us to build. It is wise and refreshing for us to see someone in the hierarchy of the Church encourage us and say that this is the way to maintain marriage as a sacrament in our Church. Black and white boundaries in canon law cannot work without the “family pastoral care” and “the continuing formation” needed in the first moments of family life, based on a generous contribution of time and commitment by our adult Christians. Pope Francis does not lay out a legal bombast of how to tie people together once they have said “I Do”, no matter how tattered the marriage becomes. He sets out a vision of community support beginning with marriage preparation.
This Rotal Address is one of the best from any Pope. It is an Address that might have been lost on this audience, but resonates with the people in the pews. They get it, just like Francis does.