The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church. AL, 1
These are the opening words in Amoris Laetitia, the post-synodal exhortation by Pope Francis.
Joy. A word easily associated with Francis, who frequently speaks of a church of open arms rather than a wagging finger.
The document was eagerly anticipated. Francis, already a pope of surprises, had encouraged a more open and transparent dialogue in the recent synods on the family. And, a dialogue he was given. It was not always polite. It was not always in agreement. But, open disagreement is more honest than endless sycophantic presentations.
In Amoris Laetitia, Francis summarizes the work of the synod while offering practical advice to both pastoral ministers and families.
In the introduction, Pope Francis warns against two extremes of thought regarding the outcomes of the synods. The first is,
An immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding. AL, 3
Those who expect the Pope to overturn all church teachings in one fell swoop will be disappointed. The second extreme is,
An attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations. AL, 3
Those who expect Amoris Laetitia to be a comprehensive catechism clearly listing the rights and wrongs of family life will also be disappointed.
The dialogue that took place during the two synods (both within and without the synod halls) highlighted the “complexity” of family life. Complexity is a nice word to describe the messy reality that many of us face.
The greyness of complexity requires the hard work of personal discernment and this, I believe, is one of the greatest gifts of Amoris Laetitia. Francis is nudging and empowering lay women and men towards an adult faith. Cultures are diverse and each situation is unique. Difficult questions seldom have easy answers.
The following statement is a breath of fresh air to all who have felt the burden of black and white church teachings imposed from above,
Since “time is greater than space”, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral and pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. AL, 4
personal document vs. synodal document
As I was reading the document, I found myself skimming the inevitable references to previous church documents and the catechism. I also found myself impatient with some of the lengthy quotes from the synod documents. Again, they seemed to repeat the “same old, same old” teachings on marriage and sexuality. Meanwhile, Francis’s personal words resonated with a genuine pastoral understanding of the daily struggles of family life.
I began to wonder what this document would look like if it was heavily edited to include only the words of Francis. It would be a shorter and more readable document. But, a “Francis only” document would go against his push towards a more synodal church; a church where all voices are heard. After all, why call a synod if you’re not going to listen to what is said?
Amoris Laetitia is a long document because Francis gives voice to the tradition of the church and the synod members while personally addressing many of the issues faced by families around the world. For this, he is to be commended.
a reflective reading of amoris laetitia
Because of it’s length, Francis himself gives permission to be selective in our reading,
The greatest benefit, for families themselves and for those engaged in the family apostolate, will come if each part is read patiently and carefully, or if attention is paid to the parts dealing with their specific needs. AL, 7
Readers of this blog know my preference for a Lectio Divina style of prayer. It is also my preference for pondering and writing. So, I’m going to dive in and begin a series of reflections on Amoris Laetitia.
These will not be theological reflections, for I’m not a theologian. They will be simple musings on specific phrases and paragraphs that sparked something in my mind and heart. More often than not, they will be related to my own family life journey…but that’s what Lectio Divina is all about. It is reading slowly and carefully in order to hear God speaking to you in the here and now.
The benefits of Lectio Divina are multiplied when shared with others. Personal reflections are deepened when added to the voice of a community. Yes…we’re talking dialogue! I do hope that you will join in.
So, here we go…