By Bishop Kevin J. Farrell
Publisher of The Texas Catholic
The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church. As the Synod Fathers noted, for all the many signs of crisis in the institution of marriage, “the desire to marry and form a family remains vibrant, especially among young people, and this is an inspiration to the Church.” As a response to that desire, “the Christian proclamation on the family is good news indeed. (Amoris Laetitia, 1)
Thus begins The Joy of Love, (Amoris Laetitia), Pope Francis’ long anticipated Apostolic Exhortation on the family that was released Friday morning calling for a new pastoral approach to the increasingly complex realities of families in today’s world, not focusing on the so called “nuclear family” but on the family as a wider network of many relationships. “Thus in his exhortation, the Holy Father looks “to the reality of the family today in all its complexity, with both its lights and shadows.” (AL, 32) Among those addressed are single-parent families, those in irregular marriages, grandparents as surrogate parents and other “wounded families.”
This is a long and very significant document and I anticipate writing many blogs about it but here are a few salient points of this very pastoral exhortation.
While recognizing that Christian marriage, is fully realized in the union between a man and a woman as a reflection of the union between Christ and his Church (AL, 292) the Holy Father states that, “there is no need to lay upon two limited persons the tremendous burden of having to reproduce perfectly the union existing between Christ and his Church, for marriage as a sign entails a dynamic process…, one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God.” (AL, 121)
It is the love of Jesus, the Pope explains, that brings joy to families. “The Lord’s presence dwells in real and concrete families, with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes. Living in a family makes it hard for us to feign or lie; we cannot hide behind a mask. If that authenticity is inspired by love, then the Lord reigns there, with his joy and his peace. The spirituality of family love is made up of thousands of small but real gestures. In that variety of gifts and encounters which deepen communion, God has his dwelling place. This mutual concern “brings together the human and the divine for it is filled with the love of God. In the end, marital spirituality is a spirituality of the bond in which divine love dwells.” (AL, 315)
As this is a pastoral document, the Pope neither proposes or anticipates changes in the Church’s traditional teaching, yet points out that “When faced with difficult situations and wounded families, it is always necessary to recall this general principle: ‘Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations’ (Familiaris Consortio, 84). The degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases and factors may exist which limit the ability to make a decision. While clearly stating the Church’s teaching, pastors are to avoid judgements that do not take into account the complexity of various situations.”(AL, 79)
“For the faithful who are living together,” the document continues, “or are only married civilly, or are divorced and remarried, following the divine pedagogy, the Church turns with love to those who participate in her life in an imperfect manner: she seeks the grace of conversion for them; she encourages them to do good, to take loving care of each other and to serve the community in which they live and work. When a couple in an irregular union attains a noteworthy stability through a public bond and is characterized by deep affection, responsibility towards the children and the ability to overcome trials, this can be seen as an opportunity, where possible, to lead them to celebrate the Sacrament of Matrimony.”(AL, 78)
Finally, the Holy Father explains, “There are two ways of thinking which recur throughout the Church’s history: casting off and reinstating. The Church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement… The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone forever; it is to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart.” (AL, 327)
There are those who will be disappointed with this document; some who feel it does not go far enough in addressing the hopes of those in irregular marriages, others who feel it compromises traditional teaching. In my opinion, it reflects the call of Jesus to his church to continue his healing and saving mission.
We will have much more to say about Amoris Laetitia. The complete document is available at www.cathdal.org/joyoflove, where you can also find a short summary, answers to questions you may have, a history of the Synods on the Family, and many other resources. Please pray for all families, no matter their circumstances, and those who minister to them.