Pope Francis’ AMORIS LÆTITIA is Latin for “The Joy of Love” written for all members of the Catholic Church in April 8, 2016. It was written after an “extraordinary synod” of bishops and experts from all over the world in 2014 and an “ordinary synod” of cardinals, bishops and “auditors” in 2015. This is under the genre of “apostolic exhortation”, meaning while it is formal doctrine, it is more more of a pastoral document than a document for teaching the faith. It is 325 paragraphs long. There are 9 chapters, the biggest ones are the middle : “Ch 4, Love in Marriage”, “Ch 5, Love Made Fruitful”, “Ch 6, some pastoral perspectives” and “Ch 7, Toward a Better Education of Children.” These long chapters have been overshadowed by what conservative and liberal media have been focusing on: “Ch 2, The Experiences and Challenges of the Family” and “Ch 8, Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness” which shall be focused on in the end. It is important to study the middle of the document, as these are things we all can agree on and are truly “The Joy of Love.”
Much is written about erotic/marital love in ch 4. Taking St. Paul’s comments on love (Love is patient, love is kind… etc.), Pope Francis goes to the Greek and clarifies love here. Love is slow to anger (91) Love is at the service of others (93) Love is not uncomfortable at another’s good fortune (95) Love is not arrogant (97) Love is not harsh (99) Love is generous (101) Love is not irritable (103) Love forgives (105) Love rejoices in what is right (109) Love holds one’s peace (112) Love trusts (114) Love hopes in God (116) Love never gives up (119) Love is Tender: “Tenderness … is a sign of a love free of selfish possessiveness.” (127) Love is joyful and contemplative (129). He then clarifies St. Paul. “Where Paul tells women to “be subject to your husbands” (Eph 5:22). … “As Saint John Paul II wisely observed: “Love excludes every kind of subjection whereby the wife might become a servant or a slave of the husband… “ (156). Ephesians is not telling women to become slaves to men. Lastly, there is a part on aging and love, where the pope makes clear that for the Christian, the Spirit transcends the appearance of the body. “In the course of every marriage physical appearances change, but this hardly means that love and attraction need fade. We love the other person for who they are, not simply for their body. Although the body ages, it still expresses that personal identity that first won our heart.” (164)
Chapter 5 discusses the family roles. Feminism, the role of women, and motherhood are mentioned, as well as single motherhood (173-175). The problems of human tracking, especially children are mentioned (180). The importance of the family being connected to the greater community is very important, that the family can’t just be focused on itself and set apart. A Christian family must strive to be part of the greater community. Frequent mass attendance can help with this: “On the other hand, families who are properly disposed and receive the Eucharist regularly, reinforce their desire for fraternity, their social consciousness and their commitment to those in need” (186). Finally, there must be a link between the new families and the elderly. The elderly cannot be abandoned. “Indeed, “how I would like a Church that challenges the throw-away culture by the overflowing joy of a new embrace between young and old!” (191)
On to Pastoral approaches. These are for bishops, priests, deacons and lay ministers of the church: how to help our families and make them stronger. A challenge is seeing marriage as a “lifelong project” and not just a once and for all event (like a wedding). A marriage is something built daily and cared for with hope (218). “Among the causes of broken marriages are unduly high expectations about conjugal life. Once it becomes apparent that the reality is more limited and challenging than one imagined, the solution is not to think quickly and irresponsibly about separation, but to come to the sober realization that married life is a process of growth, in which each spouse is God’s means of helping the other to mature. “ (221) The size of one’s family is a decision that cannot be taken lightly. The couple must form their conscience correctly on this matter (learn about the Church’s decision on this matter), examine what society and the resources they have to have children and then make their decision. “The parents themselves and no one else should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God” (222). There is also a part on respect for those in same-sex relationships. This section is probably more written for African countries where the penalty for same-sex relationships is violence and even death. “We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence. Such families should be given respectful pastoral guidance, so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives. “ (250)
Briefly noted, the education of the child is the most important piece that we can do to create strong families. Chapter 7 focuses on this. “Children who are lovingly corrected feel cared for; they perceive that they are individuals whose potential is recognized. “ (269) Key to this is that children must be valued, which is not always the case, especially in sex education. “Frequently, sex education deals primarily with “protection” through the practice of “safe sex”. Such expressions convey a negative attitude towards the natural procreative finality of sexuality, as if an eventual child were an enemy to be protected against. This way of thinking promotes narcissism and aggressivity in place of acceptance.” (283) In the context of a marriage, “responsible regulation of birth” is a better phrase than “safe sex,” because the goal is to have children responsibly, not to see children and the human race as a spreading virus.
Now onto Chapter 8, the shortest and most controversial section: “Accompany, Discerning and Integrating Weakness.” Since the Church is ministering to the wounded (291), the Church must recognize that it cannot be like the Pharisees who create burdens that the people cannot bear. There are those who in their weakness cannot live up to the Sacrament of marriage (293). “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 always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement… “ (296). Therefore, Pope Francis says in effect that individual person, pastors and dioceses should determine whether a divorce and remarried Catholic can receive communion either through an annulment or marital abstinence (300). “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) “A pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives.” (305) Yet in this sense of mercy, Pope Francis is not changing the ideal and norm of a life-long marriage. Just because mercy is shown to those who are weak, does not call all people to weakness and broken marriages. “ A lukewarm attitude, any kind of relativism, or an undue reticence in proposing that ideal, would be a lack of fidelity to the Gospel and also of love on the part of the Church for young people themselves. To show understanding in the face of exceptional situations never implies dimming the light of the fuller ideal, or proposing less than what Jesus offers to the human being. “ (307). The fact that God shows mercy and love (307) to those who commit divorce and adultery does not change God’s condemnation of it: ““Let none be faithless to the wife of his youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord” (Mal 2:14-16). “ (123)
That is the big change in the church, that divorce and remarriage can at least be examined on the local and individual level. The church’s assessment of the problems in Chapter 2 “The Experiences and Challenges of the Family” remain largely the same. Here are 9 quotes which summarize this chapter: “We [The Magisterium] have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.” (37) “This is hardly to suggest that we cease warning against a cultural decline that fails to promote love or self-giving. The consultation that took place prior to the last two Synods pointed to the various symptoms of a “culture of the ephemeral”. “ (39) “For the sake of this dignity of conscience, the Church strongly rejects the forced State intervention in favour of contraception, sterilization and even abortion”. (42) “The lack of dignified or affordable housing often leads to the postponement of formal relationships. It should be kept in mind that “the family has the right to decent housing, fitting for family life and commensurate to the number of the members, in a physical environment that provides the basic services for the life of the family and the community”.Families and homes go together.” (44) “People with disabilities are a gift for the family and an opportunity to grow in love, mutual aid and unity” (47) “Euthanasia and assisted suicide are serious threats to families worldwide; in many countries, they have been legalized. The Church, while firmly opposing these practices, feels the need to assist families who take care of their elderly and infirm members”” (48) “Distractions abound, including an addiction to television. This makes it all the more difficult for parents to hand on the faith to their children” (50) “We need to acknowledge the great variety of family situations that can offer a certain stability, but de facto or same-sex unions, for example, may not simply be equated with marriage. No union that is temporary or closed to the transmission of life can ensure the future of society. “ (52) “We must nonetheless see in the women’s movement the working of the Spirit for a clearer recognition of the dignity and rights of women. “ (54)