||April 25, 2016 • VOL. 54, NO. 8 • Oakland, CA|
Every Catholic should try to read pope's 'Amoris Laetitia'
The Holy Father has released a teaching on Love, Marriage and Family Life called "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love").
'Amoris Laetitia' balances results of two synods
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.
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.
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."
How will this document help your marriage and your mentoring of other couples?
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
Concord . . . . . .
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.
|Copyright © 2016 The Catholic Voice, All Rights Reserved. Site design by Sarah Kalmon-Bauer.|