Thoughts On Amoris Laetitia

There have been many commentaries on Amoris Laetitia since it’s release in April 2016. We feature a selection of opinions below.

By Archbishop Mark Coleridge. Read the full article: here

This op-ed was first published in The Weekend Australian, Saturday 9 April 2016.

From the moment of his election Francis has been a Pope of surprises. One of the surprises of this old man has been his energy. It has been astonishing, and part of the energy has been literary — as we see in his latest production, The Joy of LoveOn Love in the Family.

In it, the Pope wants to gather up and move forward the work of the Synod of Bishops held in Rome in 2014 and last year. The decision to hold the two synods on the theme of marriage and the family was a surprise. But it was shrewd strategy from a Pope who is nothing if not a strategist.

What Francis was saying to the Catholic Church was that a synod wasn’t just a one-off event; it’s an ongoing journey, which is what the word synod means. In The Joy of Love Francis doesn’t claim to be the final word settling every controversial question. Nor does he claim to offer a comprehensive pastoral plan to be implemented around the planet. His claims are more modest, and for that reason more compelling. He wants this text to be another step on the way; not a final product but another part of the process.

Modest Francis may be, but this is an ambitious offering. That sort of tension undergirds all he writes here. The Joy of Love is high-visioned but also homespun. He offers the grand and ageless poetry of the church’s vision of marriage and the family, which has the deepest roots in the biblical tradition.

Francis is not afraid to name the dark side of marriage and the family as it appears in the very different cultures of the world. At times he seems to rub our noses in the facts of marriage and the family, even when the facts are unpleasant. Yet out of the mess he always seems able to make the title of his text, The Joy of Love, seem more than vapid dreaming or whistling in the dark in a world where joy and love can seem a mirage.

He opens up a huge vision of possibility for marriage and the family when that vision seems to be shrinking. So often so little seems possible; yet here is Pope Francis speaking of a hope for marriage and the family that reaches beyond all the seeming hopelessness.

Of course he says the church must speak the truth. But that isn’t enough. If that’s all we do, then we run the risk of turning the great truths of Christianity into stones that we hurl at those we want to condemn. We also need to walk with people, all kinds of people, especially those who are struggling in their marriage or family life. It’s what Christianity has to offer in an often merciless world.

To walk with people, whoever they are, means to enter into dialogue with them. That means we listen to people, whoever they may be and however far they may fall short of the ideal. For Francis, the ideal does matter; the vision must be kept clearly focused. But if we speak only of it, then we can drift off into some abstract noosphere that doesn’t breathe the air of reality.

The Joy of Love insists we have to deal always with the facts, however messy they may be; we have to be in touch with the reality of marriage and the family.

Among the facts is that marriage is the sexual sacrament, and Francis doesn’t at all shy away from speaking of sexuality. At last year’s synod the talk about sexuality at times seemed somewhat disembodied and abstract; not surprising, perhaps, given that most at the synod were celibate. But there’s nothing disembodied or abstract here about what Francis writes of sexuality in marriage and the family. He speaks openly of passion and the emotions, but also of education in human sexuality for the young.

The language Francis uses is crucial; and The Joy of Love is certainly a call to change the way the church speaks about marriage and the family. In part this is because most people these days don’t understand the language we use; nor do they share our assumptions.

There is a crisis of communication. We’re in search of new words and images, and Francis is a serious help in that. He speaks in a way we haven’t heard from a Pope for a long time, perhaps ever.

The Pope’s idiom isn’t static but dynamic. Marriage is not a state but a journey. The ideal is the point of arrival, but the real is one of the many points on the way. The community of the church has to journey with people, humbly and humanly, before they’re married, when they’re preparing for marriage, in the early years of married life and all the way until death brings the journey to an end. That journeying means listening to the truth people speak, even in the midst of the mess, but also offering them — tenderly (one of Francis’s favourite words) — the hope that much more is possible.

Accompanying people on the way also means discerning with them the truth of their journey and even the movement of God in their life — because the real God moves also in the mess. God is not only the point of arrival, awaiting the successful at journey’s end. God is also, says Francis, our companion on the way, with all our failures; and people need to be helped to discover that truth.

Popes traditionally have spoken as “we” rather than “I” and with good reason, because Popes gather up the wisdom not only of ages but of a vast worldwide community. In that sense, the Pope — even a distinctively voiced Pope such as Francis — always speaks in the first-person plural. In The Joy of Love we have not only the words of an extraordinary human being and pastor but also a wisdom that is deep and wide when we’re not always wise, not always joyful and loving, in addressing the many complex questions concerning marriage and the family. What Francis offers here is not just for the church; it’s for the world.

Mark Coleridge is the Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane.

 

by Bishop Robert Barron April 08, 2016 | Read the full article: here 

On a spring day about five years ago, when I was rector of Mundelein Seminary, Francis Cardinal George spoke to the assembled student body. He congratulated those proudly orthodox seminarians for their devotion to the dogmatic and moral truths proposed by the Church, but he also offered some pointed pastoral advice. He said that it is insufficient simply to drop the truth on people and then smugly walk away. Rather, he insisted, you must accompany those you have instructed, committing yourself to helping them integrate the truth that you have shared.

I thought of this intervention by the late Cardinal often as I was reading Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. If I might make bold to summarize a complex 264-page document, I would say that Pope Francis wants the truths regarding marriage, sexuality, and family to be unambiguously declared, but that he also wants the Church’s ministers to reach out in mercy and compassion to those who struggle to incarnate those truths in their lives.

In regard to the moral objectivities of marriage, the Pope is bracingly clear.

  • He unhesitatingly puts forward the Church’s understanding that authentic marriage is between a man and a woman, who have committed themselves to one another in permanent fidelity, expressing their mutual love and openness to children, and abiding as a sacrament of Christ’s love for his Church (52, 71).
  • He explicitly calls to our attention the teaching of Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae regarding the essential connection between the unitive and the procreative dimensions of conjugal love (80).
  • Moreover, he approvingly cites the consensus of the recent Synod on the Family that homosexual relationships cannot be considered even vaguely analogous to what the Church means by marriage (251).
  • He is especially strong in his condemnation of ideologies that dictate that gender is merely a social construct and can be changed or manipulated according to our choice (56).
  • Finally, any doubt regarding the Pope’s attitude toward the permanence of marriage is dispelled as clearly and directly as possible: “The indissolubility of marriage—‘what God has joined together, let no man put asunder’ (Mt 19:6) —should not be viewed as a ‘yoke’ imposed on humanity, but as a ‘gift’ granted to those who are joined in marriage…” (62).

The Field Hospital

However, the Pope also honestly admits that many, many people fall short of the ideal, failing fully to integrate all of the dimensions of what the Church means by matrimony. What is the proper attitude to them?

Like Cardinal George, the Pope has a visceral reaction against a strategy of simple condemnation, for the Church, he says, is a field hospital, designed to care precisely for the wounded (292). Accordingly, he recommends two fundamental moves.

  1. First, we can recognize, even in irregular or objectively imperfect unions, certain positive elements that participate, as it were, in the fullness of married love. Thus for example, a couple living together without benefit of marriage might be marked by mutual fidelity, deep love, the presence of children, etc. Appealing to these positive marks, the Church might, according to a “law of gradualness,” move that couple toward authentic and fully-integrated matrimony (295). This is not to say that living together is permitted or in accord with the will of God; it is to say that the Church can perhaps find a more winsome way to move people in such a situation to conversion.
  2. The second move—and here we come to what will undoubtedly be the most controverted part of the exhortation—is to employ the Church’s classical distinction between the objective quality of a moral act and the subjective responsibility that the moral agent bears for committing that act (302). The Pope observes that many people in civil marriages following upon a divorce find themselves in a nearly impossible bind. If their second marriage has proven faithful, life-giving, and fruitful, how can they simply walk out on it without in fact incurring more sin and producing more sadness? This is, of course, not to insinuate that their second marriage is not objectively disordered, but it is to say that the pressures, difficulties, and dilemmas might mitigate their culpability.

Will Amoris Laetitia end all debate on these matters? Hardly. But it does indeed represent a deft and impressive balancing of the many and often contradictory interventions at the two Synods on the Family. As such, it will be of great service to many suffering souls who come to the Field Hospital.

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