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Catholic Voice
  April 25, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 8   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

Every Catholic should try to read pope's 'Amoris Laetitia'

Most Rev.
Michael C. Barber, SJ

The Holy Father has released a teaching on Love, Marriage and Family Life called "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love").

It is 264 "numbers" or pages. I am still reading, studying and praying over the text — which I encourage every Catholic to do as well.

Rather than a dry document that goes directly to the bookshelf or file cabinet, I think you will find yourself being loved by God and the Holy Father as you read. I am going to wait until I have had time to prayerfully reflect on the whole teaching. I would not serve you by doing an "Evelyn-Wood-Speed-Reading" rushed job. That would not do it — or you — justice.

In the meantime, I think Bishop Robert Barron correctly captures the essence in his adjacent column. He hits it on the head. I hope his words will encourage you to start reading and enjoying this beautiful and rich teaching right away.

'Amoris Laetitia' balances results of two synods

Pope Francis greets newly married couples during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in this Sept. 30, 2015, file photo. Pope Francis' postsynodal apostolic exhortation on the family, "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love"), was April 8. The exhortation is the concluding document of the 2014 and 2015 synods of bishops on the family.
L'Osservatore Romano/cns

On a spring day about five years ago, when I was rector of Mundelein Seminary, Cardinal Francis 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 (The Joy of Love). 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.

Most Rev. Robert Barron

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 bemoans any number of threats to this ideal, including moral relativism, a pervasive cultural narcissism, the ideology of self-invention, pornography, the "throwaway" society, etc.

He explicitly calls to our attention the teaching of Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life) 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).

Such moves are tantamount, he argues, to forgetting the right relationship between creature and Creator.

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).

In a particularly affecting section of the exhortation, Pope Francis interprets the famous hymn to love in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (90-119). Following the great missionary apostle, he argues that love is not primarily a feeling (94), but rather a commitment of the will to do some pretty definite and challenging things: to be patient, to bear with one another, to put away envy and rivalry, ceaselessly to hope.

In the tones of grandfatherly pastor, Francis instructs couples entering into marriage that love, in this dense and demanding sense of the term, must be at the heart of their relationship. I frankly think that this portion of Amoris Laetitia should be required reading for those in pre-Cana other similar marriage preparation programs in the Catholic Church. Now Francis says much more regarding the beauty and integrity of marriage, but you get my point: there is no watering down or compromising of the ideal in this text.

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.

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.

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.

Here is how Pope Francis applies the distinction: "Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any 'irregular' situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace" (301).

Could the Church's minister, therefore, not help such people, in the privacy of the rectory parlor or the confessional, to discern their degree of moral responsibility? Once again, this is not to embrace a breezy "anything-goes" mentality, nor to deny that a civil marriage after a divorce is objectively irregular; it is to find, perhaps, for someone in great pain, a way forward.

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.

(Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.)

'Amoris Laetitia' in their own words

The Catholic Voice asked some people involved in marriage preparation for comments on "Amoris Laetitia" ("For your love"), Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation.

How will this document help your marriage and your mentoring of other couples?

I'm struck by how Pope Francis balances beautiful poetic language on the nuptial meaning of the body with practical homespun advice on saying "please, thank you and sorry" to your fellow family members. Half of this could be sold in the self-help section of a secular book store. I mean that in a good way. Francis' exhortation is accessible to everyone; it is a guide that is to be read and then put into action. Immediately.

How could it assist you in parenting the Church's next generation?

Mary and I can use Francis' practical advice in our marriage in regards to communicating with one another, speaking well of one another and in raising our kids. There is a whole chapter devoted to childrearing and education. Francis is very realistic about family life. He realizes that it is a struggle, and that there is an inevitable weariness. But he encourages us to persevere, reminding us that every family, despite its weaknesses can become a light in the darkness of the world.

Jack and Mary Sullivan
Marriage preparation leaders

. . . . . .

Rev. Larry Young

Pope Francis has chosen the Third Sunday of Easter with the Gospel of John to give us his Apostolic Exhortation on the family, "Amoris Laetitia."

In this Gospel, Jesus tells Peter, "Feed My Sheep," that exhortation is passed on to all pastors and those charged with caring for the souls and well-being of all people that God has created. As Peter's successor, Pope Francis invites all of us to "feed the sheep" with the solid food of Christ's teachings and message of real love to all who will listen.

As pastors, we can re-read and teach St. John Paul II's "Theology of the Body." It was not meant to collect dust, but to be studied and taught with love and care.

We feed the people of God with an open heart, not afraid to dialogue and to listen, to see God's love and mercy in each person as we continue to teach the sacredness to each person, the purpose and meaning of a family and why God gave us the family structure.

We cannot ignore sacred doctrine and the sacred scripture, but we can work together to find answers to help educate, support, receive and give courage and help to all people.

Priests, deacons, pastoral leaders and especially our teachers of Faith Formation and Marriage Preparation, must all read the exhortation and come together to accept it, teach it, love it and feed the Lord's sheep.

Rev. Larry Young
Pastor, St. Patrick Parish, Rodeo

. . . . . .

How will this document help your marriage and your mentoring of other couples?

Therese and Mike Caples

I don't know that AL will help our marriage. We understand and believe in the rightness of the Church's teachings. There is nothing new or added to those teachings here. On the contrary, they are emphasized. They are simply approached from a much more pastoral point of view than we commonly see.

In mentoring other couples, though, it will be a help, a useful tool. It describes many of the realities of married life in almost poetic terms in relating them to Church teaching. This is attractive.

Conjugal love is spoken of in joyful, and at once, spiritual, terms. The recognition, which I had not thought of before, that God so honored marriage and family that they were the tools through which He presented us his Son, when he could have simply created them as He did the first couple, is a beautiful thought and one that can be used to buttress the Church's other teachings, such as indissolubility, which AL mentions many times.

Also the recognition that marriage was not dropped on us as a perfect institution; that all marriages struggle in one way or another, is a good and encouraging teaching point. That we come up short is not a judgment, but a simple fact and an opportunity to allow grace to enter and work in our marriages. This can be helpful to couples who are losing hope.

The emphasis on children as a gift, not a right, is important, as is the primacy of parental education and will be useful in addressing both with young couples.

How could it assist you in parenting the Church's next generation?

This is a generation all about tolerance and acceptance, a natural consequence of moral relativity. However, much of that springs from basically kind hearts, hearts that don't want to hurt. AL, although not coming right out and addressing the difference between tolerance and love, addresses it nonetheless.

AL is extraordinarily pastoral. While it emphasizes quite strongly the Church's traditional teachings on marriage and sex, it also goes to lengths to emphasize our obligation as followers of Christ to try to emulate him, not to ostracize those who are in error, but to engage them and love them, even when they resist changing; to recognize the difficulty, the cross they bear and to be examples, not critics. This will resonate with people who see the Church as judgmental and unforgiving.

Therese and Mike Caples
Marriage prep, Covenant of Love marriage enrichment leaders

. . . . . .

I enjoyed the way that the exhortation is structured and how it allows for an easy read and understanding of Pope Francis' message. I particularly appreciated the foundation in Scripture which allowed me to see with fresh eyes the stories of families, the love and struggles that we have endured from the beginning.

In a way that allowed me to enter deeper in the understanding of God's Mercy and His covenant with us. He indeed is faithfully walking with us.

Reading about how Jesus came to restore all that is broken was a moment for me to pause and just contemplate His healing love with gratefulness. It was beautiful to then see how Pope Francis names Mary as the one who not only teaches us on how to love and care for family, but on her pivotal role in our salvation.

Reading about the Holy Family and their struggles brought many of the emotions to a concrete space for me. I went on looking, almost desperately looking for the part on the exhortation that speaks about families like mine.

It was humbling to see Pope Francis' invitation for us the church to love, understand, support and accompany families that are dealing with all sorts of challenges. I was able to reflect on my own life and how it was my faith community the one that allowed me to be here today.

My parish family "adopted" me and my daughters and without much questioning just offered me love. My daughters have many grandmas and aunts because of this! After my short review of the exhortation, I can say that it will bring much healing to many and a good direction to the Church so that we can be more supportive of families and more intently learn and defend the sacrament of marriage.

Cristina Hernández
A woman of faith who has gone through an annulment and is raising two children.
Coordinator of the Office of Life and Justice, Diocese of Oakland

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